Like many others today, I rely on technology for many tasks I once reserved for my brain and a trip to the library, including problem-solving. Many websites exist that offer to solve problems, including determining the root cause. Many times the root cause of a problem may be lost in the noise of an issue leaving some to be less-informed than they think. This bias can diminish the effectiveness of the steps used to refine the solution to a problem. Chabris and Simons (2009) addressed a number of cognitive illusions that lead people to misunderstand the world around them, one of which is the illusion of knowledge, one where a person thinks he or she knows more than he or she does as well as the illusion of cause. These are also quite common and, thus, lead people to make decisions that are less-than-ideal.
Consider this TED talk from Dr. Simons on illusions.
Now, consider these additional videos from Chabris and Simons, with particular attention to the selective attention test, the movie perception test, and the door study, reminders that when it comes to thinking, we suffer from illusions that interfere with decision-making:
Many thoughts are present at any given time, some more prevalent and others that are subconscious. Research has shown that one's mental framework is a function of their education, experiences, religion, etc and these are also forms of bias as they are the filters by which we analyze and process information (Frew, 1981). These biases are efficient in that they allow one to process large amounts of information quickly and they typically are pretty good at doing so most of the time (Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002). The challenge is when these do not work well for us, especially when trying to identify the cause of a problem. Being aware is a key to managing biases in critical thinking as it allows one to recognize when a problem may be created and one can then focus on the generation of alternatives with which one may solve the problem.
I’ve been studying biases and heuristics for nearly 15 years now and even with this increased awareness, I’m aware that biases may still be present when I conduct research. When I’m aware of the presence of bias, I’m also keen to ensure it’s noted in my communications. As you reflect on this, consider how active listening, as part of an active mind, helps with critical thinking.
Chabris, C. & Simons, D. (2009). The invisible gorilla. New York, NY: Broadway Paperbacks.
Frew, D. R. (1981, November). Diagnosing and dealing with task complexity. Personnel Administrator, 87-92.
Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D. (2002). Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jim Triplett is an author, instructional designer, and instructor in the areas of finance, economics, ethics, and critical thinking. Jim holds Masters Degrees in Finance, Organizational Leadership, and Instructional Design Technology, is ABD / PhD in Organization and Management, and is currently completing a doctoral degree, Ed.D, in Educational Leadership with a focus on Educational Technology.