Critical Thinking: Belief vs. Evidence

Barbara Ehrenreich explores the “dark side” of positive thinking in the short video below, with an interesting discussion of delusional thinking.

I’ve thought a lot about the mis-use of research. Much of the behaviour discussed as the dark side of positive psychology in this video is a mis-interpretation of the research about positive psychology.  Positive psychology is not about having a positive attitude and ignoring the facts.  However, the “positive thinking ideology” found in “The Secret”, is a twisted version of positive psychology, that has great appeal to us. We’d like to believe that if we just thought positively that things would change. But we all know that good decision-making, hard work, luck, and good circumstances all play into outcomes.

Most interesting to me, is the rejection of research and the acceptance of belief by most people.  Recently I had a discussion with a colleague about divided attention.  The research shows that we can’t read, listen and write at the same time and still retain the information.  Studies show that we loose up to 40% of our processing ability when our attention is divided.  So much for the traditional lecture format, complete with 200 slide powerpoint presentations with 70 words per slide.  My colleague was convinced that she effectively reads, listens and takes notes. Maybe she does, although I suspect that she is over-estimating her ability. But she expected her students to have the same skill, in spite of the research evidence, based on her personal beliefs.

If a person who’s career is based on doing research in order to find un-biased information cannot let go of personal beliefs in the face of evidence, how on earth can we expect other people to do so.  Perhaps that is why there is so much resistance to change.


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