Chapter 9: Thinking and
Thought: Using what we know
The Elements of Cognition
Concept: a mental category that groups objects, relations, activities, abstractions, or
qualities having common properties. Simplify and summarize information about the
world so that it is manageable and so that we can make decisions quickly.
Basic concepts: concepts that have a moderate number of instances and that are easier to
acquire than those having few or many instances.
Prototype: an especially representative example of a concept. For example: which is
more representative of sports, football or weight lifting?
Benjamin Lee Whorf proposed that language moulds cognition and perception. For
example: English only has one word for snow, but the Inuit have many different words
for snow (powdered snow, slushy snow, falling snow etc.), so the Intuits notice more
differences in snow than English speakers. Overall, vocabulary and grammar affect how
we perceive things.
Proposition: a unit of meaning that is made up of concepts and expresses a single idea.
Cognitive schema: an integrated mental network of knowledge, beliefs, and expectations
concerning a particular topic or aspect of the world. For example: gender schemas
represent a person’s beliefs and expectations about what it means to be male or female.
Mental image: a mental representation that mirrors or resembles the thing it represents;
mental images occur in many and perhaps all sensory modalities.
How Conscious Is Thought?
Subconscious processes: mental processes occurring outside of conscious awareness but
accessible to consciousness when necessary. Many automatic routines are performed
“without thinking” – allows us to multitask. For example: eating and reading
simultaneously. (In daily life, multitasking is rather inefficient and can cause accidents)
Nonconscious processes: mental processes occurring outside of and not available to
conscious awareness. For example: the odd experience of having a solution to a problem
pop up into mind after you have given up trying to find one. Implicit learning: learning that occurs when you acquire knowledge about something
without being able to state exactly what is it you have learned. For example: some people
discover the best strategy for winning a card game without over being able to consciously
identify what they are doing. Many of our abilities, from speaking our native language
properly to walking up a flight of stairs, are the result of implicit learning.
Mindlessness: mental inflexibility, inertia, and obliviousness to the present context.
Keeps people from recognizing when a change in a situation requires a change in
behaviour. For example: Photocopy study – those who were asked “Can I use the
photocopier first because I am in a rush?”, were more likely to agree because they heard
the content of the request.
Reasoning: the drawing of conclusions or interferences from observations, facts, or
Formal Reasoning: Algorithms and Logic
The kind of reasoning you might find on an intelligence test or an entrance exam for
In some formal problems, all you have to do is apply and algorithm: a problem solving
strategy guaranteed to produce a solution even if the user does not know how it works.
Deductive reasoning: a form of reasoning in which a conclusion follows necessarily from
certain premises; if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. For example: “All
human beings are mortal”, “I am a human being”, and “I am mortal”.
Inductive reasoning: a form of reasoning in which the premises provide support for a
conclusion, but it is still possible for the conclusion to be false. For example: “I had three
great meals at Joe’s restaurant; they sure have good food.” No matter how much
supporting evidence you gather, it is always possible that new information will turn up to
show you are wrong.
Informal Reasoning: Heuristics and Dialectical Thinking
Heuristic: a rule of thumb that suggests a course of action or guides problem solving but
does not guarantee an optimal solution. For example trying to predict the stock market.
Faced with incomplete information on which to base a decision and may therefore resort
to rules of thumb that have proven effective in the past.
Dialectical reasoning: a process in which opposing facts or ideas are weighed and
compared, with a view to determining the best solution or resolving differences. Consider
arguments for and against the problem. Reflective Judgment
2 prereflective stages tend to assume that a correct answer always exists and that it can be
obtained directly through the senses and what “feels right”.
3 quasireflective: stages people recognize that some things cannot be known with
absolute certainty and realize that judgments should be supported by reasons, but still
only pay attention to evidence that supports their belief. Tend to use, “We all have a right
to our own opinion”.
2 reflective stages: people start to understand that nothing is certain and are willing to
consider evidence from a variety of sources and reason dialectically.
Barriers to Reasoning Rationally
Exaggerating the Improbable (and Minimizing the Probable)
This explains why so many people enter lotteries and buy disaster insurance.
Affect heuristic: the tendency to consult one’s emotions instead of estimating
probabilities objectively. Can be misleading. For example: during reported dangers of
“mad cow disease”, beef consumption fell drastically. When a doctor published that it
was safe and no longer a concern, beef consumption stayed the same. People focused
more on the dangers of getting mad cow, and paid little attention to the reality.
Availability heuristic: the tendency to judge the probability of a type of event by how
easy it is to think of examples or instances. For example: new accounts of avalanches
make people fear skiing even though other aspects of skiing are more dangerous, like not
wearing a helmet.
Framing effect: the tendency for people’s choices to be affected by how a choice is
presented, or framed; for example, whether it is worded in terms of potential losses or
gains. For example: “condom has 95% success rate”, or same condom worded with
“condom has a 5% failure rate”.
The Fairness Bias
There are some circumstances where we try to avoid loss altogether. If your friend has
$20, and you play a game to decide how much he will give you, you will accept any offer
given, as it is better than nothing.
The Hindsight Bias
The tendency to overestimate one’s ability to have predicted an event once the outcome is
known; the “I knew it all along phenomenon”. The Confirm