In a workshop this week I learnt a bit of the brain science behind ‘fast thinking’ and how it leads to ‘unconscious bias’. I suspect it’s just a different way of framing what I think of as my ‘Bayesian brain’: rapid-fire probabilistic assessments of people and situations based on a lifetime’s experiences and situations.
We were informed that ‘fast thinking’ leads us very often to bad judgements. ‘Slow thinking’ – when we deliberate – is the alternative. And indeed there are things we can do with slow thinking which we simply can’t with fast – complex arithmetic for example.
But slow thinking also suffers from ‘confirmation bias’ – where we look for evidence to confirm our decision or prejudice and screen out data which doesn’t fit. So ‘slow’ ain’t necessarily so, if it just seeks to confirm ‘fast’.
I think where our trainer went wrong was to leave the impression we should all think harder. I think the answer to unhelpful bias is to stop thinking and absorb more data.
I found myself, at times, in the workshop completely relaxed – open and with a conscious feeling of just soaking up what our trainer was saying; new data and new ways of looking at data.
Where I found myself far less at my best, was when asked to make spot judgements on what it all means and what we should do about it. Or indeed listening to other people disputing or challenging when I’d have rather just listened.
My feeling was, unless you’re a brain scientist or a trained psychologist don’t waste energy or thought arguing or critically appraising stuff you don’t know about. Just soak it up.
As our trainer explained our brain runs on glucose. It’s a big sugar soaked sponge, with its myriad connections made and laid down by filigree fibres powered by sugar solution. A bit like a wet candy floss. But too much thinking and the glucose runs down. And temper and thought deteriorate.
The answer to changing your mind, I reckon, is to soak up more info and leave the soggy sugar to work it out. Thinking hard just makes your glucose run out, your head sore and your mistakes worse. From soaking and sweetness comes good judgement.