Analytic and Heuristic Processing Influences on Adolescent Reasoning and Decision-Making



The normative/descriptive gap is the discrepancy between actual reasoning and traditional standards for reasoning. The relationship between age and the normative/descriptive gap was examined by presenting adolescents with a battery of reasoning and decision-making tasks. Middle adolescents (N= 76) performed closer to normative ideals than early adolescents (N=66), although the normative/descriptive gap was large for both groups. Correlational analyses revealed that (1) normative responses correlated positively with each other, (2) nonnormative responses were positively interrelated, and (3) normative and nonnormative responses were largely independent. Factor analyses suggested that performance was based on two processing systems. The “analytic” system operates on “decontextualized” task representations and underlies conscious, computational reasoning. The “heuristic” system operates on “contextualized,” content-laden representations and produces “cognitively cheap” responses that sometimes conflict with traditional norms. Analytic processing was more clearly linked to age and to intelligence than heuristic processing. Implications for cognitive development, the competence/performance issue, and rationality are discussed.