Purpose: The objective of this study was to determine the extent to which the dual-process theory of medical diagnosis enjoys neuroscientific support. To that end, the study explored whether neurological correlates of system-2 thinking could be located in the brain. It was hypothesised that system-2 thinking could be observed as the activation of the prefrontal cortex. Method: An experimental paradigm was applied that consisted of a learning and a test phase. During the learning phase, 22 medical students were trained in diagnosing chest X-rays. Four of these eight cases were presented repeatedly, to develop a high level of expertise for these cases. During the test phase, all eight cases were presented and the participants’ prefrontal cortex was scanned using functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Response time and diagnostic accuracy were recorded as behavioural indicators. Results: The results revealed that participants’ diagnostic accuracy in the test phase was significantly higher for the trained cases as compared with the untrained cases (F[1, 21] = 138.80, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.87). Also, their response time was significantly shorter for these cases (F[1, 21] = 18.12, p < 0.001, η2 = 0.46). Finally, the results revealed that only for the untrained cases, could a significant activation of the anterolateral prefrontal cortex be observed (F[1, 21] = 21.00, p < 0.01, η2 = 0.34). Conclusion: The fact that only untrained cases triggered higher levels of blood oxygenation in the prefrontal cortex is an indication that system-2 thinking is a cognitive process distinct from system 1. Implications of these findings for the validity of the dual-process theory are discussed.

doi.org/10.1111/medu.13681, hdl.handle.net/1765/112115
Medical Education
The institute of Medical Education Research Rotterdam

Rotgans, J., Schmidt, H., Rosby, L.V. (Lucy V), Tan, G.J.S. (Gerald J S), Mamede, S., Zwaan, L., & Low-Beer, N. (Naomi). (2018). Evidence supporting dual-process theory of medical diagnosis: a functional near-infrared spectroscopy study. Medical Education. doi:10.1111/medu.13681