SPOT and the cloak of invisibility: cognitive biases

170925 cloak

For the observer: a cloak of invisibility?

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) With a laugh, I pass on to you today a couple more cognitive biases, ones that students are likely to enjoy. We could, of course, despair over how deep our biases seem to go and what a challenge it is to achieve an open mind, but I find it curiously entertaining to learn about the quirky biases of our human minds. Maybe it even creates some patience with other people – those others who are so stubbornly wrong! – if we recognize that we are also naively wrong ourselves.

When considering reason as a way of knowing, we Theory of Knowledge teachers have long treated fallacies that derail clear thinking. When considering intuition as a way of knowing, we have a wealth of material in all the biases that kick in before we’re even consciously thinking. At moments, I’ve idly wondered whether we could teach the entire TOK course centred on confirmation bias, our tendency to notice and accept only information that reinforces what we believe already.   For what I’ve written already on cognitive biases, have a look at Theory of Knowledge (OUP 2013) and also hit “cognitive bias” in the tag cloud for this blog. But today I wanted to pass on a couple that are new to me.

They’re explained in the BBC podcast All in the Mind (June 20, 2017). The relevant bit starts just after 22:00 and ends at 27:30, so it’s five and a half minutes long.

The ones new to me are:

  • the SPOT effect, whose acronym stands for “spontaneous preference for our own theories”. By way of explanation, the podcasters give background also on “the Lake Woebegone effect” (our tendency to think that we’re better than average) and refer to self-enhancing biases and confirmation bias
  • the invisibility cloak illusion (especially relevant to sense perception and observation). It’s our inclination to think we’re the observers, with limited awareness of our also being the observed.

It’s pretty evident how these cognitive biases could influence how we gain our knowledge. Once again, we encounter persuasive reasons to pay attention to the findings of the cognitive sciences, and for practitioners in relevant areas of knowledge to incorporate this awareness into the constant refining of methodologies.

For our students, exposure to numerous cognitive biases in TOK class could contribute to appreciation that knowledge is an achievement, and that to gain it reliably requires self-awareness and care. I hope that such exposure also adds some humour and human sympathy.


image creative commons:

All in the Mind, BBC (June 20, 2017). 22:00-27:30

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