Informal reasoning with and without the Internet: An individual differences approach
Ellingsen, Victor J.
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Informal reasoning is used when people reason about complex issues for which there is not a single, agreed-upon correct answer (Perkins, 1985; Sadler & Zeidler, 2005). Accordingly, an individual’s ability and willingness to consider arguments on both sides of an issue is a key component of successful informal reasoning. However, people typically do not explore arguments contrary to their own position unless specifically instructed to do so (Perkins, 1985). A major limitation of previous research is that participants usually have been required to reason with no access to outside sources of information, which does not reflect the reality of reasoning in the age of the Internet. In addition, the relationships between informal reasoning and various individual-differences factors have not been explored thoroughly. In this set of studies, I used hierarchical linear modeling in order to assess both item-level and person-level predictors of informal reasoning. I also manipulated Internet access in order to assess the effect of outside information during a standard argument generation task (Toplak & Stanovich, 2003). Strength of prior opinion and exposure to the issue described in the prompt emerged as the most salient predictors of reasoning performance, and access to outside information via the Internet increased the number of otherside arguments generated in the task. Like many previous research efforts, these studies failed to identify robust person-level predictors of informal reasoning performance. However, the non-ability traits of typical intellectual engagement and anti-intellectualism predicted a greater amount of time spent on reasoning items, which in turn predicted reasoning outcomes. Investigating person- and situation-level predictors of the decision to stop searching for additional arguments may be a fruitful direction for future research.