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August 31, 2015

The leftward drift

I came across an intriguing bit in Richard Nisbett's book Mindware which was about what he called the leftward drift. This leftward drift refers to the fact that the number of college and university students who self-identify as liberal or far left in their political orientation increase as they move through college. At the same time, the number of students who call themselves conservative or far left decreases. In other words, college makes many students drift to the left in their political views.

August 30, 2015

5 Dimensions of belief systems

Gerard Saucier of the university of Oregon has done research into belief systems of people. Belief systems are important because they guide people's behaviors and thereby influence their development and the circumstances in which they will find themselves. Saucier has created insight into what kind of belief systems there are. He did this using factor analysis. Through factor analysis it is possible to reduce a large number of variables to a more limited number of variables (factors; read more). Saucier found out that the degree to which people vary in their beliefs can be describes using the following 5 dimensions (Saucier, 2013).

How to deal with the arrogant-yet-ignorant state of mind

We do not fully perceive and understand reality as it is. First, our senses do not permit us to perceive large parts of reality accurately or at all. Second, evolution has equipped us with cognitive rules of thumb (heuristics) which are fast and helpful to survive in most situations but which are also crude and inaccurate in many ways (read more). To add to this, we are to some (perhaps large) extent unaware of these handicaps. In other words, we may be ignorant without realizing it. The 2x2 model below describes four states of mind regarding our own ignorance.

August 28, 2015

Solving the replication problem in social science

Today, a team of researchers has made a good contribution to solving the replication problem in social science. 

Previously, I wrote about what science is and why it is important (see Improving science). In that piece I used the picture below to describe some essential parts of the scientific process. Each of these parts are links in the chain of the scientific process and play an essential role in making science function well. In several of these links there are some serious weaknesses which threaten the quality of science.

August 21, 2015

Alfie Kohn's misleading critique of Carol Dweck

Alfie Kohn has written an new article entitled The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system. The article is critical of the popularity of idea of the growth mindset. Kohn says the growth mindset concept was a promising idea but got over-simplified - something against which Carol Dweck did not object enough according to Kohn - and has now been coopted by conservative ideology. While Kohn's article raises some valid points, I disagree with its general contention.

August 20, 2015

Review of Mindware: tools for smart thinking by Richard Nisbett

Psychologist Richard Nisbett has written a new book called Mindware: tools for smart thinking. I think it is essential reading for students of psychology. Here is my review.

As a psychology student in the 1980s I first learned about the work of the Richard Nisbett. Together with Lee Ross (who coined the term fundamental attribution error; which I will come back to later) he wrote the classic book Human Inference (1980) about how people use rules of thumb in social judgment and decision making and about how we often systematic mistakes in the way we judge events and people. Nisbett & Ross' work build on and was closely related to the work done by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

July 7, 2015

The upright thinkers

Some time ago I mentioned Steven Weinberg's book The discovery of science which I liked a lot. Now there is a great new book about roughly the same topic written by physicist Leonard Mlodinow called The upright Thinkers.

While Weinberg's book emphasizes Ancient Greek and astronomy/physics Mlodinow's book is a bit broader in its focus. The upright thinkers' description of human's search for knowledge starts earlier, with evolutionary predecessors of homo sapiens. The book is also broader than Weinberg's book in the sense that it pays more attention to other sciences like chemistry and biology.

An admirable and fascinating book.

July 4, 2015

Written feedback using the plus, the arrow, and the question mark

Giving written feedback using the plus, the arrow, and the question mark can make your feedback more useful and the process of giving feedback more pleasant.

Many people frequently receive written feedback to what they have written themselves. Written feedback can fulfill an important function. Other people may have more knowledge and a different perspective which may enable you to learn from them. Also, feedback may help you check whether what you have written is clear and comes across as you intended.

July 2, 2015

Respecting truth

Philosopher Lee McIntyre has written a very interesting new book called Respecting truth: willful ignorance in the Internet age. If you liked my article On the importance of evaluating truth claims and my little tool for evaluating truth claims, you must also like this book.

In the book, Lee McIntyre argues that our relationship with truth is complex. On the one hand we often live our lives as if we believe that truth exists. On the other hand many of us are often willfully ignorant. What this means is that we refuse to consider evidence which contradicts our beliefs because we don't want to abandon those beliefs. McIntyre says that ignorance or false beliefs aren't what is dangerous but the choice to remain ignorant by insulating ourselves from new ideas or evidence.

Progress monitoring works

Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment? A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence
Harkin et al. (2015)

Abstract: Control Theory and other frameworks for understanding self-regulation suggest that monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that intervenes between setting and attaining a goal, and helps to ensure that goals are translated into action. However, the impact of progress monitoring interventions on rates of behavioral performance and goal attainment has yet to be quantified. A systematic literature search identified 138 studies (N = 19,951) that randomly allocated participants to an intervention designed to promote monitoring of goal progress versus a control condition. All studies reported the effects of the treatment on (a) the frequency of progress monitoring and (b) subsequent goal attainment.

June 30, 2015

Is there such a thing as civilization?

Is there such a things as civilization? Or is what we call civilization an illusion and would we be wiser to return to our natural state? 

A central theme in the discourse about progress was the difference between the views of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and the French philosopher (from Swiss origin) Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Hobbes view people as naturally cruel and violent, in other words as bad. In his book Leviathan, he explained that the solution for this problem is a monarchy or other form of government which represents the will of the people and has the monopoly on violence.  He saw civilization as a way of curbing people's badness.

June 24, 2015

No progress-warranty

Making progress in what is important to us is very motivating. I am referring both to individual progress, progress in your own life, and collective progress, progress at the level of groups and societies. What can be a problem is that progress is not always easy to see. When we do not pay close attention we can easily overlook it. Also, it is not always clear whether we should interpret a development as progress. There is, I think, an inherent reason why progress can be hard to see. By making progress we may encounter new situations which pose higher demands on us. Those higher demands, we can perceive as signs of decline or regress instead of progress.

June 18, 2015

Activating a student

I came across a beautiful example of activating a student in a progress-focused manner. 

Tina teaches high school students in a special boarding school. During the brief period (usually several months) in which these students are at the boarding school they work independently on their subjects most of the time and whenever they need some help or explanation Tina and their colleagues provide it to them. Of course, every now and then the students also have to take tests. Tina frequently uses progress-focused principles and techniques such as growth mindset interventions and autonomy supportive interventions. Every day, she writes brief observation/reflection diary entries, both for her own purpose and to inform her colleagues about what happened on that day. I have read and remembered one of the recent entries in that diary. I went something like this.