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Gina Stepp has a master's degree in forensic psychology with an emphasis on trauma and resilience. As family and relationships editor for Vision, she examines the role interpersonal connection plays in ensuring human well-being.


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Critical Thinking: Beware That Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Flicr Image by Helene Sarasm
 Flickr Image by Hélène Sara

In the last few posts we've been talking about some of the ways our thinking lets us down when we're chugging along on intuition, or System 1, as Nobel Prize-winning researcher  Daniel Kahneman calls it. System 1, he says, operates silently and automatically in the background, providing impressions, impulses, intuitions and instant conclusions about what we hear and see. When you've got that peaceful, easy feeling, you know System 1 is at the helm. As long as you're in a state of "cognitive ease," your thinking will be fairly superficial because of the relaxed vigilance of System 2, which is the more effortful, analytic thinking mode.

Interestingly, just as cognitive ease increases a good mood, a good mood conversely increases cognitive ease. In other words, says, Kahneman, "A happy mood loosens the control of System 2 over performance: when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors."

This is because System 1 will jump to its conclusions on the basis of the relatively scanty information it is processing automatically and unless (or until) a sense of cognitive strain mobilizes System 2, the intuitive answers supplied by System 1 will hold sway. "Remember," says Kahneman, "that System 2 is lazy and that mental effort is aversive."

What does this mean for critical thinking?

Simply this: Take your mood into account when you have important decisions to make. That peaceful, easy feeling may be beneficial to your physical and mental health, but it also means your System 2 is weaker than usual and you may be tempted to let your intuitions rule you inappropriately.


More on this topic:

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo: Teaching Chidlren Decision-Making Skills

Self Regulation: Teaching Children the Art of Self-Control


Interesting correlation. Family relationships benefit when we all understand that, in an emotional moment, we all do and say unwise things. Forgiving rather than blaming works best.  
Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with your Adult Children
Posted @ Friday, February 10, 2012 9:34 AM by Ruth Nemzoff
Two adult daughters won't get together. Both have tried in their own way. The one daughter is up and down in moods, is friendly to me, then friendly with dad and not with me. He sexually abused her, and she said she has an issue with him to settle, but does not. I think it affects her greatly.
Posted @ Sunday, March 04, 2012 4:26 PM by J
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