Is Clinical Cognition Binary or Continuous?

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A dominant theory of clinical reasoning is the so-called “dual processing theory,” in which the diagnostic process may proceed through a rapid, unconscious, intuitive process (System 1) or a slow, conceptual, analytical process (System 2). Diagnostic errors are thought to arise primarily from cognitive biases originating in System 1. In this issue, Custers points out that this model is unnecessarily restrictive and that it is more likely that diagnostic tasks may proceed through a variety of mental strategies ranging from “analytical” to “intuitive.”

The authors of this commentary agree that the notion that System 1 and System 2 processes are somehow in competition and will necessarily lead to different conclusions is unnecessarily restrictive. On the other hand, they argue that there is substantial evidence in support of a dual processing model, and that most objections to dual processing theory can be easily accommodated by simply presuming that both processes operate in concertand that solving any task may rely to varying degrees on both processes.

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