Professional judgment--in risk perception & in law: Dual process reasoning and science communication part 3...
This is from something I've been working on. For a long time. The paper of which it is a part will be posted soon.
But for now I am treating it as the final installment of a 3-part series on the relevance of dual-process reasoning theories to science communication. As I'm sure all 14 billion regular readers of this blog recall, the first installment appeared on July 19, 2013, and the second on July 24, 2013.
Even as of that period, I had been working on this project for a long time. . . .
II. Information Processing, Pattern Recognition, and Professional Judgment
Legal training and practice can reasonably be understood to cultivate proficiency in conscious, analytical forms of reasoning. Thus, the work on “motivated System 2 reasoning”—the tendency of conscious, effortful information processing to magnify identity-protective cognition—might in fact be regarded as supplying the strongest support for the conjecture that unconscious cultural partisanship can be expected to subvert judicial neutrality.
Nevertheless, when judges decide cases, they are not merely engaging in conscious, effortful information processing: they are exercising professional judgment. Professional judgment consists, essentially, in habits of mind—conscious and effortful to some degree, but just as much tacit and perceptive—that are distinctively fitted to reasoning tasks the nature of which falls outside ordinary experience. Indeed, it is characterized, in many fields, by resistance to all manner of error, including ones founded on heuristic information processing, that would defeat the special form of decision that professional judgment facilitates.
The dominant scholarly account of professional judgment roots it in the dynamic of pattern recognition. Pattern recognition consists in the rapid, un- or pre-conscious matching of phenomena with mentally inventoried prototypes. A ubiquitous form of information processing, pattern recognition is the type of cognition that enables human beings reliably to recognize faces and read one another’s’ emotions. But it is also the basis for many forms of highly specialized forms of expert decisionmaking. Highly proficient chess players, for example, outperform less proficient ones not by anticipating and consciously simulating a longer sequence of potential moves but by more reliably perceiving the relative value of different board positions based on their prototypical affinity to ones learned from experience to confer an advantage to one player or another. Likewise, the proficiency of aerial photography analysts consists in their tacit ability to discern prototypical clusters of subtle cues that allow them to cull from large masses of scanned images ones that profitably merit more fine-grained analysis. Forensic accountants must use the same form of facility as they combing through mountains of records in search of financial irregularities or fraud.
Expert medical judgment supplies an especially compelling and instructive example of the role of pattern recognition. Without question, competent medical diagnosis depends on the capacity to draw valid inferences from myriad sources of evidence that reflect the correlation between particular symptoms and various pathologies—a form critical reasoning that figures in System 2 information processing. But studies have shown that an appropriately attuned capacity for pattern recognition plays an indispensable role in expert medical diagnosis, for unless a physician is able to form an initial set of plausible conjectures—based on the match between a patient’s symptoms and an appropriately stocked inventory of disease prototypes—the probability that the physician will even know to collect the evidence that enables a proper diagnosis will be unacceptably low.
The proposition that pattern recognition plays this role in professional judgment generally is most famously associated with Howard Margolis. Focusing on expert assessment of risk, Margolis described a form of information processing that differs markedly from the standard “System 1/System 2” conception of dual process reasoning. The latter attributes proficient risk assessment to an individual’s capacity and disposition to “override” his or her unconscious System 1 affective reactions with ones that reflect effortful System 2 assessments of evidence. Margolis, in contrast, suggests an integrated and reciprocal relationship between unconscious, perceptive forms of cognition, on the one hand, and conscious, analytical ones, on the other. Much as in the case of proficient medical diagnosis, expert risk assessment demands reliable, preconscious apprehension of the phenomena that merit valid analytical processing. Even then, the effective use of data generated by such means, Margolis maintains, will depend on the risk expert’s reliable assimilation of such evidence to an inventory of prototypical representations of cases in which the appropriate data were given proper effect. Of course, the quality of an expert’s pattern recognition capacity will depend heavily on his or her proficiency in conscious, analytical reasoning: that form of information processing, employed to assess and re-assess successes and failures over the course of the expert’s training and experience, is what calibrates the experts’ perceptive faculty.
To translate Margolis’s account back into the dominant conception of dual-process reasoning, System 2 gets nowhere—because it is not reliably activated—without a discerning System 1 faculty of perception. The reliability of System 1, however, reflects the contribution System 2 makes to the process of continual self-evaluation that imparts perceive judgments with their reliability.
Karl Llewellyn suggested an account of the reasoning style of lawyers and judges very much akin to Margolis’s view of the professional judgment for risk experts. Although Llewellyn is often identified as emphasizing the indeterminacy of formal legal rules and doctrines, the aim of his most important works was to explain how there could be such a tremendously high degree of consensus among lawyers and judges on what those rules and doctrines entail. His answer was “situation sense”—a perceptive faculty, formed through professional training and experience, that enabled lawyers and judges to reliably assimilate controversies to “situation types” that include within them their own proper resolutions. Llewellyn discounted the emphasis on deductive logic featured in legal argumentation. But he did not dismiss such reasoning as mere confabulation; in his view, lawyers and judges (legislators, too, in drafting rules) employed formal reasoning to prime or activate the “situation sense” of other lawyers and judges—the same function that Margolis sees it as playing in professional discourse among risk experts and indeed in any setting in which human being resort to it.
Margolis also identified the role that pattern recognition plays in professional judgment to explain expert-public conflicts over risk. Lacking the experience and training of experts, and hence the stock of prototypes that reliably guide expert risk assessment, members of the public, he argued, were prone to one or another heuristic bias. By the same token, the experts’ access to those prototypes reliably fixes their attention on the pertinent features of risks and inure them to the features that excite cognitive biases on the part of the lay public.
Based on the role of pattern recognition in professional judgment, one might make an analogous claim about judicial and lay judgments in culturally contested legal disputes. On this account, lawyers’ and judges’ “situation sense” can be expected to reliably fix their attention on pertinent elements of case “situation types,” thereby immunizing them from the distorting influence that identity-protective cognition exerts on the judgments of legally untrained members of the public. It is thus possible the professional judgment of the judge, as an expert neutral decisionmaker, embodies exactly the form of information processing most likely to counteract identity-protective reasoning, including the elements of it magnified by System 2 reasoning.