Brown University researchers have identified a way to improve thought processes that goes well beyond the “power of positive thinking.” The technique, they argue, may help to navigate around biased ways of thinking and ultimately lead to better planning and decision-making.
Details are published online and will be included in the March 2010 issue of Psychological Science.
“What we looked at was how to get people to think of alternative possibilities, something they don’t always do naturally,” said Philip Fernbach, a cognitive and linguistic sciences graduate student and the paper’s first author. “When making judgments and decisions, people are often myopic; they fail to consider hypotheses beyond the one they have in mind.”
Adam Darlow, a graduate student in the same department, is the paper’s second author. Cognitive and linguistic sciences professor Stephen Sloman served as third author.
Fernbach and the other researchers explored the degree to which people are overly focused on a single cause when pursuing two fundamental kinds of thinking — predicting the likelihood of an outcome and diagnosing the causes of an outcome.
They see these two kinds of thinking as flip sides of the same coin. Predicting outcomes calls for thinking forward from the cause of the outcome, such as predicting the likelihood that someone who goes on a diet will lose weight. But offering a diagnosis involves thinking backward from an outcome to the cause, such as diagnosing whether someone who lost weight dieted.
The researchers conducted three studies with medical professionals and Brown undergraduates. Their findings: In each case, the subjects considered alternative causes when they made diagnoses, but did not do so when making predictions.
Both findings have consequences in day-to day life, Fernbach said.
“Neglecting alternatives when making a prediction leads people to believe the desired results of their actions are less likely than they actually are,” he said.
For example, a person might predict that career success is unlikely because a current project isn’t going well. But that prediction underestimates the potential positive impact from future projects, professional development or other factors.
As far as diagnoses, the research findings reinforce the benefit of encouraging people’s natural ability to pursue diagnostic reasoning. For example, when doctors make a diagnosis, they should consider how likely the disease is given the symptoms, rather than simply deciding whether the disease is likely or unlikely. And a better outcome is possible, they said, when the doctor continues to reassess the diagnosis throughout the course of treatment.
“A typical diagnosis is saying ‘this disease is the cause,’” Darlow said. “We are saying it is important to elaborate beyond that. When you have to make that kind of more detailed judgment, then the alternative causes or hypotheses come to mind — because they have to.”
Overall, the researchers say that considering alternatives when making predictions or diagnoses can lead to better judgments, and therefore better decisions.
“It is a hook to get people to reason better,” Fernbach said.
A grant from the National Science Foundation supported the study.
Mark Hollmer | EurekAlert!
Europe’s Demographic Future. Where the Regions Are Heading after a Decade of Crises
10.08.2017 | Berlin-Institut für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
Scientists reveal source of human heartbeat in 3-D
07.08.2017 | University of Manchester
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences