Monday, October 24, 2011

Engaged versus Lazy Thinking

I am currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which describes how our thinking works. Early in the book he poses the following problem. Try to come up with the answer.

Steve has been described as: "Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail." Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

Most people say librarian because Steve has the stereotypical personality of a librarian. However, the correct answer is farmer because there are twenty times as many male farmers in this country as there are librarians.

Kahneman thinks that this type of incorrect answer is due to a lack of motivation–laziness. On the other hand, those who come up with the correct answer are "engaged." Engaged people" are more alert, more intellectually active, less willing to be satisfied with superficially attractive answers, more skeptical about their intuitions."

Those of us who teach legal writing see this type of problem everyday. Students too often settle for the easy answer without thinking a problem through. We must teach our students to be engaged, to focus on all aspects of a particular problem. We can adopt exercises in Kahneman’s book to legal situations in order to force students to see what they have left out. For example, we can develop a problem on discrimination where the discrimination is obvious and is set out in great detail, but the statute requires at least fifty employees to be applicable with the employer in this case having thirty employees (this part is hidden in the middle of the text). The lazy thinker will probably focus on the sexy, more detailed part, but the engaged thinker will read the entire problem and come up with the correct answer.


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