Self reflection is akin to looking at yourself in the mirror. It helps you become aware of your emotions, your deep subconscious beliefs, recurrent thought patterns, inner conflicts and unresolved issues.
By becoming aware of these facets of your personality, you now have the power to discard negative and limiting beliefs and change your focus toward gratitude, abundance, inner peace and balance.
Journaling for self reflection
One of the best and most powerful ways to reflect is through writing, and in that – ‘Journaling’ as it is more structured.
As you put your thoughts on paper on a regular basis, you slowly being to de-clutter your mind and bring things into perspective leading to self awareness, clarify, alignment and inner peace.
While you can start journaling using just about any blank notebook, it is always helpful when you have something more structured. This is where journals come to your help.
Self reflection journals contain questions, prompts and activities that will motivate you to continue writing on a day to day basis. Some journals even have other add-ons like inspirational quotes, coloring pages and interactive elements to keep you motivated.
The following is our curated list of 20 all time best journals that will help you rediscover yourself.
1. Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal
Find on Amazon.com
First on our list is Tiny Buddha’s gratitude journal.
This beautifully crafted journal will help you self reflect and creatively foster gratitude in your life.
This journal contains a combination of creative writing prompts and self reflection questions that are fun, inspiring and thought provoking. In addition, there are 15 beautiful coloring pages sprinkled throughout the journal.
Examples of questions/prompts in the journal:
What’s the best thing that has happened to you today (so far), and what did you most appreciate about it?
What do you most appreciate about spending time in nature?
Though they are not perfect, I appreciate that my family ______
I am grateful that I am healthy enough to _______
Which places (cities, beaches, restaurants, etc.) do you appreciate the most and why?
Example of a coloring page:
Quick facts about this journal
This is a 168-page interactive journal that contains a combination of writing and coloring pages.
Writing pages have ruled lines for you to easily jot down your responses.
You can start anywhere (on any page), no need to follow any particular order.
2. Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration
Find on Amazon.com
The ‘Start Where You Are‘ journal is a collection of questions, prompts, exercises and inspirational quotes that will provide you with a powerful outlet to have thoughtful reflections.
Example of questions in this journal:
List five things that always and immediately bring a smile to your face.
Write down ten dreams that haven’t come true yet.
What are three thoughts that made you smile today.
What gives you light?
Quick facts about this journal:
Features vibrant hand-lettering and beautiful watercolor images.
Contains a combination of questions, prompts, exercises and quotes (There are quotes on every other page that relate to the following prompt).
Pages are unruled and there is plenty of room for writing and reflecting.
3. Story of My Life Journal
Find on Amazon.com
This is essentially a blank memoir with pages of prompts for you to ponder, this journal provides thought-provoking questions concerning all the corners of your life. Filling in a journal such as this one feels like meeting yourself for the first time, as you consider questions ranging from your childhood to your present-day self.
Examples of questions in this journal:
Write about the earliest childhood memory of your Father/Mother.
Describe the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do, either physically or mentally. Did you do it alone or did you have support?
List the top 10 songs you have loved as a teenager. What memories stand out with those songs in the background?
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Journal writing has become a very popular educational tool which can help students learn subjects as varied as literature and psychology, and is utilized as a key component of experiential learning, where you are both a participant and observer.
As a participant, you contribute to the nonprofit organization in which you are placed. The academic component of your service results from your ability to systematically observe what is going on around you. A well- written journal is a tool which helps you practice the quick movements back and forth from the environment in which you are working to the abstract generalizations you have read or heard about in class.
HOW DO YOU WRITE A REFLECTION JOURNAL?
Buy a notebook or start a computer file – write an entry for each day you conduct your service. Your entries are based on the activities of the day, but they are more than a mere chronology of events. Include detailed descriptions of some aspect of your service environment, whether physical, behavioral, or organizational. These descriptions should sound as if you were describing them to someone who was never there.
Tentative explanations – Speculate as to why something that you have observed firsthand is as it is. You might derive your explanation from a lecture you have heard, a book you have read, or your own reservoir of “common sense.”
Personal judgments – Make judgments about something in your community service environment. There may be people’s actions that you find unpleasant, ways of doing things that are not as you would do them, work environments in which you would not want to remain. These judgments will help you learn about yourself, your values and your limits. Journals allow you to speak your mind.
WHO WILL READ THE JOURNAL?
Journals are very private documents. You should write the entries each day you perform your community service, but you should write them after you have left the placement.
Do not let colleagues read your journal. When you hand in your journal, only the instructor will read your journal and the contents will not be shared with anyone else.
WHAT SHOULD I WRITE IN MY JOURNAL?
Here are a few of the ingredients that go into a keeping a great journal:
Journals should be snapshots filled with sights, sounds, smells, concerns, insights, doubts, fears, and critical questions about issues, people, and, most importantly, yourself.
Honesty is the most important ingredient to successful journals.
A journal is not simply a report. It’s not a work log of tasks, events, times and dates.
Write freely. Grammar/spelling should not be stressed in your writing until the final draft.
Write an entry after each visit. If you can’t write a full entry, jot down random thoughts, images, etc. which you can come back to a day or two later and expand into a colorful verbal picture.
STRUCTURING YOUR WRITING:
Read and reread your entries so that you can see your own development over the course of the semester. You should use the data you have recorded in your journal in writing your paper.
Use the journal as a time to meditate on what you’ve seen, felt, and experienced, and which aspects of the volunteer experience continues to excite, trouble, impress, or unnerve you.
Don’t simply answer the prompts given to you by your professor, but use the questions as a diving board to leap from into a clear or murky pool of thought.
Final journals need to be edited for proper grammar and spelling.
THE MIRROR (A CLEAR REFLECTION OF THE SELF)
Who am I? What are my values?
What have I learned about myself through this experience?
Do I have more/less understanding or empathy than I did before volunteering?
In what ways, if any, has your sense of self, your values, your sense of “community,” your willingness to serve others, and your self-confidence/self-esteem been impacted or altered through this experience?
Have your motivations for volunteering changed? In what ways?
How has this experience challenged stereotypes or prejudices you have/had? Any realizations, insights, or especially strong lessons learned or half-glimpsed?
Will these experiences change the way you act or think in the future? Have you given enough, opened up enough, cared enough?
How have you challenged yourself, your ideals, your philosophies, your concept of life or of the way you live?
THE MICROSCOPE (MAKES THE SMALL EXPERIENCE LARGE)
What happened? Describe your experience.
What would you change about this situation if you were in charge? What have you learned about this agency, these people, or the community?
