Types of cognition

The Frontal Cortex blog has a very interesting posting (here) about learning and intelligence. Lehrer points out that g, general intelligence, measured by the IQ test is not the only intelligence. He discusses a type1 and type2 cognitive system.

In order to understand the limitations of general intelligence, at least as presently defined, it’s important to delve into one of the of the great themes of modern psychology, which is the essential role of the unconscious. While Freud associated the unconscious with the unspeakable urges of the id, we now know that our mental underworld is actually a remarkable information processing device, which helps us make sense of reality.

This has led to the dual process model of cognition, in which the mind is divided into two general modes. There is Type 1 thinking, which is largely unconscious, automatic, contextual, emotional and speedy; it turns out that most of our behavior is shaped by these inarticulate thoughts. (Consider, for instance, what happens when you brake for a yellow light, or order a dish on a menu as soon as you see it, or have an “intuition” about how to approach a problem.) And then there is Type 2 thinking, which is deliberate, explicit, effortful and intentional. (Imagine an amateur chess player, contemplating the implications of each potential move.) Needless to say, intelligence tests excel at measuring Type 2 thought processes, which is why the standard IQ test largely relies on abstract puzzles and math problems, and correlates with working memory performance.

The end result is a growing contradiction between how we define intelligence – it’s all about explicit thought and g – and how we conceptualize cognition, which is inextricably bound up with Type 1 processes. (In other words, we currently measure intelligence by excluded the vast majority of the information processing taking place inside our head.)

… There’s a growing body of evidence that reliable differences exist in Type 1 thinking, and that these differences have consequences. This helps explain why even the most mundane features of Type 1 thinking … significantly correlate with math and verbal scores on the ACT. Other studies have found that performance on a variety of implicit learning tasks – the kind of learning that takes place in Type 1 – were significantly associated with academic performance, even when “psychometric intelligence,” or g, was controlled for. In other words, not every unconscious works the same way.

I believe this difference between implicit and explicit cognition has to do with the use of short term memory. Cognition that needs to use short term memory will, I believe, have to make conscious the information to be saved for use in later cognitive processes. While cognition that does not require the use of short term memory is faster and easier if none of it rises into consciousness. A cognitive process that repeatedly passes a sub-product through consciousness/working memory will appear to be done in a ‘conscious mind’ although all the processing is actually done unconsciously.

Further I think that if a cognitive task is repeated many times that the networks of neurons involved in the cognition will grow and change so that the used of working memory will be reduced or even eliminated. Then the task will not rise to consciousness and will appear to be automatic.

The measure of type 2 intelligence may be largely the result of the capacity of working memory and type 1 intelligence may be the result of speed and conductivity of the brain’s networks. There is probably a role for the cerebellum, thalamus and other brain areas in intelligence.

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