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Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

Daniel Kahneman talks extensively about how we make reasoning errors because we tend to use mental shortcuts. One mental shortcut is ‘substitution‘. Substitution is what we do when we (often unconsciously) answer an easier question than the one being asked. I find that I sometimes do this in my own research. For instance, when I set out to answer the question, “How can X be rational?” I sometimes end up answering easier questions like, “How does X work?”. In an effort to avoid such mistakes, I will (1) explain the question substitution error, (2) give an example of how we can distinguish between questions, (3) give a personal example of the substitution error, and (4) say what we can do about it.

1.  Substitution

In case you’re not familiar with Kahnemen’s notion of ‘substitution’, here is some clarification. In short, substitution is this: responding to a difficult question by (often unintentionally) answering a different, easier question. People use this mental shortcut all the time. Here are some everyday instances:

Difficult Question Easier Question
How satisfied are you with your life? What is my mood right now?
Should I believe what my parents believe? Can I believe what my parents believe?
What are the merits/demerits of that woman who is running for president? What do I remember people in my community saying about that woman?

For further discussion of mental shortcuts and substitution, see Part 1 of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2012).

Now, how does this mental shortcut apply to research?  Continue reading Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

Using Shorthand to Grade Papers Quickly, Consistently, and Constructively

I use shorthand to grade papers quickly. This is great for me, of course, but —more importantly — it’s great for students. Shorthand allows me to give students prompt, consistent, and constructive feedback.

I’ve included the key to my shorthand below. I’ve also included the printer-friendly, PDF version of the key that I give to students.  Continue reading Using Shorthand to Grade Papers Quickly, Consistently, and Constructively

Crystal Meth & Your Brain: An Infographic

Methamphetamine use is on the rise (Drug Enforcement Administration 2015). And so are crystal-meth-related drug convictions (see “State Sentencing…”). So what do we know about crystal meth? In particular, what does crystal meth do to your body and brain? The South Shore Recovery Center has some answers. In fact, they’ve done us the favor of turning those answers into the infographic below.
Continue reading Crystal Meth & Your Brain: An Infographic

Implicit Bias & Philosophy

This week, I’m talking about implicit bias over at The Brains Blog. I’m including my portion of the discussion below.

1.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT)

The implicit association test (IAT) is one way to measure implicitly biased behavior. In the IAT, “participants […] are asked to rapidly categorize two [kinds of stimuli] (black vs. white [faces]) [into one of] two attributes (‘good’ vs. ‘bad’). Differences in response latency (and sometimes differences in error-rates) are then treated as a measure of the association between the target [stimuli] and the target attribute” (Huebner 2016). Likewise, changes in response latencies and error-rates resulting from experimental interventions are treated as experimentally manipulated changes in associations.

2.  The Effect Of Philosophy

As philosophers, we are in the business of arguments and their propositions, not associations. So we might wonder whether we can use arguments to intervene on our implicitly biased behavior. And it turns out that we can — even if the findings are not always significant and the effect sizes are often small. Some think that this effect of arguments on IAT performance falsifies the idea that implicitly biased behavior is realized by associations (Mandelbaum 2015). The idea is that propositions are fundamentally different than associations. So associations cannot be modified by propositions. So if an arguments’ propositions can change participants’ implicitly biased behavior — as measured by the IAT — then implicit biases might “not [be] predicated on [associations] but [rather] unconscious propositionally structured beliefs” (Mandelbaum 2015, bracketed text and italics added). But there is some reason to think that such falsification relies on oversimplification. After all, there are many processes involved in our behavior — implicitly biased or otherwise. So there are many processes that need to be accounted for when trying to measure the effect of an intervention on our implicitly biased behavior — e.g., participants’ concern about discrimination, their motivation to respond without prejudice (Plant & Devine, 1998), and their personal awareness of bias. So what happens when we control for these variables? In many cases, we find that argument-like interventions on implicitly biased behavior are actually explained by changes in participants’ concern(s), motivation(s), and/or awareness, but not changes in associations (Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox 2013; Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, and Groom 2005). Continue reading Implicit Bias & Philosophy

Is Reflective Reasoning Supposed To Change My Mind?

Yes and no. (Listen: I hate that answer as much as anyone, so hear me out.)

1.  Define ‘Change my mind’

First, let’s get clear on what we mean by ‘change my mind.’ By that I mean a change in belief or Continue reading Is Reflective Reasoning Supposed To Change My Mind?