A Snack-Sized Lesson Learned


In my critical thinking class, part of the assignment each unit is to write a blog post. For me, that’s like throwing a candy bar at a chocaholic. Woohoo! This is my first post. We studied how critical thinking could be used to help overcome cognitive biases. The professor took it easy on us for our first assignment. The paper we were assigned to write had to include three types of cognitive biases, and three real-world examples of them. The paper had to be written in a formal and scholarly tone, strict APA style, etc. So imagine me trying to tell personal stories in a formal and scholarly tone – pure torture, haha. Anyway, our blog posts are a way for us to de-brief, share our thoughts about the unit, etc. Thank goodness we can drop the scholarly tone… Here is my Psy501 Unit 1 Blog Post:

While writing for the assignment in this unit, I found myself struggling to keep a formal, scholarly tone. I was writing about personal stories to illustrate the cognitive biases, and as many of us do when re-telling stories, I naturally wrote with humor – the memories were funny because of how ridiculous they seemed. How could these people not see their biases affecting their behavior and decisions? After writing at least 15 pages (there were lots of details – and I talk/write too much), I realized I had to go back and edit the curse words, my descriptions, and the overall tone of the paper (e.g. I actually Googled “scholarly term for bum butt rear-end. It’s “buttocks” in case you ever need that for a research paper, haha). I ended up having to chop off large chunks of the paper, but I’m glad I honed the stories down to the important points. I was embarrassed to notice, in the process of editing, that my tone in the stories was very judgmental. “Oh, look at me, noticing how many people in my life are so ignorant to their own biases.” Thinking about ways to rewrite the stories in a more formal way made me slow down to examine my own behavior during the events that took place in the stories. It’s almost as if the delete button and the rewriting process caused me to re-process the events. I found myself questioning my past actions and wondering what I could have done or said to help remedy those situations.

One of the cognitive biases I wrote about was the bandwagon effect. The short version: In the early 2000s, while my oldest daughter was in high school, low-rise jeans became all the rage. Women everywhere wanted to be like the emaciated celebrities they saw in the magazines and walk around with their thongs in view and their butts hanging out. The thing is unless you had no backside and no bodyfat, they were so unflattering. Muffin tops – that’s where I first started hearing that term. Watching women waddle around, hitching up their pants every few yards in vain attempts to keep the pants from falling down only came second to the scary sight of healthy women with backsides sitting down. Plumbers had nuthin’ on them. So, these pants were uncomfortable and unflattering, but for some curious reason, teenage girls THRONGED to stores to buy them. My daughter was one of those teens who wanted desperately to wear low-rise jeans. Moms out there might be able to imagine my reaction. No. Way. She ended up getting around me not buying them for her, by saving up her babysitting money and buying them for herself. Then she spent two years waddling, tugging up her pants, and exposing WAY too much when she sat down. Today, she’s 27 and we laugh about it. She wonders what she was thinking. Whenever I ask her exactly what she WAS thinking, she can only come up with saying that everyone else was doing it…Bandwagon effect at its best.

So, it took me quite a while to re-write a decent version of the story that I could submit in the paper. I had a header titled “solutions” where I wrote how my daughter could have written a list, perhaps, with one side showing all the reasons she thought it was a good idea to have the pants, and on the other side, an equal number of carefully thought-out reasons opposing the idea. I wrote that it’s possible that the time it would take her to do that might slow down her thinking and cause her to re-examine her decision through reflection. I did NOT have her do that back then. I remember I just put my foot down and said there was no way she would wear them, telling her all the things I mentioned above. Many arguments, much crying, bad feelings all around.  While I wrote the “solution” section in my paper, it hit me: I should have done the very same thing I was proposing. I should have slowed MY thinking, used critical thinking skills, and made a similar list of my own. Only, my list should have included a section listing all the possible group decisions that my daughter could have made in lieu of bad fashion choices. I mean, in retrospect, having a teen who wants to jump on the bandwagon of poor fashion choices is harmless.  The bandwagon effect’s pull is strong –especially in teens. She could very well have chosen to join harmful group activities, like smoking, underage drinking, or drugs. Heck, there was a daycare at her high school, and it was a very Hawaiian thing for families to just take in the babies while the teens continued their activities without using birth control. So many things. So many possible scary bandwagons. Instead, back then, I went with my gut, using intuition, jumping to the decision to fight her on this harmless decision.

This unit has taught me a lot. I had previously learned about cognitive bias and thought I was self-aware and was good about avoiding most of the influences, but I had never taken the time to examine myself carefully and thoughtfully, using a different perspective. I’m not comfortable doing it, but now I’m going to do my best to slow down in the heat of the moment and step out of myself to re-examine what I’m thinking. Always growing, always learning.

See what I mean about talking too much? J

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