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Thinking and Deciding 9: Actively Open-Minded Thinking


Definitely a fan of what Baron calls open-minded thinking. I’d say this is my favorite chapter so far.

Baron gives three sources of wrong thinking. First, we can miss something in our search for evidence or be overconfident after a short search. Second, we can look for evidence and make inferences in ways that are counterproductive to good thinking. Lastly we can think too much. Baron says the second flaw is the worst, and the rest of the chapter provides much evidence.

Good thinking is made of ” (1) a search that is thorough and in proportion to the importance of the question, (2) confidence that is appropriate to the amount and quality of thinking done, and (3) fairness to other possibilities than the one we initially favor” (200).

Myside bias and irrational belief persistence

Myside bias is the tendency for people “not to look for evidence against what they favor, and, when they find it anyway, they tend to ignore it” (202). This violates the principle of good thinking that involves being fair to other possibilities.

Myside bias leads to irrational belief persistence. Incorrect beliefs are too slow to change and sometimes strengthen in light of contrary evidence.

Two bias contribute to irrational belief persistence. The overweighing of favorable evidence and underweighing of unfavorable evidence. Also the failure to search impartially for evidence.

The primacy effect is a contributor to these biases. We weigh the initial evidence we receive more heavily than later evidence, even when the order is inconsequential. Also, when given initial evidence that is later totally discredited, we still tend to weigh the initial evidence in.

The neutral-evidence principle is that neutral evidence should not change our confidence either way. Another principle regularly violated. We count neutral evidence favorably to our current opinions.

Effect of active open-mindedness on outcomes

There is some correlation between good thinking and good outcomes. Presidential decisions were analyzed by Herek, Janis, and Huth, and those that were a result of good thinking tended to lead to better outcomes.

This doesn’t seem like that good evidence. We need larger sample sizes that come from decisions that we don’t already know the results of. Otherwise bias may creep in. First, have the thinking processes rated on open-mindedness. Then, in a blinded fashion, have the outcomes rated on success. Match them up. Boom. Science.

Baron acknowledges the foresight effect, but says that some of the events judged were obscure. Need more evidence! C’mon Baron! Let’s judge this with an open mind.

Baron does offer another experiment by Stanovich where good problem solving was correlated with good-thinking on some problems.

Determinants and related phenomenon

There are a few factors that determine the existence of irrational belief persistence. There are counter-productive beliefs about thinking. Some people think that changing one’s mind is a sign of bad thinking. This leads to irrational belief persistence. Beliefs can also be distorted by desires. We are more likely to privilege what we want to be true. People also tend to expose themselves to sources that are likely to support them. (Fox News, MSNBC, Daily Show you hypocrite!)

There’s an interesting phenomenon called belief overkill, where people align unrelated beliefs with their favored view. Here’s an example. A person who thinks abortion is immoral is also likely to think it causes severe mental and physical health problems. One could say abortion improves health but is immoral, but people almost never allow that sort of two-sidedness into their analysis. Atheism is true, and the religious are hypocrites! And the like.

Factors that moderate belief persistence

Some factors increase or decrease the amount of bias leading to irrational belief persistence.

When people make decisions that involve two strongly conflicting values or goals, they tend to be more open-minded. When people expect to be held accountable for their thought processes or conclusions, they are also more open-minded. The presence of stress can contribute to less open-mindedness.

Groupthink contributes to closemindedness. Groupthink occurs when there is systematic agreement from the start, harsh reactions against dissenters, stereotypes of outgroups, and rosy views of the ingroup. Good thinking in groups occurred when “there is a commitment of the group to a friendly )and sometimes not so friendly) interchange of arguments pro and con. . . loyalty to the group is defined in terms of loyalty to the process of making the best decision, not loyalty to a decision already made” (226).

I love that quote. That’s the sort of group I want to be a part of. Process, not conclusions are most important, although we are all free to come to our conclusions. There’s also the suggestion to appoint a devil’s advocate who consistently argues the opposing side. That would be interesting. I think I would enjoy doing that.

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