Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 14, Supplement 1, pp 37–49 | Cite as

Dual processing and diagnostic errors

  • Geoff NormanEmail author


In this paper, I review evidence from two theories in psychology relevant to diagnosis and diagnostic errors. “Dual Process” theories of thinking, frequently mentioned with respect to diagnostic error, propose that categorization decisions can be made with either a fast, unconscious, contextual process called System 1 or a slow, analytical, conscious, and conceptual process, called System 2. Exemplar theories of categorization propose that many category decisions in everyday life are made by unconscious matching to a particular example in memory, and these remain available and retrievable individually. I then review studies of clinical reasoning based on these theories, and show that the two processes are equally effective; System 1, despite its reliance in idiosyncratic, individual experience, is no more prone to cognitive bias or diagnostic error than System 2. Further, I review evidence that instructions directed at encouraging the clinician to explicitly use both strategies can lead to consistent reduction in error rates.


Clinical reasoning Diagnostic error Dual processing Non-analytic reasoning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical Epidemiology and BiostatisticsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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