Dual processing theory and expertsʼ reasoning: exploring thinking on national multiple-choice questions

Anthony R. Artino
Cees van der Vleuten
Eric Holmboe
Lambert Schuwirth
Steven J. Durning
Ting Dong
Soort article
Original Research
Clinical reasoning,
dual-process theory,
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Background An ongoing debate exists in the medical education literature regarding the potential benefits of pattern recognition (non-analytic reasoning), actively comparing and contrasting diagnostic options (analytic reasoning) or using a combination approach. Studies have not, however, explicitly explored faculty’s thought processes while tackling clinical problems through the lens of dual process theory to inform this debate. Further, these thought processes have not been studied in relation to the difficulty of the task or other potential mediating influences such as personal factors and fatigue, which could also be influenced by personal factors such as sleep deprivation. We therefore sought to determine which reasoning process(es) were used with answering clinically oriented multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and if these processes differed based on the dual process theory characteristics: accuracy, reading time and answering time as well as psychometrically determined item difficulty and sleep deprivation.

Methods We performed a think-aloud procedure to explore faculty’s thought processes while taking these MCQs, coding think-aloud data based on reasoning process (analytic, nonanalytic, guessing or combination of processes) as well as word count, number of stated concepts, reading time, answering time, and accuracy. We also included questions regarding amount of work in the recent past. We then conducted statistical analyses to examine the associations between these measures such as correlations between frequencies of reasoning processes and item accuracy and difficulty. We also observed the total frequencies of different reasoning processes in the situations of getting answers correctly and incorrectly.


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