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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Moral Orientation and Moral Decisions

Steven Pinker's article in the New York Times, "The Moral Instinct" is wonderful. Thanks to Gene Expression for linking to it.

Pinker discusses the current state of research on moral reasoning, and I love it. Like me, Pinker's skeptical of the "Kohlberg model," and instead focuses on moral intuition. That is, we both focus on an OODA-loop like model that focuses more on Orientation and less on Decision. (The article is doubly-cool because I will be running a very similar study this semester.)

The Times article presents a number of moral dilemmas. In each of these situations, think what you would do:

Julie is traveling in France on summer vacation from college with her brother Mark. One night they decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love. Julie was already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom, too, just to be safe. They both enjoy the sex but decide not to do it again. They keep the night as a special secret, which makes them feel closer to each other. What do you think about that — was it O.K. for them to make love?


. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge?


A runaway trolley is about to kill a schoolteacher. You can divert the trolley onto a sidetrack, but the trolley would trip a switch sending a signal to a class of 6-year-olds, giving them permission to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Is it permissible to pull the lever?

Ultimately, in the context of the OODA Loop, orientation makes sense for situations that are complex, and decision makes sense for situations that are logical. Because we live in a world that is typically complex and rarely logical, it makes more sense for us to follow orientation and bypass decision... and that goes for morality, too!

06:49 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (3) | Tags: morality, ooda

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Howard Gardner and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I'm generally impressed by . In my impressions of Extraordinary Minds and "Multiple intelligences after twenty years," I noted with pleasure his emphasis on practice and focus in developing expertise.

Howard, his "theory multiple intelligences" is simply outside not just the realm of social science. It's a theory-centered approach that appears to be allergic to empirical verification or falsification. Gardner has written (in Educational Psychologist 41(4)) that he is not involved in operationalizing his theory because he fears such measures would be "misused," and (like some other writers I follow) his hype both distracts from and occasionally contradicts his substance.

Now, (courtesy of Intelligent Insights), a PDF or Arthur Jensen's reivew of the new book on Gardner.

I agree with Jensen:

Probably many educationists with little interest in acquiring a clear understanding of scientific psychology and psychometrics have uncritically embraced Gardner's psychology out of desperation. The persistent frustration of the educational system's dealing realistically with the wide range of scholastic aptitude in the nation's schools creates a fertile ground for seemingly attractive educational nostrums. Gardner's invention of the term “multiple intelligences” capitalizes on the high valuation the public accords to the word “intelligence.” The appeal of Gardner's terminology has been parodied as the Marie Antoinette theory of schooling: if the people have no bread, let them eat cake.

"Multiple Intelligence" theory is useful to the extent that it allows recognition of the fact that people are skilled in different things, practice makes them more skilled, and specialization is good. M.I. theory is dangerous to the extent it prevents those who need intensive education the most (those with low general intelligence) from getting it, out of a misguided notion they are "differently" intelligent, and also to the extent that its generally anti-scientific worldview gets accepted by educators.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lack of working memory to be the curse of 2008?

My application of the OODA loop to educational psychology has been centering on "working memory" (in other words, "general intelligence" or "attention"). More working memory lets you consciously think about more things at the same time, letting you make better decisions than you could otherwise.

Some tasks require more attention / intelligence / working memory than you have. Where possible, you should rely on your orientation (which you can sometimes tell from your gut- or fingertip- feeling) in those situations. But often you are called on to make decisions in situations where your gut feeling just isn't good enough -- and you can't pay attention to everything you have to! This is called "cognitive load" or "information overload," and has been the main application of working memory research in educational psychology.

Thus, I may end up with a trendy paper at the end of all of this, because, as Wired (and Slashdot) notes: information overload has been predicted as the problem of the year in 2008:

"It's too much information. It's too many interruptions. It's too much lost time," Basex chief analyst Jonathan Spira declared. "It's always too much of a good thing."