Was there a moment of failure, success, indecision, doubt, humor, frustration, happiness, sadness?
Do you feel your actions had any impact?
What more needs to be done? Does this experience compliment or contrast with what you’re learning in class? How?
Has learning through experience taught you more, less, or the same as the class? In what ways?
THE BINOCULARS (MAKES WHAT APPEARS DISTANT, APPEAR CLOSER)
From your service experience, are you able to identify any underlying or overarching issues that influence the problem?
What could be done to change the situation?
How will this alter your future behaviors/attitudes/and career?
How is the issue/agency you’re serving impacted by what is going on in the larger political/social sphere?
What does the future hold?
What can be done?
Today I got to really to really help people. It was such a thrill to use my knowledge to really help people. Generally I see my skills as somewhat esoteric. Being a history student sometimes feels a bit wasteful. But today I helped a middle-aged woman called Marie. To her passing the language section of the GED really means something concrete. My one semester of Spanish really helped. I couldn’t really say anything useful, but I could use little examples to help him: “What would the Spanish word for ‘it’ be here? ‘Los’? That’s plural isn’t it? In English ‘los’ is always ‘them’, not ‘it’.” It’s so nice to feel useful.
Apparently my background check still hasn’t gone through, and I’m not supposed to be helping. I know this is a side issue, but it is one of the things about volunteering that upsets me. When a potential volunteer approaches an opportunity full of enthusiasm, and a background check takes over a week, and no one contacts her, it is easy to quickly loose that enthusiasm. I was the only person assisting the two teachers; they clearly needed me. But I no one contacted me about the classes starting. I had to take my own initiative. I don’t feel particularly wanted by the organization. This has been a problem for me in the past when I tried to volunteer. It seems sometimes organizations think people who are not being paid don’t care about details.
My first day, and already I am reminded of why I love doing this…those revelations about your life that you can only acquire while being a part of others. If I wanted to be bland I could say that I spent the day teaching homeless children how to make pop up cards, but that would not do justice to what really happened. It was bitter sweet, to have the importance of a mothers care in hard times highlighted in front of me, while the pain of the recent loss of my own mother is still strong and undoubtedly will always be.
Alva didn’t think twice about who she would make a card for… “her mama” she proclaimed proudly. She chatted away on how her mother worked late at the ballpark and I could sense just how proud she was of her mother as she described her mothers work duties, “she works the register and sometimes she makes the food”. I knew the feeling, my own mother was a welder, the only woman where she worked and although many people would look down at the job, I was very proud. The burns on her arms and the dirt under her fingernails showed me just how much she loved me. She worked for all of us and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have everything because I had all that mattered. It gave me hope that, although the current situation Alva found herself in at such a young age was difficult, she was going to be alright …maybe better than a lot of kids sleeping in their own beds because in her life she had what really mattered. That can make all the difference.
Yesterday I held the card that my mother had sent me when I first went away for college. I can’t express how much it meant to me, maybe even more than when I first received it. It read, “I’m missing something…you.” Gosh, how it seems so appropriate yet so ironic. I was thinking of how exactly I would start my creative project class for this course…what better way than a scrapbook…with a card to my own mother to start.
So it’s my third week in the program and my second week with students. Last week was short because of all the Holiday and Inservice days. But this week I feel like I’m starting to hit my stride and find my place working in the classrooms with the teachers and students.
I was part of helping a student get organized. The result of which was that they realized they in fact did not need to carry their book bag from class to class, they really just needed their binder.
I also helped a student with ADHD find a positive way to get attention by contributing to the class discussion. It may have only lasted for one day this time, but it’s definitely a move in the right direction for this student.
I feel like I am actually being of service again. And that’s a wonderful feeling. I am happy to celebrate the little every day accomplishments and small victories with the students. I am enjoying getting to know them as individuals and starting to see paths to assisting them with their Social-Emotional Learing.
To this end, I have been asking students quietly while they’re working on independent assignments how they are doing. This provides an oppertunity to have a conversation about the current assignment that is more student led. And I hope over time, as we continue to build rapport, will become an avenue for students to open up about other things they may have going on and want to talk about.
I am looking forward to getting to introduce the MyScore tool to the students, to help them gauge and track their own Social-Emotional Learning. And in the meantime I will continue to build rapport as I provide steady, consistent, caring support as needed.
So with the Holiday Weekend, it was a rather short week. I only got to spend two days this week in the classroom directly serving the students at the Middle School I am assigned to. However, it still felt amazingly wonderful to be finally back in a classroom working with students to help them reach their goals.
After a year of sitting around and waiting of going from odd gig to odd gig; I was finally feeling useful again. Here I was back in the classroom actually being of service to students.
The first day was spent mostly feeling out my place in the classroom, how best to support the students, and which students might need extra or additional supports. This was of course in addition to building rapport with the students. Getting them used to seeing me in the classroom, and showing them that I am there to help them succeed.
My only hiccup of the week was technology-based. I am supposed to be getting access to an email address and the classroom website that is used to share assignments with students as well as track their progress. By Friday, I had not yet received the email from the county school system that I will need to set all of that up, however. Hopefully, I get it soon so I can have access to all of that. As that access will most definitely help me serve the students.
All in all, it’s been a short but terrific week. I can’t wait for Monday, and to see the students again.
From the very beginning of the day on Monday the 27th of August, I felt like I was professionally coming home. And that feeling has lasted through the week. I want to soak up this feeling and this energy and carry it forward with me for the rest of the year and beyond.
This first week has been powerful. I’ve already learned some lessons about myself that I had not known I needed to learn. That’s the wonderful thing about being in a room of intelligent, driven, caring people with a common goal. Some times it inspires, sometimes it pushes us to do better, and occasionally it challenges us to face truths about ourselves in order to become a better person.
I find myself learning from the perspectives and experiences of my fellow members; and hopefully able to teach or inspire them with my own experiences. I have a feeling this is going to be a very good year, if only for that reason. And yet, there’s more.
The list of planned excursions and professional development sessions through AmerciCorps has me excited for the weekly training days on Fridays.
I also received a book on Cultrually Resposive teaching the very first day of training. I am referring to Zarretta Hammond’s Cuturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain which I am mining for all its shared wisdom. And jives very well with both the concept of Narrative Change and the MyScore tool for Social-Emotional Learing that Project Change has developed to help students identify and track their own Social Emotional-Learning with our support.
I truly feel inspired by all of this and the support I will be receiving. I can’t wait to dive in and get to work with Students again.
