Psychopathy and the Wason Selection Task

The Wa­son Selec­tion Task is the some­what fa­mous ex­per­i­men­tal prob­lem that re­quires at­tempt­ing to falsify a hy­poth­e­sis in or­der to get the cor­rect an­swer. From the wikipe­dia ar­ti­cle:

You are shown a set of four cards placed on a table, each of which has a num­ber on one side and a col­ored patch on the other side. The visi­ble faces of the cards show 3, 8, red and brown. Which card(s) should you turn over in or­der to test the truth of the propo­si­tion that if a card shows an even num­ber on one face, then its op­po­site face is red?

Aside from an illus­tra­tion of the ram­pancy of con­fir­ma­tion bias (only 10-20% of peo­ple get it right), the task is in­ter­est­ing for an­other rea­son: when framed in terms of so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, peo­ple’s perfor­mance dra­mat­i­cally im­proves:

For ex­am­ple, if the rule used is “If you are drink­ing al­co­hol then you must be over 18”, and the cards have an age on one side and bev­er­age on the other, e.g., “17“, “beer”, “22”, “coke”, most peo­ple have no difficulty in se­lect­ing the cor­rect cards (“17″ and “beer”).

How­ever, ap­par­ently psy­chopaths perform nearly as badly on the “so­cial con­tract” ver­sions of this ex­per­i­ment as they do on the nor­mal one. From the Economist:

For prob­lems cast as so­cial con­tracts or as ques­tions of risk avoidance, by con­trast, non-psy­chopaths got it right about 70% of the time. Psy­chopaths scored much less—around 40%—and those in the mid­dle of the psy­chopa­thy scale scored mid­way be­tween the two.

The origi­nal (gated) re­search ap­pears to be here.