Our ‘thinking biases’ that interfere with learning

Our ‘thinking biases’ that interfere with learning

You may think that you are always clear and rational with your thoughts but perhaps that is not always the case. I was recently introduced to research around ‘cognitive biases’ by Bradley Busch, a chartered psychologist and director at InnerDrive. He taught me that cognitive biases are thought processes that can change how we perceive things and can prevent us from making the logical decisions we think we are making.

Psychologists have identified over 100 thinking biases but not all of them are relevant when thinking about Education. It is important to note that thinking biases occur in your everyday life in all aspects of it. Thinking biases especially occur when there are a lot of human interactions, a school for example.

There are three main cognitive biases that Bradley taught me about. They have really peaked my interest and got me thinking about them when I am interacting with colleagues and students. I have also started to look out for these biases now that I am aware of them.

The Ikea Effect

Work produced from this study found that people place a higher value on things they have helped to create (like some flat pack furniture). The bias states that if someone has an idea and put in some work for it, then they are more likely to believe that it must be a good idea.

In schools, this can apply to teaching staff who hold onto to failing strategies and interventions for longer than they should be. You can protect yourself from this but reminding yourself that just because a project was your idea it’s not necessarily a good approach to take.

You could also consider school leaders who hold onto curriculum changes or new policies even though they are not fit for purpose. Perhaps inform them of the Ikea Effect first before telling them their idea just isn’t working. Help each other learn when to let go of projects.

The Bandwagon Effect

I bet you already think about this one in your classrooms especially when devising your seating arrangements. The Bandwagon Effect notes how you are more likely to agree with something if lots of other people already do. A good example in modern culture is the “90 minute bigots” where you can find people you would least expect joining in with sectarian singing and bigotry at a football match.

The Bandwagon Effect notes how easy it is to go with the flow, as someone else has done the thinking for you. You could also think of fashion in the same way. If many people begin to wear a certain style of clothing you start seeing many others adopt the same fashions.

So what about in schools and in classrooms. Teachers and schools leaders can benefit from the Bandwagon Effect by actively highlighting and praising the norms they want to see with the view of others following suit.

Confirmation Bias

Put simply, this bias is the idea that people pay more attention to ideas they have already agreed with. For example, if you label a pupil as one that displays challenging behaviour you are more likely to pay attention to the challenging behaviour and possibly disregard the times they have not been challenging.

Confirmation Bias is difficult to get around as once you have an opinion you are more likely to collect data that confirms your theory which boosts further your confimation.

An example of this could be the tough lower ability class you teach (we have all had one). One student disrupts the lesson and it reinforces the opinion you have of that group. However, you haven’t taken account the multitude of issues which could have caused that one instance of behaviour.

Confirmation bias is pervasive in schools and its impact cannot be underestimated.

There are 100s of other cognitive biases to sink your teeth into if you want to know more.

Over the next week really have a look out for students, colleagues, school leaders and yourself showing one of these biases. It really does get you thinking.

About the Author
Teaching for 8 years. Blogger, Podcaster and Educator.

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