I came to AmeriCorps this year out of a space I think many Americans may have been in recently. I was re-evaluating things due to the widespread pandemic. Did I still want to be in a classroom? Did I want to keep teaching? What was teaching even going to look like now? Would being closer to home be better in case things suddenly changed again? Would it be better to be in an environment where more support was provided?
To understand my thought process and the answers I would come to, we first have to go back. I could say my story started 12 years ago when fresh out of school I took what was originally supposed to be a temporary job as a Substitute Teacher, but then found Teaching to be my purpose. Or I can say it started when I was a young child and saw the example my Mom set of service through education. Or even further back we could look at my family record of service of over 200 years of stepping up when called on. Really though my journey to AmeriCorps and Project Change specifically started about a year and a half ago in March of 2020 with the onset of the Pandemic.
In March 2020 I was laid off from the Substituting job I had held for over a decade without much warning as schools closed down to flatten the curve. And like many at the time, I thought this was just going to be temporary. Surely it would all sort itself out by the end of the school year or at the latest by the start of the next. Of course, this was not the case. And in the next year, I would face some other major changes that all got me thinking of the path I wanted to take.
I moved from a very rural area kind of at the edge of the state to the much more centrally located and metropolitan by comparison Glen Burnie, Maryland. I spent time participating in the Gig Economy as a personal shopper delivering groceries. My parents relocated to South Carolina, an 8-hour drive away. I got married to my wonderful Husband while the officiant and my closest family had to join us via Skype. I got dreadfully sick with COVID 19 and spent 6 months rehabbing my lungs. (And I am still dealing with some of the long-haul COVID symptoms) In short, the last year and a half was rather eventful.
I came out of that Pandemic Whirl of Time knowing I needed and wanted to make some changes careerwise. Teaching was still my calling but I needed to set some ground rules on what my next Teaching Job would look like. First and foremost I wanted to be a lot closer to my new home. Almost as importantly, I wanted to feel like the program I was working in was supporting my desire to grow as a teacher and would be a partner in working through the new landscape of Teaching Post-COVID. And I desperately wanted to be of service to my community and the students I would be working with.
This is when I found AmeriCorps Project Change through a job posting on Indeed. Reading the ad on Indeed and knowing a little of the history of AmericCorps’s founding in the 1990s, this seemed like the right fit. From the moment I had my first interview for the position, I was excited and enthusiastic to go back to a classroom working through Project Change and AmeriCorps. My Mom and Husband, ever my cheerleaders, encouraged me to take the position when it was offered. And I spent a good part of July revered up and ready to get started.
AmeriCorps was going to be the beginning of my next chapter.
What’s at your core? Put your values into action and serve.
Those are questions so many Americans asked themselves this past year.
What really matters when the whole world is turned upside down is what’s at your core. For Americans, we are at our best when we come together for a common cause. While unprecedented in many ways, the coronavirus pandemic is no exception—Americans from coast to coast are doing what we always do—finding a path forward, together.
At its core, AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and community volunteerism brings Americans—young, old, from every state and territory—together to serve their communities. To tackle tough problems with sustainable, creative solutions. And we do it because it’s who we are. Over the last year, AmeriCorps members have provided vital support, community response, and recovery efforts in response to the pandemic. Members supported more than 11 million Americans, including 2.3 million people at vaccination sites and extra support to increase the capacity of state, local, and FEMA supported centers.
And we aren’t just helping folks get vaccinated.
AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers Bill and Barb are helping feed neighbors in need by delivering meals.
AmeriCorps member Alexis gives back by helping neighbors impacted by COVID-19 find a way to make ends meet.
And Mushfequr, an AmeriCorps member who is driving change by guiding students through their college applications.
Each of these AmeriCorps members and volunteers put their values—determination, compassion, hope—to work to help friends, family, neighbors, and complete strangers in their communities, mentoring students, fighting climate change, combating hunger, serving homebound neighbors, and so much more.
Your community needs you, too. If you are waiting for someone to ask, we’re asking. Please find an AmeriCorps opportunity your community to help us move forward together.
Like our campaign stars, you can use your passion to serve others and make real, meaningful change in your neighborhood. Right now, hundreds of thousands of members and volunteers serve with AmeriCorps to address some of our country’s toughest challenges.
So we at AmeriCorps ask you this same question: #WhatsAtYourCore?
Equity. Compassion. Hope. Those characteristics, and countless others, drive many of our AmeriCorps members to serve.
Create your National Book Festival experience with the Library of Congress in 2021 by engaging in author conversations online, watching the broadcast special on PBS, listening to NPR podcasts, tuning in to Washington Post Live author interviews and attending a ticketed event at the Library. Join us for an expanded Festival, Sept. 17-26, a 10-day event with the theme, “Open a Book, Open the World.”
When discussing inequality in the classroom, it’s tempting to focus on external factors like socioeconomic status or educational tools like rubrics; it’s more uncomfortable to tackle a topic like teacher bias. After all, no one wants to think they are biased, particularly not people who devote their time, money, and energy to teaching the next generation.
However, even the most dedicated and well-meaning teacher holds stereotypes and beliefs that affect their students.Unfortunately, these beliefs can be as harmful as they are inevitable—at least when unexamined.
Unconscious bias is particularly relevant to America today because of our education achievement gap.
As of 2008, 82.7% of Asian students and 78.4% of white students graduated high school on time, whereas the same was true for only 57.6% of Hispanic students, 57% of black students, and 53.9% of American Indian students. Similar disparities exist for essentially every other measure of educational achievement including standardized test scores, GPA, and suspension rates.
While some of the achievement gap is due to long-standing societal factors that go back to our country’s inception, many studies show that another portion of this inequality is perpetuated in American classrooms today.
The Evidence for Teacher Bias
In the 1960s, Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal performed an experiment to gauge how teachers’ expectations affect student performance.
He told elementary school teachers that a test could determine which students’ IQs were about to increase rapidly, randomly selected students to label with this potential growth, and tested the students’ real IQs at the beginning of the year as well as at the end. The results? “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,” said Rosenthal.
This study is the basis for most of the following research on stereotypes in the classroom. The principle is the same—whether it’s gender or race, student preference or handwriting, any factor that causes a teacher to have higher expectations for some of their students and lower expectations for others is bound to create results to match.
Teacher Bias and Student Achievement
This might be surprising news—until you think about how much teachers affect their students. After all, if an educational authority with 20 years of experience acts as if a specific third grader doesn’t show much promise, who are they to know differently?
