Nicholas Gruen’s post about Einstellung (a person’s predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though there are “better” or more appropriate methods of solving it) has given me an idea. I would like to devise a couple of seminars for undergraduate Law students to be delivered as part of the subject Jurisprudence that I am next teaching at CDU in semester 2 2012 (so there’s plenty of time to work out how to do it).
When you consider obstacles to rational thinking and problem-solving like Einstellung, “framing” as enunciated by people like Kahnemann and Tversky, confirmation bias, and Jonathan Haidt’s “social intuition” model of moral decision-making, it’s pretty clear that much of what we usually believe to be genuinely reflective, critical and analytical thinking, both on our own part and by others, is actually much less considered and rational than we might imagine.
I have in mind a couple of seminars that would explain the basics of each of these research approaches to cognitive biases or shortcomings. We would also have students undertake versions of some of the surveys that led to these research findings.
However, what I’m also wondering is whether there are any well accepted practical techniques for diagnosing and correcting suchcognitive biases in ourselves, other than the obvious but difficult one of attempting to adopt a skeptical stance in interrogating one’s own thought processes, especially when dealing with a question likely to arouse strong emotions? And what useful indicators might exist to tell us when to engage in that sort of careful skeptical reflection about our own motives, assumptions and thought processes? Heuristics and habit are unavoidable and useful behaviours. None of us has the time or energy to reflect carefully and skeptically on every decision we make in our daily lives, and in most cases repeating behaviour that worked previously is both efficient and sensible. Are there any reliable guides for picking when that might not be so?
Any hints or observations on how best to run seminars like this would be gratefully received e.g. Patrick noted that his law firm runs training programs where they examine cognitive phenomena like framing.