zenpundit.com » Blog Archive


I’d like to juxtapose a couple of interesting posts that I have read this week that have bearing on how we select information that subsequently shapes our thoughts.

At Complexity and Social Networks Blog, Maria Binz-Scharf asks “How does the way we process information relate to how we search for it?“. A key excerpt:

“Some days ago I attended a talk on human information processing by Thomas Mussweiler from the University of Cologne who spoke at the Columbia Business School. Mussweiler and colleagues conducted an impressive number of experiments on the mechanisms and influences of individual information processing. A simple example would be to ask you to determine your best athletic performance. You have two basic options: 1) You think of every single athletic moment in your life, i.e. you engage in absolute information processing, or 2) you compare what you recollect as some of your best performances to a given standard, e.g. a famous athlete’s performance (or a famous couch potato’s performance). Not surprisingly it turns out that comparison allows to process information in a more efficient manner.

Mussweiler went on to talk about various factors that influence the comparisons we make, most importantly the standards we employ for comparing information. His experiments used a technique calledpriming to activate certain standards – for example, subjects were asked to judge a trait in a person. The result shows that priming a trait concept (such as aggressiveness) will induce the subject to judge the target person according to that trait. In other words, once activated, standards are spontaneously compared to the target person.”

This is very interesting. “Priming” would be an efficiency mechanism for rapid mental screening of a large number of things. It is also a “bias mechanism” that would strongly predispose you to see some evidence of what pattern you are looking for, even if it does not exist. It would be very much like the ” Framing” of George Lakoff in its effect.

How to deal with that effect, our own unintentional biases or being targeted by zealous Lakoffian framers ? Metacognition might be a helpful technique, as suggested in the post “Strategic Learning: Metacognition and Metamemory” at The Eide Neurolearning Blog . The Drs. Edie write:

“High level strategic learning often requires constant self-regulation and error monitoring strategies, metacognition (thinking about the thought processes), sometimes specific memory techniques (metamemory or conscious thinking about memory).”

Such self-regulative monitoring provides a mental check against racing ahead with a dubious but attractive premise. It would also tend to derail the the likelihood of the amygdala becoming overly engaged in the heat of the argument and turning us into red-faced, sputtering, arm-waving, buffoons with a surge of emotionality.

Cross-posted to Chicago Boyz

4 Responses to “”

  1. A.E. Says:

    What’s your opinion on Lakoff and his theories?

  2. mark Says:

    Hi a.e.

    Good question:

    I find Lakoff plausible in casual terms of the action of shaping rhetoric in debate. Most people are very lazy, in terms of scrutinizing input, and tend to accept what is handed to them. Technique-wise, he’s on to something.

    Neurocognitively, I’ve heard PhD’s in linguistics related fields disagree vehemently at times. I’m not qualified to judge the merits there to say who is correct.

    In terms of Lakoff’s nuturant parent -strict father paradigm, I heard that *years* earlier from the late Jude Wanniski, who deserves a kudos for the concept.

    I don’t accept Lakoff’s characterization of conservatism’s values. Too obviously, he has a polemical agenda here, much like historian Eric Foner’s explicit desire to change the public’s libertarian conception of the word “freedom” to a Social Democratic value closer to “security”. It’s like letting Charles Murray define liberalism.

  3. A.E. Says:

    I think “framing” is an important concept, probably what he’ll be most known for. Certainly after reading Lakoff I paid much closer attention to political rhetoric.

    However, much lot of his stuff was always informally known in the PR industry. What Lakoff did was put it into an academic context and come up with systematic definitions. In particular, Michael Sitrick of Sitrick and Company wrote a book called Spin that will probably of be more interest to those seeking to actively shape debate.

  4. A.E. Says:

    Most known for by history’s verdict, I mean.

    What would be really interesting would be if someone did a comparison of the concept of moral warfare from the perspective of Lakoff and John Boyd.

Switch to our mobile site