Put more generally, teachers’ belief in their students’ academic skills and potential is “a vital ingredient for student success” because it is linked to students’ beliefs about “how far they will progress in school, their attitudes toward school, and their academic achievement.”
When teachers underestimate their students, it affects not just that one student-teacher relationship but the student’s entire self-concept as well as more tangible measures like their GPA. In fact, the 2002 Education Longitudinal Study found that “Teacher expectations were more predictive of college success than most major factors, including student motivation and student effort.”
Examining unconscious bias is imperative to improving educational outcomes, particularly for low-income students, minorities, and women in STEM, but the only way to do that is to first understand what biases exist for most teachers.
Gender Bias in the Classroom
The effects of gender bias in the classroom are complicated, and research suggests that these biases have disadvantages for both boys and girls in different ways.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST BOYS IN SCHOOL
For boys, many of the challenges have to do with behavior and self-regulation. For example, according to the authors of Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys, boys are expelled from preschool almost five times more than girls, boys are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to do homework, and boys make up an increasingly low number of college graduates. The authors conclude that, since boys often receive lower grades than their test scores would predict, behavior-heavy grading practices penalize boys, particularly in the younger grades.
According to a survey of 2,500 teachers, lessons that require motor activity or competition can encourage boys to succeed in the classroom and help teachers stop discriminating against boys in school.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GIRLS IN SCHOOL
That being said, some of that same attention to boys’ behavior can harm girls as well; studies have shown that teachers often reward girls for being quiet rather than prompting them to seek deeper answers.
Educational research also revealsthat teachers are more likely to interrupt girls, less likely to call girls to the front of the class to demonstrate, and less likely to direct their gaze toward girls while answering open-ended questions.
As is true with most kinds of biases, teachers are often completely unaware that they are treating their male and female students differently; these actions only become clear when teachers view videotapes of their classroom interactions.
Unfortunately, the inequality doesn’t stop once the students leave the classroom at the end of the day.
GRADING WITH TEACHER BIAS
An education study done in Israel showed that gender bias also affects how teachers grade their students.
In the experiment, the researchers had classroom teachers, as well as external teachers, grade the same set of math tests completed by both girls and boys; they found that classroom teachers systematically gave their female students lower grades than the external teachers did. The only difference between the classroom teachers and the external teachers was that the external teachers graded blindly with respect to gender.
What’s even more striking is that the same girls who were scored unfairly in sixth grade ended up pursuing fewer high-level STEM courses in high school.
As one commentator on the study pointed out, most of the teachers involved in the study were female, so “it’s hard to imagine that these teachers actually have conscious animosity toward the girls in their classroom.” It’s an unconscious bias that caused them to treat their female students unfairly when it came to math and science—perhaps the same way their own teachers treated them.
Racial Bias in the Classroom
As much as teachers are influenced by societal beliefs about gender, racial bias in education is arguably an even greater problem in the average American classroom.
A 2014 report showed that black children make up only 18% of preschoolers but make up 48% of children suspended more than once. The reasons for this disturbing disparity were explored by a recent study in which researchers read teachers vignettes about students of different genders and races with behavioral problems.
They discovered that teachers “increased the severity of suggested disciplinary actions when the race of the teachers didn’t match that of the child.” This insight is particularly important given that the National Center for Education Statistics found in 2010 that students of color make up over 45% of public school students whereas 83% of their teachers are white, and this gap is only projected to grow in coming years.
Unfortunately, this racial bias in education doesn’t stop at discipline. Students of color are significantly more likely to be concentrated in low-income schools with less qualified teachers, fewer material resources, larger classes sizes, and lower long-term expectations for their students. If a student of color does end up in a high-achieving school, they will be less likely to be placed in classes that will prepare them for college; “even when grades and test scores are comparable, black students are more likely to be assigned to lower-track, nonacademic classes.”
In addition, no matter what kind of class these students end up taking, teachers still tend to grade students different than them more harshly. This effect is not limited to students of color born in the United States.
For example, a 2018 study found that pre-service teachers “graded the performance of a student who appeared to have a migrant background statistically significantly worse than that of a student without a migrant background.”
Although issues of inequality in the classroom are complicated, unconscious bias is particularly important to study; without evidence that teachers are grading some students more harshly than others, it is easy to pin achievement differences on the students or on purely external factors that seem too difficult to solve.
Implicit Bias in the Classroom
In addition to more systemic biases regarding gender and race, many teachers also hold implicit biases about individual students that should not—but do—affect grading. For example, a 2013 study done by the Department of Education tried to determine whether a teacher’s general feelings about a student affected their essay score.
After externally trained moderators looked at thousands of student essays and the scores they received from their teachers, almost two-thirds of the moderators believed that “teachers’ personal feelings about particular pupils influenced their assessments… on a regular basis.” Aside from affinity, factors such as neat handwriting and lengthy essays also artificially inflated the students’ scores.
The so-called “teacher’s pet effect” can also overlap with the psychological phenomenon called the halo effect. Researchers have found that prior experiences with a student can bias teachers about current assignments.
When graders were exposed to a student’s oral presentation before receiving their written essay, “the graders assigned significantly higher scores to written work following the better oral presentation than following the poor oral presentation.”
This finding is important because it goes against the entire aim of education—to grow intellectually across the days and years. If teachers have an implicit bias to give lower grades to those students who previously got lower grades, the students might indeed be improving without the feedback to show it.
Eliminating Teacher Bias
To address the various kinds of biases that exist in the classroom, many researchers have called for more anonymity in the grading process. In some ways, this is easier said than done.
Teachers could ask their students to write their names on the back of their papers rather than at the top or have students turn their papers in electronically with student ID numbers rather than names. However, these methods involve complete student compliance, which is difficult to achieve and may add time to the grading process, which already overburdens most teachers.
There are many other ways to decrease teacher bias in the classroom—from the hiring process all the way to lesson plans.
One way to decrease bias, particularly racial bias, is to prioritize diversity in the hiring process. Many of the aforementioned studies on race showed that white teachers were more likely to discipline non-white students; hiring teachers that better reflect the diversity of the student body can begin to mitigate that problem.
After hiring diverse teachers, it’s important not to ask them to suppress biases or pretend to be color-blind; as Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis explains, this is likely to be counterproductive and might even exacerbate existing biases.
It is, however, important to have teachers identify specific biases, perhaps through taking an Implicit Association Test (IAT), and then reduce shame levels by acknowledging that we all have biases.
Specific professional development programs have also been shown to decrease prejudice. One online intervention encouraging empathy-centered discipline ended up cutting suspension rates in half, an important success given the disproportionate rates of suspension for black students.
