Research


Our lab focuses on rational thinking and cognitive abilities. We are interested in defining and measuring rational thinking by using individual difference approaches, developmental perspectives, and the inclusion of special populations. We also study the relationship between rational thinking and cognitive abilities, such as intelligence and performance-based measures of executive function.

One of the most exciting developments in cognitive science research is the considerable progress we have made in understanding the cognitive and motivational/implicit processes that contribute to reasoning and decision-making.

Rational thinking and cognitive abilities refer to ways to assess “smartness” or competence.

Rational thinking and decision-making has to do with how well we accomplish our goals and how well we can track what is true in the world. In general, rational thinking occurs in less structured environments and it is not always apparent when we should be thinking more carefully or “rationally”. Some people are better at it than others. Some of the constructs we study include: heuristics and biases tasks, temporal discounting, and performance calibration.

Cognitive abilities refer to measures primarily used to assess cognitive capacities, such as measures of intelligence and performance-based measures of executive function. Intelligence tests have been used for decades and continue to be used as a major indicator of competence for employment decisions and to assess the competence of children and youth. More recently, there has been a shift to using measures of executive function as another means of assessing competence. Both of these types of measures are given under highly standardized and controlled environments. These cognitive abilities are different from measures of rational thinking.

We are interested in defining and measuring rational thinking and using individual difference measures, developmental perspectives, and inclusion of special populations.  Our lab spans the study of these constructs across typically developing samples and special populations, such as ADHD, pathological gamblers, and young offenders. While our research has primarily focused on typically developing samples, we continue to extend our work into special samples. Cognitive science models of dual process reasoning are providing  a useful framework for understanding individual differences within typically developing individuals and across groups (clinical versus non-clinical).

We are also interested in the implications for training and remediating rational thinking and decision-making. We are particularly interested in developing simple and focused interventions that can benefit many individuals with cost effectiveness, such as environmental interventions. This is a definite future direction of our work.


Our research on reasoning and decision-making is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Our collaborators on this work are Keith Stanovich and Richard West.

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Our research group is also affiliated with the LaMarsh Centre for Child and Youth Research at York University.

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Maggie Toplak is also a researcher member of PREVNet.
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In 2008, our paper with pathological gamblers (“The Reasoning Skills and Thinking Dispositions of Problem Gamblers: A Dual-Process Taxonomy”, published in Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 2007) was selected as one of the 50 best articles published in 2007 in management and won an Emerald Management Reviews Citation of Excellence.

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