Wason, P(eter) C(athcart) 1924-2003

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WASON, P(eter) C(athcart) 1924-2003

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born April 22, 1924, in Bath, Somerset, England; died April 17, 2003, in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England. Psychologist, educator, and author. Wason was instrumental in developing the scientific study of human reasoning, and he showed that most people have "cognitive biases" that steer them away from logical thinking. After serving as a liaison officer for England's Eighth Independent Armoured Brigade and being wounded in Normandy in 1945, Wason graduated from Oxford University in 1948 with a B.A. in English. He taught English literature at the University of Aberdeen for a year before deciding to study psychology. He returned to Oxford and received a master's degree in psychology in 1953, followed by a doctorate in 1956 from University College, London. During most of the 1950s and 1960s he was a member of the scientific staff at the Medical Research Council in London. In 1968 he joined the faculty at University College, where he remained until his retirement in 1982. Greatly influenced by philosopher Karl Popper and psychologist Jean Piaget, Wason built on their ideas to show in experiments he developed—most famously, a card-selection experiment that became known as the Wason selection task—that, rather than trying to disprove ideas they have come to believe in, people generally seek to confirm their beliefs when making decisions. This sort of bias, often determined in the real world by people's philosophical and religious beliefs—can result in logical errors in reasoning. Wason wrote of his theories in Psychology of Reasoning: Structure and Content (1972), written with P. N. Johnson-Laird, with whom he also edited Thinking and Reasoning (1968). An expert chess player, Wason was also the coauthor of The Psychology of Chess (1984).



Independent (London, England), April 22, 2003, p. 18.

Times (London, England), April 29, 2003, p. 32.