In other studies, short mindfulness and loving-kindness meditations reduced implicit biases toward people of color among white participants.
On a more individual level, teachers can also reflect on and change their practices to reduce their own biases in the classroom.
For example, after a few months of school, the Educational Development team at Plymouth University suggests that teachers take a few minutes to “reflect on the distribution of students who are selected to be representatives or who participate most in the class.” Asking yourself whether the distributions are equal (and if not, why not) can be a starting place for more equality in the classroom.
Teachers should also reflect on how they approach the assessment process. Jensen Learning advises asking yourself, “Do you begin with strengths and interests, then use those as starting points? Or, do you focus first on the deficits?” Deficit-focused teachers who have low expectations for certain students (or all their students) are more likely to have students with low expectations for themselves.
STUDENT CULTURE & BACKGROUND
It may also be helpful to reflect on certain societal and cultural assumptions. For example, wholeheartedly believing in a meritocracy can “make teachers treat students who don’t succeed as if their failures are purely the result of lack of hard work and ability” rather than a complicated combination of internal and external factors.
In addition, being mindful of students’ different backgrounds can help you avoid unnecessary conflict. For instance, a student may resist looking a teacher in the eye while speaking because some cultures interpret direct eye contact as a lack of respect; on the other hand, some Eurocentric teachers might think that same lack of eye contact indicates disrespect or shyness. Not all students will have the same cultural assumptions as their teachers, and it is our responsibility, not theirs, to bridge the gap.
After reflecting, teachers can consider sharing some of this information with their students. After all, it is not only teachers who struggle with biases but everyone; encouraging students to examine themselves and the world around them can prepare them for being self-aware and fair citizens.
Some possibilities for lessons include integrating TED talks on unconscious bias, assigning projects on gendered marketing, and reading books that explicitly tackle issues of race, gender, and class. Although unconscious bias may be inevitable, negatively impacting your students is not.
Being aware of the major types of bias that exist, participating in professional development programs that emphasize diversity, and reflecting on the fairness of your own teaching practices are simple but important ways to help close the achievement gap. Let’s make sure that our students are being taught equally and assessed fairly on the assignments that they can control, rather than the things about them that they can’t.
I am staring at a photograph of myself that shows me 20 years older than I am now. I have not stepped into the twilight zone. Rather, I am trying to rid myself of some measure of my present bias, which is the tendency people have, when considering a trade-off between two future moments, to more heavily weight the one closer to the present. A great many academic studies have shown this bias—also known as hyperbolic discounting—to be robust and persistent.
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Most of them have focused on money. When asked whether they would prefer to have, say, $150 today or $180 in one month, people tend to choose the $150. Giving up a 20 percent return on investment is a bad move—which is easy to recognize when the question is thrust away from the present. Asked whether they would take $150 a year from now or $180 in 13 months, people are overwhelmingly willing to wait an extra month for the extra $30.
Present bias shows up not just in experiments, of course, but in the real world. Especially in the United States, people egregiously undersave for retirement—even when they make enough money to not spend their whole paycheck on expenses, and even when they work for a company that will kick in additional funds to retirement plans when they contribute.
That state of affairs led a scholar named Hal Hershfield to play around with photographs. Hershfield is a marketing professor at UCLA whose research starts from the idea that people are “estranged” from their future self. As a result, he explained in a 2011 paper, “saving is like a choice between spending money today or giving it to a stranger years from now.” The paper described an attempt by Hershfield and several colleagues to modify that state of mind in their students. They had the students observe, for a minute or so, virtual-reality avatars showing what they would look like at age 70. Then they asked the students what they would do if they unexpectedly came into $1,000. The students who had looked their older self in the eye said they would put an average of $172 into a retirement account. That’s more than double the amount that would have been invested by members of the control group, who were willing to sock away an average of only $80.
I am already old—in my early 60s, if you must know—so Hershfield furnished me not only with an image of myself in my 80s (complete with age spots, an exorbitantly asymmetrical face, and wrinkles as deep as a Manhattan pothole) but also with an image of my daughter as she’ll look decades from now. What this did, he explained, was make me ask myself, How will I feel toward the end of my life if my offspring are not taken care of?
When people hear the word bias, many if not most will think of either racial prejudice or news organizations that slant their coverage to favor one political position over another. Present bias, by contrast, is an example of cognitive bias—the collection of faulty ways of thinking that is apparently hardwired into the human brain. The collection is large. Wikipedia’s “List of cognitive biases” contains 185 entries, from actor-observer bias (“the tendency for explanations of other individuals’ behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation … and for explanations of one’s own behaviors to do the opposite”) to the Zeigarnik effect (“uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones”).
Some of the 185 are dubious or trivial. The ikea effect, for instance, is defined as “the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves.” And others closely resemble one another to the point of redundancy. But a solid group of 100 or so biases has been repeatedly shown to exist, and can make a hash of our lives.
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The gambler’s fallacy makes us absolutely certain that, if a coin has landed heads up five times in a row, it’s more likely to land tails up the sixth time. In fact, the odds are still 50-50. Optimism bias leads us to consistently underestimate the costs and the duration of basically every project we undertake. Availability bias makes us think that, say, traveling by plane is more dangerous than traveling by car. (Images of plane crashes are more vivid and dramatic in our memory and imagination, and hence more available to our consciousness.)
The anchoring effect is our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered, particularly if that information is presented in numeric form, when making decisions, estimates, or predictions. This is the reason negotiators start with a number that is deliberately too low or too high: They know that number will “anchor” the subsequent dealings. A striking illustration of anchoring is an experiment in which participants observed a roulette-style wheel that stopped on either 10 or 65, then were asked to guess what percentage of United Nations countries is African. The ones who saw the wheel stop on 10 guessed 25 percent, on average; the ones who saw the wheel stop on 65 guessed 45 percent. (The correct percentage at the time of the experiment was about 28 percent.)
The effects of biases do not play out just on an individual level. Last year, President Donald Trump decided to send more troops to Afghanistan, and thereby walked right into the sunk-cost fallacy. He said, “Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.” Sunk-cost thinking tells us to stick with a bad investment because of the money we have already lost on it; to finish an unappetizing restaurant meal because, after all, we’re paying for it; to prosecute an unwinnable war because of the investment of blood and treasure. In all cases, this way of thinking is rubbish.“We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error,” Kahneman writes, “but no such bell is available.”
