Monday, May 9, 2016

8 Ways Your Mind is Tricking You

Sorry for the Buzzfeed title.

From 3eanuts
(Peanuts - last panel)
I saw this list from Mark Manson this morning and it really struck me how relevant this is to teaching. I wish I could remember the HT here... see #6 below. I'll be looking for these in my own practice.

1. Actor-Observer Bias

This is a specific form of double standards. We judge actions differently depending on if it's ourselves doing it or someone else. For me, in the classroom this is double-edged: me forgetting what my teachers did that bothered me, and me forgetting what I did as a student that bothers me when my students do it.

And I was a terrible student. When I graduated college my friends tried to calculate if I had missed more class, attended more class awake or slept more.  IN CLASS.

Manson says: "We all do this. And we especially do it in situations of conflict."

2. Overestimation of future emotion.

Memory of past sorrows is minimized, and projection of future happiness or sadness is dramatized. One interesting aspect of this is that in the moment, we often don't notice

Similarly with projecting into the future, we overestimate how happy good things will make us feel and how unhappy bad things will make us feel. In fact, we’re often not even aware of how we’re actually feeling in the present moment.

The under-remembering the past doesn't make as much sense to me. It seems like the past can get magnified if I over-dwell on a negative interaction with a colleague or student. But what resonates for me is being present in the moment. This is connected to listening, treating someone as you wish to be treated, and living one day at a time.

3. You Are Easily Manipulated Into Making Bad Decisions

This point felt like Dan Ariely. Teaching-wise it reminded me of love and logic. Students want control, and have developed all sorts of ways of getting it. That's okay, after all we want control, too. Get out of the game.

4. You Reason To Support Your Preexisting Beliefs

This is especially dangerous with observation bias, where we only notice things that support our ideas. This reminds me of the horrifying research that teachers grades are more influenced by students previous history than by their current work. I have caught myself giving good students the benefit of the doubt while being more strict with a lazy student. That I even have terms like good student and lazy student in my head is terrifying to me.

5. Emotions Change Perceptions

Not just in the way that being angry or upset makes me more likely to make a worse choice, but that it conditions me to make worse choices later. Applying Manson's example, it a student reminds me in some subconscious way of a previous student that didn't work out right, it will influence me unknowingly to apply behavior from the previous to the current.

Whoa. I have to think about this more. 

6. Memory Ain't What it Was

Our memories are inaccurate, malleable, influenced by emotion and similar situations, and we are often convinced that, to the contrary, it is a matter of fact. I am convinced that one of the best reasons for marriage is to teach you this fact. To have someone you love, who was with you, tell you that you have it completely wrong should open you up to humility in a way few other things will. The lack of reliability of eyewitness testimony is a huge blaring caution sign.

So I've  decided to trust my students. I would rather get fooled a few times then to add to someone's troubles. I missed a grade, their relative died, we didn't copy we just worked together... I'll trust them. It's not altogether altruistic; I believe there are natural consequences for people who take advantage of my trust.

7. Who are you?

Your idea of self is probably an illusion.

I am a good teacher in my mind, but my challenging class last semester reminded me that I am not. Sometimes I am teaching well, but that's conditional and transient. Things I did in the past that helped those students couldn't matter less to these people in front of me. Teach the students you've got.

8. Who's Driving?

Manson notes: "On top of all of that, your conscious mind only seems to be able to handle about 60 bits of information per second when you’re engaged in “intelligent” activities (reading, playing an instrument, etc.)." Versus 11 million bits we sense. We're aware of 3/550,000th of what we perceive.

So, at best, you’re only consciously aware of about 0.000005454% of the already heavily modified information that your brain is receiving every single second you’re awake.

In all my work on implicit bias it seems clear: our subconscious is driving us. This really sums up most of the above. Imperfect perceptions, jumping to conclusions, rationalizations all have their root here.

So what do we do?  As I mentioned in the tweet where I shared this, mindfulness (or contemplation in my book) is the only remedy I know. I really want to use more mindfulness techniques with students. Elizabeth Statmore suggested, so I'll be looking into this. I may also try the basics this summer with my capstone course. But I'm definitely shy about it.

If you have responses or therapies for any of these issues, please share!

p.s. Note that Mr. Manson has many references in his post.
p.p.s. 30 seems like a long time away.

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