People think in different ways, and thoughts are an important part of who you are.
In this lesson, we’ll look at cognition, including two common types of cognition: reasoning and heuristics.
Imagine that you are in a quiet room, all alone. You are sitting in a comfortable position. You close your eyes and take a deep breath. There is nothing to distract you, nothing to grab your attention.
There’s just one thing: No matter how clear your surroundings, you most likely still have thoughts in your head. Maybe those thoughts are focused on your breath and nothing more, or maybe they are racing through your head at a mile a minute about all sorts of things on your to-do list.No matter where you are or what happens to you, your thoughts are with you always. They are as much a part of you as your hand or your leg, maybe even more so. After all, if there’s a terrible accident and you lose your leg, you’ll still be you.
But without your thoughts, would you be the same person?In the field of psychology, thoughts and thought processes are called cognition. Psychologists study cognition to better understand what people think, how they think and how that influences their feelings and behaviors. Let’s look closer at two common types of cognition: reasoning and heuristics.
Inductive and Deductive Reasoning
Let’s say that you have a furry little animal, and you want to know what type it is. It has brown and red fur, green eyes, long whiskers and a tail. How do you know what type of animal it is? You read in a book that cats have fur, green eyes, long whiskers and a tail.
Since your animal has all of those things, you conclude that you have a cat. Congratulations! You’ve just used reasoning skills to solve a problem.There are two main types of reasoning skills: inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is when you draw conclusions about a general group based on observations of a specific member or members of that group. Remember your cat? Let’s say that she likes to drink milk and chase yarn.
You notice that your friend’s cat also likes to drink milk and chase yarn. Because these specific cats like milk and yarn, you conclude that all cats like to drink milk and chase yarn. You’ve used inductive reasoning to come to this conclusion.On the other hand, deductive reasoning is when you start with a universal truth and draw conclusions about specific circumstances based on that. For example, you know that cats are mammals. You also know that mammals have hearts.
So, you conclude that your cat (and all other cats) has a heart. Of course, both inductive and deductive reasoning have problems. Just because you use reasoning to draw a conclusion doesn’t mean that the conclusion is correct. If your premise isn’t right to begin with, it might be incorrect.
Let’s look at another example. Say that you read that all cats like to eat fish. Your pet doesn’t like to eat fish, so you conclude that she is not a cat. But, what if the first statement (that all cats like fish) isn’t true? What if only most cats like fish? In that case, your cat might just be the exception to the rule, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not a cat.
Imagine for a minute that you’re starting a new job. You walk into the office for the first time and see a woman sitting behind a desk right next to the door. She’s answering phone calls. Who is the woman? How can she help you? If you’re like most people, you said that the woman is a receptionist, and she can tell you where to go since it’s your first day and you don’t know the office yet. But, how do you know that she’s a receptionist?Heuristics are mental shortcuts that people use to make sense of the world around them. We use heuristics all the time to save time and hassle. After all, if every time you walked into an office you had to relearn who the person behind the desk was, it would take a significant amount of time out of your day.
But since you know that most receptionists sit near the entrance to the office, sit behind a desk and answer phones, you can use that shortcut to know when you walk into a new place and see someone sitting behind a desk answering phones near the entrance, it’s more than likely a receptionist.Of course, we can get into trouble with heuristics, too. Sometimes we rely on heuristics and make incorrect assumptions. For example, let’s say that you are interviewing for jobs. One of the jobs you interview for at company A is your dream job, and it has great benefits and good pay.
But you’ve met three people who work at that company, and they all seem pretty boring and not very fun.On the other hand, company B offers less pay for a less interesting job. But the people you’ve met from that company seem like they enjoy going out and having a good time. Even if the people from those companies aren’t from the division you will work in, many people will assume that people at company A are boring and not fun and that the people at company B are fun and interesting. As a result, you might factor that into your decision.But you’ve only met a few people from each company.
What if they happened to be the exception? What if company A is actually a more fun place to work and company B is not? The same shortcut that helped you figure out who the receptionist is could work against you in this case.
Cognition is your thought process. When psychologists study cognition, they look at the two types of reasoning, inductive and deductive, as well as mental shortcuts, also called heuristics. Though all three of these cognitive processes help us draw conclusions and make sense of the world around us, they can also lead us to make false assumptions and mistakes.
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to:
- Define cognition
- Distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning
- Explain what heuristics are
- Describe how reasoning and heuristics can lead to mental mistakes