New ACL Publication: Experimental Aging Research

Background/Study Context: This study evaluated adult age differences in the original three-item Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19, 25–42) and an expanded seven-item version of that test (Toplak et al., 2013, Thinking and Reasoning, 20, 147–168). The CRT is a numerical problem-solving test thought to capture a disposition towards either rapid, intuition-based problem solving (Type I reasoning) or a more thoughtful, analytical problem-solving approach (Type II reasoning). Test items are designed to induce heuristically guided errors that can be avoided if using an appropriate numerical representation of the test problems.

Methods: We evaluated differences between young adults and old adults in CRT performance and correlates of CRT performance. Older adults (ages 60 to 80) were paid volunteers who participated in experiments assessing age differences in self-regulated learning. Young adults (ages 17 to 35) were students participating for pay as part of a project assessing measures of critical thinking skills or as a young comparison group in the self-regulated learning study.

Results: There were age differences in the number of CRT correct responses in two independent samples. Results with the original three-item CRT found older adults to have a greater relative proportion of errors based on providing the intuitive lure. However, younger adults actually had a greater proportion of intuitive errors on the long version of the CRT, relative to older adults. Item analysis indicated a much lower internal consistency of CRT items for older adults.

Conclusion: These outcomes do not offer full support for the argument that older adults are higher in the use of a “Type I” cognitive style. The evidence was also consistent with an alternative hypothesis that age differences were due to lower levels of numeracy in the older samples. Alternative process-oriented evaluations of how older adults solve CRT items will probably be needed to determine conditions under which older adults manifest an increase in the Type I dispositional tendency to opt for superficial, heuristically guided problem representations in numerical problem-solving tasks.


Hertzog, C., Smith, R. M., & Ariel, R. (2017). Does the Cognitive Reflection Test actually capture heuristic versus analytic reasoning styles in older adults?. Experimental aging research, 1-17.