Dual Process Theories: What They Are And How They Explain The Human Mind

Dual process theories

Think. To reason. Learn. We constantly process information, and with it our brain operates in different ways in order to stay alive, survive, and act adaptively in the environment. But how do we do it?. Some theories in this regard tell us about a single mechanism or process through which we reason, while others propose the existence of more than one.

Among the different models and theories that have been developed, especially in this last case, we find dual process theoriesa name that actually refers to a set of more or less known theories about how we process information, and about which we are going to talk throughout this article.

Dual process theories: basic definition

The general theory, or rather a set of general theories (since in reality we could talk about up to a dozen theories), is called dual process theory, characterized by the consideration that higher cognitive abilities such as cognition or reasoning exist as a result of not one but two basic processes or systemswhose interaction allows us to generate thoughts and mental products.

These two processes have different characteristics in terms of the way they process information, the speed at which they do so or the number and type of resources they use. It is also worth noting that it is generally considered that one of the processes or systems is implicit and unconscious while the other processes the information explicitly and being something voluntary and requiring a conscious effort on our part. Likewise, our experiences and biology participate in and modify the ability to carry out each of these two processes, so that no two people have the same performance or capacity.

It should be noted that the dual process theory we are referring to is based or focuses on the existence of processes necessary when possessing reasoning and decision-making capacity as well as when carrying out certain behaviors. However, within the different existing dual process theories we can extrapolate the existence of two processes. in different areas, such as learning or even economics, marketing (since it would influence different ways of persuading others) and society.

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The two systems

The two systems that are considered from the perspective of the dual process theory may vary depending on the type of theory we are talking about, but nevertheless we can consider that broadly speaking we would be talking about two specific types of system.

System 1

System 1 would correspond to what in everyday language, according to Kahneman, we would call intuition. It would be a completely unconscious information processing system, in which information is worked on implicitly and in the background. The performance of this system is fast and requires few resources, operating at an automatic level.. It does not require logic and uses parallel information processing. Likewise, it is based more on the innate association between stimuli and cannot usually be expressed verbally. However, no matter how unconscious it is, it is affected by previous experience and emotion.

We are faced with a system that allows a rapid and almost immediate reaction to the environment, in such a way that it allows us to make decisions that can save our lives. It is the system that allows us to form a first impression of the situation and act accordingly, being the decision making based more on the contextual and in our internal nature and not in logic. It is the oldest mechanism phylogenetically speaking, forming part not only of our species but of other animals.

System 2

The implementation of this system involves decision-making and processing, requiring a conscious and voluntary process. This is what Kahneman identifies with true reasoning. This system is considered to be typically human, being one of the most novel at a phylogenetic level.

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Great involvement of the neocortex is observed. It is based on logic and requires explicit processing, being able to work with abstract and symbolic elements such as language and functioning serially. It requires a large amount of cognitive resources and time to be used, and allows for the analysis and conscious control of thought and behavior.

Although system 2 does not allow an immediate response and in imminent situations it may not be fast enough to guarantee survival, the truth is that it has the great usefulness of allowing reflection on the different courses of action, the implications of each situation and working with more abstract elements. This affects us being able to plan and predict, as well as evaluating not only emotionally but also logically the different options.

The need for both ways of thinking

These two systems are very different from each other, but it is their combination that makes us who we are. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, complementing each other to promote our survival and adaptation to the environment. So try finding a balance between both is idealsince it pushes action while allowing our actions to be inhibited and modified in order to achieve specific goals.

Groves and Thompson’s dual process theory

We have already indicated that the idea of ​​the existence of information processing based on two different processes has been used in multiple areas. One of the best known in the field of psychology is that of Groves and Thompson.

The dual process theory of these two authors is based on the effects of exposure to stimuli repeatedly over time, from a perspective based rather on unconscious processes. These authors consider that the repeated experience of a specific event or stimulation can generate modifications in behavior so that it is stimulated or inhibited.

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Specifically, it talks about habituation as the process by which a stimulus loses its stimulating force when presented repeatedly over time, in such a way that the reaction to the same amount of stimulation will be less over time. This process explains the acquisition of very diverse automations, at the same time that it allows the acquisition of complex capabilities by specifying the basic steps to do so with fewer resources. An example could be learning to speak or walk, and in general also associative processes.

On the other hand, some stimulations can cause the opposite effect when repeated, this being another process called sensitization. In this case, each presentation of the same stimulus will have greater and greater strength and generate greater effects. This will make the stimulus more activating for the subject each time..

It is common for this process to appear in situations that are emotionally stimulating for the subject and in which some type of motivation appears, as well as when the stimulus in question is of very high intensity. For example, it can be used to maintain the alarm level in the event of loud noises that could indicate the proximity of danger.

As with the dual processing theory mentioned above, Both processes are not necessarily mutually exclusive. but rather they appear together, adding up to generate a specific reaction or consequence. However, this theory of dual processing differs from the one previously presented in the fact that in both cases we would be dealing with fundamentally unconscious processes, both forming part of system 1.