Course: PSYC*1000 (DE)
Professor: Harvey Marmurek
Schedule: Summer, 2012
Textbook: Psychology – Tenth Edition in Modules authored by David G. Myers
Textbook ISBN: 9781464102615
Module 27: Thinking
What is cognition, and what are the functions of concepts?
Psychologists who study cognition focus on the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing,
remembering, and communicating information. One of these activities is forming concepts – mental groupings of
similar objects, events, ideas, and people. (The concept of chair includes high chair, reclining chair, dentist chair).
Concepts simplify our thinking.
We often form our concepts by developing prototypes – a mental image or best example of a category. A
robin is more of a bird than perhaps a penguin is.
Problem Solving: Strategies and Obstacles
What cognitive strategies assist our problem solving, and what obstacles hinder it?
Trial and error
Algorithms – step-by-step procedures that guarantee a solution.
Heuristics – simpler thinking strategies.
Insight – sudden realization of a problem’s solution
Before the AHA! Moment, problem solvers’ frontal lobes were active, and there was a burst of activity in the right
temporal lobe, just above the ear. No sense of getting warmer or close to the solution. Confirmation bias –
searching for info to support preconceptions. Watson – ordinary people evade facts, become inconsistent, or
systematically defend themselves against the threat of new information relevant to the issue. Once we incorrectly
represent a problem, it’s hard to restructure how we approach it. Matchstick problem – you may experience fixation
– an inability to see a problem from a fresh perspective. A prime example of fixation is mental set, our tendency to
approach a problem with the mind –set of what has worked for us previously. As a perceptual set predisposes what
we perceive, a mental set predisposes how we think; sometimes this can be an obstacle to problem solving, as
when our mental set from our past experiences with matchsticks predisposes us to arrange them in two dimensions.
Forming Good and Bad Decisions and Judgments
What is intuition, and how can the availability heuristic, overconfidence, belief perseverance, and framing
influence our decisions and judgments?
When making each day’s hundreds of judgments and decisions, we seldom take the time and effort to reason
systematically. We just follow our intuition, our fast, automatic unreasoned feelings and thoughts.
The Availability Heuristic
When we need to act quickly, the mental shortcuts we call heuristics enable snap judgments. Thanks to our mind’s
automatic information processing, intuitive judgments are instantaneous and usually effective. However, research by
cognitive psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman on the availability heuristic showed how these
generally helpful shortcuts can lead even the smartest people into dumb decisions. The availability heuristic
operates when we estimate the likelihood of events based on how mentally available they are. It can lead us astray
– casinos wins = big sounds, losses = silence; judgments in other people. Sometimes fear takes over our minds and
the statistical reality of death and danger is not in line with our fears. Paul Slovic points out that we reason
emotionally and neglect probabilities.
Overconfidence can have adaptive value. People who err on he side of overconfidence live more happily. They
make decisions more easily, and hey seem more credible than others.
Tendency to cling to our beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Belief perseverance often fuels social conflict, as it
did in a classic study of people with opposing views of capital punishment. Showing the pro- and anti-capital
punishment groups the same mixed evidence actually increased their disagreement. If you want to rein in the belief
perseverance phenomenon, a simple remedy exists: consider the opposite. When the same researchers repeated the capital-punishment study, they asked some participants to be ‘as objective and unbiased as possible’. They
asked another group to consider ‘whether you would have made the same high or low evaluations had exactly the
same study produced results on the other side of the issue’ having imagined and pondered opposite findings, these
people became much less biased in their evaluations of the evidence. The more we come to appreciate why our
beliefs might be true, the more tightly we cling to them.
The Fear Factor – Why We Fear the Wrong Things
1. We fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear.
2. We fear what we cannot control.
3. We fear what is immediate.
4. thanks to the availability heuristic, we fear what is most readily available in memory.
The point to remember: It is perfectly normal to fear purposeful violence from those who hate us. When terrorists
strike again, we will all recoil in horror. But smart thinkers will check their fears against the facts and resist those
who aim to create a culture of fear. By so doing, we take away the terrorists’ most omnipresent weapon:
The Effects of Framing
Framing, the way we present an issue, sways our decisions and judgments. Two surgeons explaining a surgery
risk. One says 10% die and the other says 90% survive. Both patients and physicians said the risk seems greater
when they hear that 10% will die. To scare people, frame risks as numbers, not percentages. Framing can be a
powerful persuasion tool. Carefully posed options can nudge people tow