While pinballing through clickbait in the morono-sphere the last night, (Yes I should have been asleep) I came across this article on I09.
It got me thinking about the “C-word” that keeps cropping up in academic grade descriptors. “Critical” (ok sometimes it’s “critically”) and how many of the above mentioned cognitive biases could work even more forcefully across a language/culture divide to get in the way of the much needed critical thinking. (Ok, you only ‘need’ it in first year if you want good marks.)
1 Confirmation Bias: this means preferring views and opinions that tell you you’ve been right all along. How can it hurt you academically? It helps you to discount and/or ignore opinions that should be included (even if you still disagree with them). Most grade descriptors say something like ‘acknowledges relevant controversy’; well if you ignore the controversy you’re unlikely to acknowledge it. When you see poor academic phrasing like “It is a widely acknowledged fact/everybody knows/this paper proves” etc. this is appealing to your conformation bias to not think critically.
2 In Group Bias: As IO9 states this works similarly to 1 basically me and my friends are right. How can it hurt you academically? Again, this is not paying sufficient attention, (AKA devoting sufficient word count) to ideas and positions that you don’t like because they aren’t what you and your friends think.
3 Gambler’s Fallacy: this is the “better luck next time” or “this test will be easier than the last one”. Academically, this is when people don’t pick up and go through work that they’ve got back to understand how they can improve it, especially if it didn’t get a very good mark. Yes this happens. Anecdotally, one department administrator puts the number between 5-10%. It’s also when they assume tests will get easier.
4 Post-purchase rationalisation: when you make yourself feel better after a bad decision. Academically, this could be the student who sat in my 9AM lecture every week, looking green and wafting vodka fumes. They got through week 1 with a hangover so obviously they can get through them all that way. It could also be ignoring advice and feedback about assignments and blaming your poor marks on those assignments on ‘hard marking’ or ‘tricky questions’.
5 Neglecting Probability: Have you ever thought: “The next test must be easier”; / “It’s multiple choice the answer can’t be A: three times running”; probability doesn’t take it personally, neither should you.
6 Observational Selection Bias: At Grad level, the academic impact here is when you suddenly notice lots of people doing similar work to you. Don’t worry, your supervisors wouldn’t let you start something completely pointless, but you might want to hurry up and publish, before your work does become redundant. For undergrads, don’t suddenly discover something that is “OMG! the answer-to-everything”. Yes read widely, yes follow sources and learn but don’t assume that the thing you’ve just figured out is the one and only answer.
7 Status Quo Bias: We like things to be stable, but in your academic life you need to change and develop, (often more or less continuously). A paper from first year that does well might scrape through in second year, and fail in third etc.
8 Negativity Bias: As Jorge Cham teaches us grad students often find it easy to get discouraged, I wonder how much the negativity bias is at work here. Noticing things which are bad for your research position or work can actually be good, just work to refine the model rather than giving up.
9 Bandwagon Effect: There are fashions and trends in academic life, just like any field. Some of the most successful people in all fields of life have ignored the bandwagon effect, left the safe job to work for themselves etc. Academically, don’t be afraid to stand out, just make sure you can support your position whether you are standing out from the crowd or hiding in the middle of it.
10 Projection Bias: It’s impossible, or at least very difficult for you to read your own writing the way someone else would read it. We’ve got advice on this here. This can be a big one, and hard to address. Academically, you need to read your own work critically, (there’s that c-word again).
11 Current Moment Bias: You know this. It’s that moment when you should go to the library but decide to go for pizza instead. Individually that half hour doesn’t matter much. But, when you then go to play football with friends, (because how many nice days are there left this year) it can get dangerous. Many students find that they don’t do as well as they hoped because they underestimated the amount of research that goes into a good paper. A good paper is much like making a film (or a movie for any Americans). 60% preparation (research and reading) 20 % shooting (writing) 20 % editing (editing) Putting off that research hurts the first stage and very few good films were ever made by heading out with a camera crew and no plan… no matter what the director wants you to think.
12 Anchoring Effect: That tendency to try for middle ground. Last year I asked my first year class “who wants a first” nobody put up their hand “who would like a 2.1” half the class or more raised their hands. The problem is when you are aiming for good enough (as opposed to good) you might not get there all the time.