Lesson 1

Explore the inner workings of the mind

Lesson 1

Explore the inner workings of the mind


Uncover the tricks that our minds play on us, making us all prone to irrationality and errors in our decision-making and judgments. Learn a 3-step method to think more rationally – even in the heat of a disagreement.

Our Picks

Recommended Videos:

  • Brain Tricks – This Is How Your Brain Works, AsapSCIENCE (4:40). A quick & vivid introduction to dual process theory – the idea that our minds are divided into automatic thinking (a.k.a. “System 1”) and slow thinking (“System 2”). AsapSCIENCE leads viewers through exercises that show how this two-system set-up allows us to make mistakes and jump to conclusions without us realizing it!
  • Confirmation bias, BellarmineStudios (1:34). “Like it or not, we as human beings tend to think that our initial opinions are correct, and when presented with the facts, we pick out the ones that suit our presumptions best,” this quick video explains. It helps us understand the impact of our confirmation bias by comparing it to the “Texas Sharpshooter” fallacy, and offers a historical example of confirmation bias in action.
Essays and Articles
  • The Faults of Others, adapted from The Happiness Hypothesis (2006) by Jonathan Haidt. Weaving together insights from ancient wisdom and modern psychological research, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores why we’re so good at identifying the faults of others but bad at identifying the faults within ourselves. Haidt explains that there are specific cognitive process that “predispose us to hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and moralistic conflict.” He concludes that “sometimes, by knowing the mind’s structures and strategies, we can step out of the ancient game of social manipulation, and enter into a game of our choosing.”
  • I’m O.K., You’re Biased (2006) by Daniel Gilbert. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert presents research that suggests that decision-makers are often unaware of their vulnerability to bias. Gilbert explains that “The human brain knows many tricks that allow it to consider evidence, weigh facts and still reach precisely the conclusion it favors….By uncritically accepting evidence when it pleases us, and insisting on more when it doesn’t, we subtly tip the scales in our favor.”
  • Of 2 minds: How fast and slow thinking shape perception and choice, adapted from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2012). This sample from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s best-selling book explains the two systems we use to arrive at judgments and decisions: automatic thinking (a.k.a. “System 1”) and controlled thinking (“System 2”).
  • Confirmation Bias (2010) by David McRaney. McRaney describes the psychological research on “confirmation bias,” the human tendency to seek out information that confirms the beliefs we already hold and avoid opinions or evidence that contradicts our beliefs.
  • Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth (2011) by Patricia Cohen. The article describes Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber’s  groundbreaking “argumentative theory of reasoning” which challenges the long-held belief that human beings evolved the capacity to reason in order to arrive at truth. Instead, the theory suggests that reason evolved for the social purpose of helping individuals win arguments. The theory helps account for the irrationalities and biases of the human mind.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011). This best-selling book summarizes decades of findings on how our minds work. Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman unveils the basis for so many of our irrational tendencies, poor judgments, and bad decisions. He explains that we usually rely on unreliable automatic thinking (“System 1”), and only engage in more accurate controlled reasoning (“System 2”) when we have enough time and energy. Also, our System 1 uses many shortcuts (called “heuristics”) to get things done quickly, which result in cognitive biases: predictable errors in our reasoning. This book can equip us with concepts to understand ourselves and others better, and empowers us to make better choices by training ourselves to put our controlled thinking to work more often.

  • Dan Ariely, Are we in control of our own decisions?, TED Talk (17:14). Acclaimed behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents a series of visual illusions and surprising experimental research to demonstrate that we are not as rational as we think.

  • CRITICAL THINKING – Cognitive Biases: Alief, Wireless Philosophy (3:59). Psychologist Laurie Santos explains how we can act irrationally, based upon emotionally-driven automatic assumptions – like when we fear a monster in a movie, even though we know it can’t hurt us. Even if we’re aware that these assumptions (called “aliefs”) don’t match up with reality, we have to think carefully to counteract their impact on our actions and decisions. (To learn more about other kinds of cognitive biases, see Wireless Philosophy’s Cognitive Biases series.)

  • Intuition first, reasoning second, Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (5:05). In this clip, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains the provocative idea that our emotions and intuition lead us to particular conclusions, and then our reason works to back up these conclusions. Haidt explains how this counterintuitive understanding of the mind, which dates back to the philosopher David Hume, has been vindicated by recent scientific findings.

  • The elephant, the rider, and the path – A tale of behavior change Rare (2:02). This quick, fun animated video illustrates how our brain is divided into two parts, which we can think of as an elephant (automatic thinking) and a rider (controlled thinking). It reinforces the lesson that the elephant is much larger and more powerful than the rider – which is why “you need to appeal to someone’s elephant before you can move their rider.”

  • Defining confirmation bias, Facing History and Ourselves (2:33). This short and straightforward video explains that “we tend to be too accepting of information we want to hear and too critical of we don’t want to hear.” The scholars and journalists featured in the video describe how confirmation bias influences how people consume news media: specifically, how it drives people to choose to read from sources that tend to reinforce their existing understanding of the world, and avoid sources that challenge their preconceptions.

  • Mark Changizi, Why do we see illusions?, TED-Ed (7:21). For those who are interested in understanding why we’re susceptible to visual illusions, this video explains a leading explanation from neuroscience. Changizi explains that one of the shortcuts our brain (specifically, our automatic thinking) uses to process information quickly is to make a prediction about what we’re about to see. This prediction can lead us to “see” things differently from how they really are.