Mar 1

Does your boss need to take this test?

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Does your boss need to take this test?

Ever wondered why people sometimes make the decisions that they do? We have all experienced situations where someone has made a decision and we think that they have ‘lost the plot’.

Test your decision making

Before we start making generalisations about other people’s capabilities, perhaps we should consider our own cognitive abilities first. The following questions are known as the Cognitive Reflection Test. and come from the paper Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making by Shane Frederick (2005):

  1.  A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?

 [Answers are at the bottom of the page]

How did you get on?

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t ace the test – different researchers repeating the test at various times since 2005 have found that between 20 and 33% of respondents don’t get any of the questions right.

When the test was originally performed on students at Princeton and Harvard Universities, 75% of participants failed at least one question.

So what is this test all about? It is actually quite a well-known test to measure performance on cognitive tasks. Whilst there are lots of different variables that affect how we make decisions, this one informs us about reluctance to engage in effortful processing.

To put it another way, as the psychology text books suggest, it is a measure of how much of a cognitive miser you are and if you genuinely focus all of your cognitive abilities on decision-making tasks.

 If you got any of the questions wrong, perhaps you need to reflect about taking more time over important decisions and if you need to be more aware of using all of your capacity for considered thinking in these situations.

Perhaps you need to ask your boss to take the test?

 It is an interesting question isn’t it?

Psychologists suggest that low scorers appear to perform relatively poorly on a wide range of judgement and reasoning tasks. Think about all those decisions that people and business are making on a daily basis…

Therein lies the rub. We get used to busy lives where we are forced to make use of mental short-cuts. The problem is that these short-cuts are not always appropriate in a decision-making situation, hence we see examples where we can only describe the decision as ‘mad’ (or words to similar effect)!

 To a large extent this is learned behaviour – the good news is that it can also be unlearned, especially through coaching. Perhaps the first step is to ‘show your workings out’ so that you have the opportunity to double-check your logic and ensure that you are properly considering whatever challenge you are trying to deal with. If you aren’t bothered about the quality of your decisions, perhaps you should remember the maxim of the cognitive miser (especially on the critical ones):

Err in haste, repent at leisure

 If you think you have a challenge with some of your mental shortcuts, why not give us a call?

Alternatively, if your response was “stupid test”, perhaps you need to start thinking about if you have a fixed or growth mindset?


CRT answers (with explanations if you need them):

  1.   5 cents – the bat has to cost $1 more than the ball, hence the bat costs $1.05 and the ball $0.05.
  2. 5 minutes – each machine takes 5 minutes to create a widget, so 100 machines working in parallel will create 100 in this time.
  3. 47 days – remember it is to cover half the lake! Though the last day covers ‘half’ the lake, it also means that 100% of the lake is covered. A bat and ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The CRT has been substantially developed since 2005, so you will find lots of similar types of question online if you want to test yourself or your colleagues further.

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