Information overload isn't exactly new, but Spira said the problem has grown as technology increases societal expectations for instantaneous response. And more information available, he said, also means more time wasted looking for the right information, whether in an old e-mail or through a search engine.

Hilariously, Wired's page on information overload is so bad at preserving working memory, I feel dumber just looking at it!:

Attention-thieving page about attention-thieving problems

Monday, December 24, 2007

How to measure working memory

Working memory is nearly the same thing as general intelligence. It is highly heritable, it determines how much attention you pay to tasks, and without it logical reasoning is impossible.

For the spring experiment I will be stressing participants' working memory (like I did in The wary student), but this time I will be measuring the amount of working memory the high-workload condition consumes, too.

Therefore, I'm incredibly grateful Randall Engle's lab at University of Georgia, as well as open-access articles such as "How does running memory span work? by Bunting, Cowan, and Saults.

Measures of working memory capacity that work

Working memory capacity and attentional control: An electrophysiological analysis

(Working memory can also be improved through pharmaceuticals, by the way.)

10:48 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (4) | Tags: working memory

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Orientation and Decision: Two Systems for Thinking

Evans, J. St. B. T. (2008). Dual-processing accounts of reasoning, judgment, and social cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093629.

John Boyd's OODA Loop is a dual processing model of cognition. The very best discussion of dual processing is Jonathan St. B. T. Evans' "Dual processing accounts of reasoning, judgment and social cognition" (55-page pdf, Annual Review's description) to be published in January 2008, in the Annual Review of Psychology.

The article goes over a tremendous amount of literature in excellent style. Evans synthesizes many sources I've mentioned such as Lieberman's "comparison between thinking and riding a bicycle," and recent work noting the very strong correlation between working memory and IQ . But he puts everything in a larger context, showing how field after field is adopting dual processing systems, and thus coming ever closer to Boyd's OODA model.

If you want to know how people think, Evans' article is the place to start.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What we had to begin with + Practice + Memorization = Orientation

Chet Richards, founder of DNI and Belisarius, has an excellent post on decision speed cycle (in the context of the OODA loop):

1. The side which can keep its Orientation more closely matched to the unfolding situation will have an advantage. Another way to say this is that the side whose mental model of the universe is better will find opportunities to create and exploit gaps in the other side’s understanding.

2. You need an inventory of potentially effective actions that can flow smoothly from Orientation via the “implicit guidance and control” link. These actions are generally developed and made intuitive through years of hard training and exercises.

Basically, under this concept, when Orientation decides that it’s time to trigger an action, it just does it. Until then, we continue to observe and to tweak our orientations.

My current projects center around translating these concepts for educational psychologists. It's a ton of work getting beyond the catch-22 ("why develop a theory if it's not mentioned in the experimental literature?" "why run an experiment if its not implied by the theoretical literature"), but also a ton of fun.

21:11 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (2) | Tags: ooda


The term "identity" is used to describe two separate concepts.

The first meaning of "identity" is metacognitive awareness of one's own preference schedule. Educators often encourage "identity" (that is, better metacognitive knowledge). The purpose of this is emphasized by, and the ability to do this is questioned by, the people's lack of introspection. Additionally, Catholic theology questions the desirability of "discovering" one's own identity. Human nature may be sinful, but sin (which accounts for much of the natural preference schedule) does not "name" man. That is, wrong preference schedules cannot be used in describing one's true preference schedules.

Another use of "identity" is as an in-group/out-group marker. Typically, this occurs when there are rival political coalitions that can affect an individual's standing. For instance, the famous "erasing racism" study was able to override implicit racist identity by mixing the racial composition of competing groups of males. Similarly, the early "identity" of Catholic Bosnians as "Christian" (in the early part of the Bosnian War, when they were attempted to form ethnically homogenous regions of that state) quickly gave way to an "identity" as non-Serb, as both Bosnian Muslims and Bosian Croats (catholics) united to drive the Orthodox Christian Serbs from their territory.