If I had to single out a particular bias as the most pervasive and damaging, it would probably be confirmation bias. That’s the effect that leads us to look for evidence confirming what we already think or suspect, to view facts and ideas we encounter as further confirmation, and to discount or ignore any piece of evidence that seems to support an alternate view. Confirmation bias shows up most blatantly in our current political divide, where each side seems unable to allow that the other side is right about anything.
Confirmation bias plays out in lots of other circumstances, sometimes with terrible consequences. To quote the 2005 report to the president on the lead-up to the Iraq War: “When confronted with evidence that indicated Iraq did not have [weapons of mass destruction], analysts tended to discount such information. Rather than weighing the evidence independently, analysts accepted information that fit the prevailing theory and rejected information that contradicted it.”
The whole idea of cognitive biases and faulty heuristics—the shortcuts and rules of thumb by which we make judgments and predictions—was more or less invented in the 1970s by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, social scientists who started their careers in Israel and eventually moved to the United States. They were the researchers who conducted the African-countries-in-the-UN experiment. Tversky died in 1996. Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for the work the two men did together, which he summarized in his 2011 best seller, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Another best seller, last year’s The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, tells the story of the sometimes contentious collaboration between Tversky and Kahneman. Lewis’s earlier book Moneyball was really about how his hero, the baseball executive Billy Beane, countered the cognitive biases of old-school scouts—notably fundamental attribution error, whereby, when assessing someone’s behavior, we put too much weight on his or her personal attributes and too little on external factors, many of which can be measured with statistics.
Another key figure in the field is the University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler. One of the biases he’s most linked with is the endowment effect, which leads us to place an irrationally high value on our possessions. In an experiment conducted by Thaler, Kahneman, and Jack L. Knetsch, half the participants were given a mug and then asked how much they would sell it for. The average answer was $5.78. The rest of the group said they would spend, on average, $2.21 for the same mug. This flew in the face of classic economic theory, which says that at a given time and among a certain population, an item has a market value that does not depend on whether one owns it or not. Thaler won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics.
Most books and articles about cognitive bias contain a brief passage, typically toward the end, similar to this one in Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message … is not encouraging.”
Kahneman and others draw an analogy based on an understanding of the Müller-Lyer illusion, two parallel lines with arrows at each end. One line’s arrows point in; the other line’s arrows point out. Because of the direction of the arrows, the latter line appears shorter than the former, but in fact the two lines are the same length. Here’s the key: Even after we have measured the lines and found them to be equal, and have had the neurological basis of the illusion explained to us, we still perceive one line to be shorter than the other.
At least with the optical illusion, our slow-thinking, analytic mind—what Kahneman calls System 2—will recognize a Müller-Lyer situation and convince itself not to trust the fast-twitch System 1’s perception. But that’s not so easy in the real world, when we’re dealing with people and situations rather than lines. “Unfortunately, this sensible procedure is least likely to be applied when it is needed most,” Kahneman writes. “We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available.”
Because biases appear to be so hardwired and inalterable, most of the attention paid to countering them hasn’t dealt with the problematic thoughts, judgments, or predictions themselves. Instead, it has been devoted to changing behavior, in the form of incentives or “nudges.” For example, while present bias has so far proved intractable, employers have been able to nudge employees into contributing to retirement plans by making saving the default option; you have to actively take steps in order to not participate. That is, laziness or inertia can be more powerful than bias. Procedures can also be organized in a way that dissuades or prevents people from acting on biased thoughts. A well-known example: the checklists for doctors and nurses put forward by Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto.
Is it really impossible, however, to shed or significantly mitigate one’s biases? Some studies have tentatively answered that question in the affirmative. These experiments are based on the reactions and responses of randomly chosen subjects, many of them college undergraduates: people, that is, who care about the $20 they are being paid to participate, not about modifying or even learning about their behavior and thinking. But what if the person undergoing the de-biasing strategies was highly motivated and self-selected? In other words, what if it was me?
Naturally, I wrote to Daniel Kahneman, who at 84 still holds an appointment at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, at Princeton, but spends most of his time in Manhattan. He answered swiftly and agreed to meet. “I should,” he said, “at least try to talk you out of your project.”
I met with Kahneman at a Le Pain Quotidien in Lower Manhattan. He is tall, soft-spoken, and affable, with a pronounced accent and a wry smile. Over an apple pastry and tea with milk, he told me, “Temperament has a lot to do with my position. You won’t find anyone more pessimistic than I am.”
In this context, his pessimism relates, first, to the impossibility of effecting any changes to System 1—the quick-thinking part of our brain and the one that makes mistaken judgments tantamount to the Müller-Lyer line illusion. “I see the picture as unequal lines,” he said. “The goal is not to trust what I think I see. To understand that I shouldn’t believe my lying eyes.” That’s doable with the optical illusion, he said, but extremely difficult with real-world cognitive biases.
The most effective check against them, as Kahneman says, is from the outside: Others can perceive our errors more readily than we can. And “slow-thinking organizations,” as he puts it, can institute policies that include the monitoring of individual decisions and predictions. They can also require procedures such as checklists and “premortems,” an idea and term thought up by Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist. A premortem attempts to counter optimism bias by requiring team members to imagine that a project has gone very, very badly and write a sentence or two describing how that happened. Conducting this exercise, it turns out, helps people think ahead.
“My position is that none of these things have any effect on System 1,” Kahneman said. “You can’t improve intuition. Perhaps, with very long-term training, lots of talk, and exposure to behavioral economics, what you can do is cue reasoning, so you can engage System 2 to follow rules. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t provide cues. And for most people, in the heat of argument the rules go out the window.
“That’s my story. I really hope I don’t have to stick to it.”
As it happened, right around the same time I was communicating and meeting with Kahneman, he was exchanging emails with Richard E. Nisbett, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan. The two men had been professionally connected for decades. Nisbett was instrumental in disseminating Kahneman and Tversky’s work, in a 1980 book called Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. And in Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman describes an even earlier Nisbett article that showed subjects’ disinclination to believe statistical and other general evidence, basing their judgments instead on individual examples and vivid anecdotes. (This bias is known as base-rate neglect.)
But over the years, Nisbett had come to emphasize in his research and thinking the possibility of training people to overcome or avoid a number of pitfalls, including base-rate neglect, fundamental attribution error, and the sunk-cost fallacy. He had emailed Kahneman in part because he had been working on a memoir, and wanted to discuss a conversation he’d had with Kahneman and Tversky at a long-ago conference. Nisbett had the distinct impression that Kahneman and Tversky had been angry—that they’d thought what he had been saying and doing was an implicit criticism of them. Kahneman recalled the interaction, emailing back: “Yes, I remember we were (somewhat) annoyed by your work on the ease of training statistical intuitions (angry is much too strong).”
