Abstract for:How important is abstraction for understanding accumulation in environmental problem solving?

Stock and flow failure is a widely studied phenomenon in dynamic systems. Explanations for the fundamental reasoning error of understanding accumulations are manifold. In this paper, we adopt a cognitive perspective that is based on the premise that global (holistic) and local (analytic) processings are important cognitive mechanisms underlying the ability to infer the behavior of dynamic systems. In two consecutive stock-and-flow studies we varied the format in which participants were primed to think about a dynamic system, in particular whether they are primed for local processing or global processing. A total of 353 students participated in our research. Answers partially support our hypothesis in that a global task format, if maintained rigorously throughout an entire decision-making task, increases participants’ ability to infer the overall system behavior. Answers also show, however, that if the format changes to a local task format, the initial benefit of the global format is lost. These findings have implications for the way in which dynamic systems are communicated, e.g. in the context of climate change, food security, or other sustainable development goals. This is particularly important as policy-designers and decision-makers deal with dynamic issues in their everyday and professional life.