10:25 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (10) | Tags: identity, metacognition

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rational Agency and Personhood

Reacting privately to my posts on Cognitive Development, Rational Moral Development, and the OODA Loop, an immensely valued critic wrote:

It remains unclear to me why you are skeptical of rational agency despite having no problem with rationality, metacognition, or other related concepts. My sense is that you see intelligence, and thus rationality, as residing mostly in automatic, domain-specific processes, and associate agency with more controlled and general forms of reasoning that you think are more likely to undermine rationality than to enhance it.

Since getting this email last week I've been tossing it around in my head. I think I agree.

People know much more than they can say. Our verbal descriptions most closely match our behavior when we are new at a task, and know it only as a series of steps. With practice we no longer think about those steps -- we automate them -- so that we can perform them mindlessly while thinking about other things

The human ability to think has two main purposes: to allow us to learn new thinks (reorientation) and disrupt the execution of already automated tasks (disorientation). That is, thinking is a tool that should be used when our orientation is insufficient for the actions we have to perform. Normally, we rely on anxiety, or disorientation produced by orientation, to tell us when we need to calculate a new path or go back and reorient ourselves for a later time. Metacognition is similar to anxiety, except that it's controlled by decision instead of orientation.

So why am I skeptical of rational agency, the idea that being human means having well-thought-out reasons for one's actions? Because the tool of thought is just that, a tool. Decision is a tool used by persons in situations where they are unable or undesirious of trusting what they already know -- it is not the essence of personhood.

07:40 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (5) | Tags: ooda, rational agency

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Duncker's Radiation Problem

Duncker's radiation problem reads:

Suppose you are a doctor faced with a patient who has a malignant tumour in his stomach.It is impossible to operate on the patient; but unless the tumour is destroyed the patient will die. There is a kind of ray that can be used to destroy the tumour. If the rays are directed at the tumour at a sufficiently high intensity the tumour will be destroyed. Unfortunately, at this intensity the healthy tissue that the rays pass through on the way to the tumour will also be destroyed. At lower intensities the rays are harmless to the healthy tissue but they will not affect the tumour either. What type of procedure might be used to destroy the tumour with the rays, and at the same time avoid destroying the healthy tissue? (Duncker; 1945; Gick & Holyoak, 1980, 1983; Keane, 1985)

One roadblock to successful performance, even with analogical hints, is understanding how radiation works (Helfenstein & Saariluoma, 2006)

Superficial similarity between analogies, while present in more difficult problems (Reed, 1987; Ross, 1987, 1989) is not found in the Duncker radition problem (Holyoak & Koh, 1987). In general, surface similarity does not effect the number of correct answers, it positively impacts the quality of answers (Heydenbluth & Hesse, 1996)

A story that analogously solves the problem brings a 30% success rate, while no clue provides a 10% success rate (Gick & Holyoak, 1980)

(A bibliography is below the fold)

Read more ...

09:22 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The power of imagination

Imagination, with insight and initiative, is necessary for life (Boyd, 1992). Without imagination, team cooperation leading to victory is impossible (Boyd, 1986; Osinga, 2007).

The imagination effect, along with the goal-free effect, the worked example effect, the split-attention effect, the redundancy effect, the modality effect, the completion effect, and the variability effect, is one of the main products of cognitive load theory (Sweller, 2004; van gog, et al. 2005).

Imagining tasks can be superior to studying them when the proper mental structurse already exists (Cooper, et al., 2001; Ginns, Chandler, & Sweller, 2003; Kalyuga, et al., 2003; Leahy & Sweller, 2005). The imagionation effect shows itself dual-channel audio and visual instruction, but not visual instruction alone (Tindall-Ford & Sweller, 2006). Likewise, the imagionation effect appears after integrated but not split-attention instructional presentation of materials (Leahy & Sweller, 2004).

What does all this mean? Stay tuned. For now, a bibliography is below.

Read more ...

14:05 Posted in Cognition | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: imagination

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