When Nisbett has to give an example of his approach, he usually brings up the baseball-phenom survey. This involved telephoning University of Michigan students on the pretense of conducting a poll about sports, and asking them why there are always several Major League batters with .450 batting averages early in a season, yet no player has ever finished a season with an average that high. When he talks with students who haven’t taken Introduction to Statistics, roughly half give erroneous reasons such as “the pitchers get used to the batters,” “the batters get tired as the season wears on,” and so on. And about half give the right answer: the law of large numbers, which holds that outlier results are much more frequent when the sample size (at bats, in this case) is small. Over the course of the season, as the number of at bats increases, regression to the mean is inevitable. When Nisbett asks the same question of students who have completed the statistics course, about 70 percent give the right answer. He believes this result shows, pace Kahneman, that the law of large numbers can be absorbed into System 2—and maybe into System 1 as well, even when there are minimal cues.
I spoke with Nisbett by phone and asked him about his disagreement with Kahneman. He still sounded a bit uncertain. “Danny seemed to be convinced that what I was showing was trivial,” he said. “To him it was clear: Training was hopeless for all kinds of judgments. But we’ve tested Michigan students over four years, and they show a huge increase in ability to solve problems. Graduate students in psychology also show a huge gain.”
Nisbett writes in his 2015 book, Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking, “I know from my own research on teaching people how to reason statistically that just a few examples in two or three domains are sufficient to improve people’s reasoning for an indefinitely large number of events.”
In one of his emails to Nisbett, Kahneman had suggested that the difference between them was to a significant extent a result of temperament: pessimist versus optimist. In a response, Nisbett suggested another factor: “You and Amos specialized in hard problems for which you were drawn to the wrong answer. I began to study easy problems, which you guys would never get wrong but untutored people routinely do … Then you can look at the effects of instruction on such easy problems, which turn out to be huge.”
An example of an easy problem is the .450 hitter early in a baseball season. An example of a hard one is “the Linda problem,” which was the basis of one of Kahneman and Tversky’s early articles. Simplified, the experiment presented subjects with the characteristics of a fictional woman, “Linda,” including her commitment to social justice, college major in philosophy, participation in antinuclear demonstrations, and so on. Then the subjects were asked which was more likely: (a) that Linda was a bank teller, or (b) that she was a bank teller and active in the feminist movement. The correct answer is (a), because it is always more likely that one condition will be satisfied in a situation than that the condition plus a second one will be satisfied. But because of the conjunction fallacy (the assumption that multiple specific conditions are more probable than a single general one) and the representativeness heuristic (our strong desire to apply stereotypes), more than 80 percent of undergraduates surveyed answered (b).
Nisbett justifiably asks how often in real life we need to make a judgment like the one called for in the Linda problem. I cannot think of any applicable scenarios in my life. It is a bit of a logical parlor trick.
Nisbett suggested that I take “Mindware: Critical Thinking for the Information Age,” an online Coursera course in which he goes over what he considers the most effective de-biasing skills and concepts. Then, to see how much I had learned, I would take a survey he gives to Michigan undergraduates. So I did.
The course consists of eight lessons by Nisbett—who comes across on-screen as the authoritative but approachable psych professor we all would like to have had—interspersed with some graphics and quizzes. I recommend it. He explains the availability heuristic this way: “People are surprised that suicides outnumber homicides, and drownings outnumber deaths by fire. People always think crime is increasing” even if it’s not.
He addresses the logical fallacy of confirmation bias, explaining that people’s tendency, when testing a hypothesis they’re inclined to believe, is to seek examples confirming it. But Nisbett points out that no matter how many such examples we gather, we can never prove the proposition. The right thing to do is to look for cases that would disprove it.
And he approaches base-rate neglect by means of his own strategy for choosing which movies to see. His decision is never dependent on ads, or a particular review, or whether a film sounds like something he would enjoy. Instead, he says, “I live by base rates. I don’t read a book or see a movie unless it’s highly recommended by people I trust.
“Most people think they’re not like other people. But they are.”
When I finished the course, Nisbett sent me the survey he and colleagues administer to Michigan undergrads. It contains a few dozen problems meant to measure the subjects’ resistance to cognitive biases. For example:
Because of confirmation bias, many people who haven’t been trained answer (e). But the correct answer is (c). The only thing you can hope to do in this situation is disprove the rule, and the only way to do that is to turn over the cards displaying the letter A (the rule is disproved if a number other than 4 is on the other side) and the number 7 (the rule is disproved if an A is on the other side).
I got it right. Indeed, when I emailed my completed test, Nisbett replied, “My guess is that very few if any UM seniors did as well as you. I’m sure at least some psych students, at least after 2 years in school, did as well. But note that you came fairly close to a perfect score.”
Nevertheless, I did not feel that reading Mindware and taking the Coursera course had necessarily rid me of my biases. For one thing, I hadn’t been tested beforehand, so I might just be a comparatively unbiased guy. For another, many of the test questions, including the one above, seemed somewhat remote from scenarios one might encounter in day-to-day life. They seemed to be “hard” problems, not unlike the one about Linda the bank teller. Further, I had been, as Kahneman would say, “cued.” In contrast to the Michigan seniors, I knew exactly why I was being asked these questions, and approached them accordingly.
For his part, Nisbett insisted that the results were meaningful. “If you’re doing better in a testing context,” he told me, “you’ll jolly well be doing better in the real world.”
Nisbett’s coursera course and Hal Hershfield’s close encounters with one’s older self are hardly the only de-biasing methods out there. The New York–based NeuroLeadership Institute offers organizations and individuals a variety of training sessions, webinars, and conferences that promise, among other things, to use brain science to teach participants to counter bias. This year’s two-day summit will be held in New York next month; for $2,845, you could learn, for example, “why are our brains so bad at thinking about the future, and how do we do it better?”
Philip E. Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and his wife and research partner, Barbara Mellers, have for years been studying what they call “superforecasters”: people who manage to sidestep cognitive biases and predict future events with far more accuracy than the pundits and so-called experts who show up on TV. In Tetlock’s book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (co-written with Dan Gardner), and in the commercial venture he and Mellers co-founded, Good Judgment, they share the superforecasters’ secret sauce.
