How Hard Is Hard?

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Science  05 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5970, pp. 1181
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5970.1181-a

Rankings of incommensurable entities are often equated to comparisons of apples and oranges, the implication being that no objective answer exists. Nevertheless, subjective answers do exist, as can be demonstrated simply by asking people for their judgments. Keil et al. have developed a battery of 30 questions representing phenomena in the disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and economics; they posed these questions to students in kindergarten, the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth grades, and college. They did not ask for answers, but instead asked how hard it would be to explain these phenomena and whether they would need to consult an expert to do so. By these measures, psychology was rated as less difficult than the hard sciences and easier to learn about on one's own, although these differentials decreased with age. Economics was at first perceived to be like the hard sciences, but its ranking approached that of psychology in older students, perhaps reflecting a shift from seeing it as relying on mathematics to regarding it as a spectrum of human behaviors.

J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 139, 1 (2010).

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