Integrative complexity and the LAS

Suedfeld and Tetlock’s Integrative Complexity Scale is one of a number of developmental scales—most of which have been informed by Jean Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory—that subscribe to the notion of hierarchical integration. Piagetian and neo-Piagetian theorists view development as a process of differentiation (increasing knowledge) and integration (organizing knowledge). Rather than viewing learning as an additive process in which we simply accumulate bits of knowledge over time, integrative theories propose that learning is an active process through which we organize our knowledge in particular ways, depending on where we are in our development. Moving from one development level to another involves a reorganization of our knowledge that translates into a new way of thinking.

For example, when most 6-year-olds think about lying, they are likely to think about it in terms of a single consequence—keeping out of trouble, getting into trouble, or making Dad sad. An eight-year-old can think about lying in terms of multiple possible consequences—getting in trouble and keeping out of trouble, which makes it possible to decide which outcome is more likely given past experience. You can view a more detailed description of this process in an online article, The Lectical Assessment System.

Suedfeld and Tetlock’s Integrative Complexity Scoring System (ICSS), like the Lectical Assessment System (LAS) and the General Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (HCSS) is a content-independent scoring system that can be used to score the level of integrative complexity in a wide range of texts. What differs between these scoring systems are the scoring rules. Here, I discuss the difference between the scoring rules of the LAS and the ICSS.

The LAS goes to the heart of differentiation and integration by asking analysts to examine the way arguments are explicitly structured (single elements, linear arguments, or systems) and the way the meanings of their elements are implicitly structured (single elements, linear arguments, or systems). We call this core structure. The LAS has been subjected to a number of psychometric studies and has been shown to be a valid and reliable measure of the cognitive-developmental dimension, reliably (in the statistical sense) distinguishing 28 developmental phases between age 5 and the highest verified levels of adulthood.

Domain-based developmental assessment systems generally target conceptual content and aspects of surface structure. The ICSS relies primarily upon indicators of surface structure. In other words, instead of directly examining core structures, the developers of this system focus on a number of indicators that point to these core structures—including things like perspective, compartmentalization, setting up “straw men”, inclusion/exclusion rules, conflict avoidance, recognizing “exceptions to the rule”, probability statements, etc. The reliability of this assessment is generally too low to justify its clinical use (i.e., to provide a score for an individual), and some forms of the assessment do not appear to meet the reliability requirements for group studies. (see Reliability 2: How high should it be?)

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