Monday, October 5, 2009

Our Cognitive Junk and a short cut through it

Over our lives we learn what to do and how to behave in certain known situations. These ‘ways’ are mental frameworks that we have developed. In psychology these mental frameworks are called schemas. [The advantage of a schema is that it helps us predict a result - but this result can be achieved even without this schema]. At times our schemas also make it difficult to get to a ‘desired’ result. This post suggests a method to get to this desired result by by-passing an incorrect schema and calls such incorrect schemas 'Cognitive Junk'.

A Schema is a mental framework that deals with a situation. For example our schema for eating at a restaurant is the following: we ask for a table, go through the menu, order, enjoy the food, pay the bill and then leave.

We can rely on this schema because we expect the same routine every time.

Schemas make things predictable. They could be used by someone to predict our behavior.

Now the behavior a schema triggers always leads to the same [or nearby] effect. But this effect could have been reached without the schema - the following experiment demonstrates this:

Experiment: A specialist came to class and took an IQ test. He did not grade the test but said that certain students had very high IQ. 6 months later those students showed a marked improvement.

Schema: Teacher wanted students in her class to do well. She also thought that high IQ meant potentially better grades. So when told 'certain' students in her class had high IQ she gave them better attention.

Cause-Effect: Teacher gave more attention to a student so he/she did better.

The schema has an effect but the schema itself is not needed to improve student performance. The teacher could have given more attention despite this experiment and had the same effect.

It’s important to focus on the cause and effect and not the schema.

One example of how this applies to our daily lives is shown below.

If two people are in a relationship that is going bad chances are the relationship will become worse. Their behavior becomes one of malevolence towards each other and this naturally halts progress. At times this behavior is a result of some incorrect schema[s] the two individuals have [i.e. they have un necessarily complicated the problem in their mind] probably because they don’t want to deal with each other. If they cut right through their schemas and are good to each other [without want of recompense] the other person will be good to them and this would solve the problem. Thus the schemas [for this situation] they hang onto are completely useless and harmful.

Hence schemas sometimes make up for cognitive junk that keeps us from zeroing in on an underlying cause-effect relationship. If we work on a benefiting cause-effect relationship we can produce the desired effect.

1. Some of the debates I have witnessed are useless debates over schemas and do not focus on the underlying basic cause-effect relationship that would resolve the debate.

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