Judgements of Solvability: Elucidating the First Stage of Meta-Reasoning

Author: Olivia Burton

Burton, Olivia, 2022 Judgements of Solvability: Elucidating the First Stage of Meta-Reasoning, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Meta-reasoning involves monitoring and control of one’s reasoning processes and begins with a Judgement of Solvability (JOS). Reasoners use the JOS to decide whether a problem is solvable prior to a solving attempt, and whether to regulate solving effort. Thus, misjudging problem solvability can have several consequences such as wasting time on futile attempts to solve unsolvable problems, or erroneously abandoning solvable problems.

Most of the current research using JOSs has focussed on the problem-solving stimulus features that bias or inform JOSs. My thesis provides a new and original contribution to JOS research by examining how experiment, measurement, and individual difference factors influence this initial stage of meta-reasoning. To this end, my thesis clarifies how well JOSs about anagrams discriminate between solvable and unsolvable problems (termed JOS discrimination) and predict later problem-solving outcomes (termed JOS predictiveness) under different experimental task conditions. It also clarifies whether individual differences in cognitive reflection enabled more discriminating and predictive JOSs, given that some research has shown that a more reflective thinking style is related to better meta-reasoning.

Anagrams are sometimes solved spontaneously, thus each of my thesis experiments separated problems solved during the JOS (i.e., ‘already solved’ JOSs) from intuitions about problem solvability (i.e., ‘solvable’ or ‘not solvable’ JOSs), to avoid confounding intuitions with solutions found during the JOS. In each of four experiments, participants were briefly shown an anagram and then made a JOS about the anagram, and then later attempted to solve the anagram. Experiments 1-3 examined the influence of anagram presentation duration prior to making one’s JOS to determine whether allowing participants more time to develop their intuitions about solvability led to more discriminating and more predictive JOSs. To do this, Experiments 1-3 presented anagrams in 4 blocks. In the training groups, anagrams were presented for 16 s at first, which halved across blocks. In the no-training groups anagram duration was always 2 s. After participants completed the blocks of JOSs, they then attempted to solve each anagram in a single solving block. Thus, Experiments 1-3 had an additional focus on whether participants could be trained (via practice with initial blocks of longer-duration anagrams) to develop more accurate and predictive JOSs. In Experiment 4, I examined whether JOS discrimination and predictiveness are influenced by whether solving attempts follow each JOS (interleaved design) or occur after all JOSs are made (blocked design).

Each experiment revealed that ‘solvable’ JOSs were less discriminating than ‘already solved’ JOSs, but were often (though not always) discriminating. Furthermore, when anagram duration was manipulated within-subjects, ‘solvable’ JOSs were more discriminating at longer versus shorter durations. However, training with initial blocks of longer-duration anagrams did not generate more discriminating JOSs. A more reflective cognitive style led to a higher likelihood of an anagram being reported as ‘already solved’ during the JOS, but interestingly, did not produce more discriminating or predictive JOSs.

Although ‘solvable’ JOSs were discriminating, they generally did not predict problem-solving success, except when the study design was interleaved. When the solving trials were self-regulated (i.e., solving trials presented solvable and unsolvable anagrams and participants could choose whether to attempt problem-solving or disengage), ‘solvable’ JOSs led to greater solving effort expenditure on unsolvable items. Thus, simply judging a problem as ‘solvable’ was generally not predictive of problem-solving success, and it also misled effort regulation on unsolvable problems.

In sum, my findings demonstrate that study design, anagram presentation duration, and self-regulated solving influence intuitive JOSs. Given that these early judgements inform later effort regulation, it is important to understand what drives accurate and predictive solvability judgements. My thesis contributes to this goal.

Keywords: Meta-reasoning, judgements of solvability, anagrams, insight reasoning, problem-solving, metacognition

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Associate Professor Glen Bodner