One of the most important ingredients is what Tetlock calls “the outside view.” The inside view is a product of fundamental attribution error, base-rate neglect, and other biases that are constantly cajoling us into resting our judgments and predictions on good or vivid stories instead of on data and statistics. Tetlock explains, “At a wedding, someone sidles up to you and says, ‘How long do you give them?’ If you’re shocked because you’ve seen the devotion they show each other, you’ve been sucked into the inside view.” Something like 40 percent of marriages end in divorce, and that statistic is far more predictive of the fate of any particular marriage than a mutually adoring gaze. Not that you want to share that insight at the reception.
The recent de-biasing interventions that scholars in the field have deemed the most promising are a handful of video games. Their genesis was in the Iraq War and the catastrophic weapons-of-mass-destruction blunder that led to it, which left the intelligence community reeling. In 2006, seeking to prevent another mistake of that magnitude, the U.S. government created the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (iarpa), an agency designed to use cutting-edge research and technology to improve intelligence-gathering and analysis. In 2011, iarpa initiated a program, Sirius, to fund the development of “serious” video games that could combat or mitigate what were deemed to be the six most damaging biases: confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, the bias blind spot (the feeling that one is less biased than the average person), the anchoring effect, the representativeness heuristic, and projection bias (the assumption that everybody else’s thinking is the same as one’s own).Confirmation bias—probably the most pervasive and damaging bias of them all—leads us to look for evidence that confirms what we already think.
Six teams set out to develop such games, and two of them completed the process. The team that has gotten the most attention was led by Carey K. Morewedge, now a professor at Boston University. Together with collaborators who included staff from Creative Technologies, a company specializing in games and other simulations, and Leidos, a defense, intelligence, and health research company that does a lot of government work, Morewedge devised Missing. Some subjects played the game, which takes about three hours to complete, while others watched a video about cognitive bias. All were tested on bias-mitigation skills before the training, immediately afterward, and then finally after eight to 12 weeks had passed.
After taking the test, I played the game, which has the production value of a late-2000s PlayStation 3 first-person offering, with large-chested women and men, all of whom wear form-fitting clothes and navigate the landscape a bit tentatively. The player adopts the persona of a neighbor of a woman named Terry Hughes, who, in the first part of the game, has mysteriously gone missing. In the second, she has reemerged and needs your help to look into some skulduggery at her company. Along the way, you’re asked to make judgments and predictions—some having to do with the story and some about unrelated issues—which are designed to call your biases into play. You’re given immediate feedback on your answers.
For example, as you’re searching Terry’s apartment, the building superintendent knocks on the door and asks you, apropos of nothing, about Mary, another tenant, whom he describes as “not a jock.” He says 70 percent of the tenants go to Rocky’s Gym, 10 percent go to Entropy Fitness, and 20 percent just stay at home and watch Netflix. Which gym, he asks, do you think Mary probably goes to? A wrong answer, reached thanks to base-rate neglect (a form of the representativeness heuristic) is “None. Mary is a couch potato.” The right answer—based on the data the super has helpfully provided—is Rocky’s Gym. When the participants in the study were tested immediately after playing the game or watching the video and then a couple of months later, everybody improved, but the game players improved more than the video watchers.
When I spoke with Morewedge, he said he saw the results as supporting the research and insights of Richard Nisbett. “Nisbett’s work was largely written off by the field, the assumption being that training can’t reduce bias,” he told me. “The literature on training suggests books and classes are fine entertainment but largely ineffectual. But the game has very large effects. It surprised everyone.”
I took the test again soon after playing the game, with mixed results. I showed notable improvement in confirmation bias, fundamental attribution error, and the representativeness heuristic, and improved slightly in bias blind spot and anchoring bias. My lowest initial score—44.8 percent—was in projection bias. It actually dropped a bit after I played the game. (I really need to stop assuming that everybody thinks like me.) But even the positive results reminded me of something Daniel Kahneman had told me. “Pencil-and-paper doesn’t convince me,” he said. “A test can be given even a couple of years later. But the test cues the test-taker. It reminds him what it’s all about.”
I had taken Nisbett’s and Morewedge’s tests on a computer screen, not on paper, but the point remains. It’s one thing for the effects of training to show up in the form of improved results on a test—when you’re on your guard, maybe even looking for tricks—and quite another for the effects to show up in the form of real-life behavior. Morewedge told me that some tentative real-world scenarios along the lines of Missing have shown “promising results,” but that it’s too soon to talk about them.
Iam neither as much of a pessimist as Daniel Kahneman nor as much of an optimist as Richard Nisbett. Since immersing myself in the field, I have noticed a few changes in my behavior. For example, one hot day recently, I decided to buy a bottle of water in a vending machine for $2. The bottle didn’t come out; upon inspection, I realized that the mechanism holding the bottle in place was broken. However, right next to it was another row of water bottles, and clearly the mechanism in that row was in order. My instinct was to not buy a bottle from the “good” row, because $4 for a bottle of water is too much. But all of my training in cognitive biases told me that was faulty thinking. I would be spending $2 for the water—a price I was willing to pay, as had already been established. So I put the money in and got the water, which I happily drank.
In the future, I will monitor my thoughts and reactions as best I can. Let’s say I’m looking to hire a research assistant. Candidate A has sterling references and experience but appears tongue-tied and can’t look me in the eye; Candidate B loves to talk NBA basketball—my favorite topic!—but his recommendations are mediocre at best. Will I have what it takes to overcome fundamental attribution error and hire Candidate A?
Or let’s say there is an officeholder I despise for reasons of temperament, behavior, and ideology. And let’s further say that under this person’s administration, the national economy is performing well. Will I be able to dislodge my powerful confirmation bias and allow the possibility that the person deserves some credit?
As for the matter that Hal Hershfield brought up in the first place—estate planning—I have always been the proverbial ant, storing up my food for winter while the grasshoppers sing and play. In other words, I have always maxed out contributions to 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, Simplified Employee Pensions, 403(b)s, 457(b)s, and pretty much every alphabet-soup savings choice presented to me. But as good a saver as I am, I am that bad a procrastinator. Months ago, my financial adviser offered to evaluate, for free, my will, which was put together a couple of decades ago and surely needs revising. There’s something about drawing up a will that creates a perfect storm of biases, from the ambiguity effect (“the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem ‘unknown,’ ” as Wikipedia defines it) to normalcy bias (“the refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before”), all of them culminating in the ostrich effect (do I really need to explain?). My adviser sent me a prepaid FedEx envelope, which has been lying on the floor of my office gathering dust. It is still there. As hindsight bias tells me, I knew that would happen.