A situated cognition model for clinical reasoning performance assessment: A narrative review

Joseph Rencic*, Lambert W.T. Schuwirth, Larry D. Gruppen, Steven J. Durning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Clinical reasoning performance assessment is challenging because it is a complex, multi-dimensional construct. In addition, clinical reasoning performance can be impacted by contextual factors, leading to significant variation in performance. This phenomenon called context specificity has been described by social cognitive theories. Situated cognition theory, one of the social cognitive theories, posits that cognition emerges from the complex interplay of human beings with each other and the environment. It has been used as a valuable conceptual framework to explore context specificity in clinical reasoning and its assessment. We developed a conceptual model of clinical reasoning performance assessment based on situated cognition theory. In this paper, we use situated cognition theory and the conceptual model to explore how this lens alters the interpretation of articles or provides additional insights into the interactions between the assessee, patient, rater, environment, assessment method, and task. We culled 17 articles from a systematic literature search of clinical reasoning performance assessment that explicitly or implicitly demonstrated a situated cognition perspective to provide an "enriched"sample with which to explore how contextual factors impact clinical reasoning performance assessment. We found evidence for dyadic, triadic, and quadratic interactions between different contextual factors, some of which led to dramatic changes in the assessment of clinical reasoning performance, even when knowledge requirements were not significantly different. The analysis of the selected articles highlighted the value of a situated cognition perspective in understanding variations in clinical reasoning performance assessment. Prospective studies that evaluate the impact of modifying various contextual factors, while holding others constant, can provide deeper insights into the mechanisms by which context impacts clinical reasoning performance assessment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-240
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • assessment
  • clinical reasoning
  • situated cognition


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