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HungryHippo comments on "Flinching away from truth” is often about *protecting* the epistemology - Less Wrong

69 Post author: AnnaSalamon 20 December 2016 06:39PM

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Comment author: HungryHippo 20 December 2016 05:55:18PM *  4 points [-]

Very interesting article!

I'm incidentally re-reading "Feeling Good" and parts of it deal with situations exactly like the ones Oshun-Kid is in.

From Chapter 6 ("Verbal Judo: How to talk back when you're under the fire of criticism"), I quote:

Here’s how it works. When another person criticizes you, certain negative thoughts are automatically triggered in your head. Your emotional reaction will be created by these thoughts and not by what the other person says. The thoughts which upset you will invariably contain the same types of mental errors described in Chapter 3: overgeneralization, all-or-nothing thinking, the mental filter, labeling, etc. For example, let’s take a look at Art’s thoughts. His panic was the result of his catastrophic interpretation: “This criticism shows how worthless I am.” What mental errors is he making? In the first place, Art is jumping to conclusions when he arbitrarily concludes the patient’s criticism is valid and reasonable. This may or may not be the case. Furthermore, he is exaggerating the importance of whatever he actually said to the patient that may have been undiplomatic (magnification), and he is assuming he could do nothing to correct any errors in his behavior (the fortune teller error). He unrealistically predicted he would be rejected and ruined professionally because he would repeat endlessly whatever error he made with this one patient (overgeneralization). He focused exclusively on his error (the mental filter) and over-looked his numerous other therapeutic successes (disqualifying or overlooking the positive). He identified with his erroneous behavior and concluded he was a “worthless and insensitive human being” (labeling). The first step in overcoming your fear of criticism concerns your own mental processes: Learn to identify the negative thoughts you have when you are being criticized. It will be most helpful to write them down using the double-column technique described in the two previous chapters. This will enable you to analyze your thoughts and recognize where your thinking is illogical or wrong. Finally, write down rational responses that are more reasonable and less upsetting.

And quoting your article:

(You might take a moment, right now, to name the cognitive ritual the kid in the story should do (if only she knew the ritual). Or to name what you think you'd do if you found yourself in the kid's situation -- and how you would notice that you were at risk of a "buckets error".)

I would encourage Oshun-Kid to cultivate the following habit:

  1. Notice when you feel certain (negative) emotions. (E.g. anxiety, sadness, fear, frustration, boredom, stressed, depressed, self-critical, etc.) Recognizing these (sometimes fleeting) moments is a skill that you get better at as you practice.
  2. Try putting down in words (write it down!) why you feel that emotion in this situation. This too, you will get better at as you practice. These are your Automatic Thoughts. E.g. "I'm always late!".
  3. Identify the cognitive distortions present in your automatic thought. E.g. Overgeneralization, all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, etc.
  4. Write down a Rational Response that is absolutely true (don't try to deceive yourself --- it doesn't work!) and also less upsetting. E.g.: I'm not literally always late! I'm sometimes late and sometimes on time. If I'm going to beat myself up for the times I'm late, I might as well feel good about myself for the times I'm on time. Etc.

Write steps 2., 3., and 4., in three columns, where you add a new row each time you notice a negative emotion.

I'm actually surprised that Cognitive Biases are focused on to a greater degree than Cognitive Distortions are in the rational community (based on google-phrase search on site:lesswrong.com), especially when Kahneman writes more or less in Thinking: Fast and Slow that being aware of cognitive biases has not made him that much better at countering them (IIRC) while CBT techniques are regularly used in therapy sessions to alleviate depression, anxiety, etc. Sometimes as effectively as in a single session.

I also have some objections as to how the teacher behaves. I think the teacher would be more effective if he said stuff like: "Wow! I really like the story! You must have worked really hard to make it! Tell me how you worked at it: did you think up the story first and then write it down, or did you think it up as you were writing it, or did you do it a different way? Do you think there are authors who do it a different way from you or in a similar way to you? Do you think it's possible to become a better writer, just like a runner becomes a faster runner or like a basketball player becomes better at basketball? How would you go about doing that to become a better author? If a basketball player makes a mistake in a game, does it always make him a bad basketball player? Do the best players always do everything perfectly, or do they sometimes make mistakes? Should you expect of yourself to always be a perfect author, or is it okay for you to sometimes make mistakes? What can you do if you discover a mistake in your writing? Is it useful to sometimes search through your writings to find mistakes you can fix? Etc."

Edit: I personally find that when tutoring someone and you notice in real time that they are making a mistake or are just about to make a mistake, it's more effective to correct them in the form of a question rather than outright saying "that's wrong" or "that's incorrect" or similar.

E.g.:

Pupil, saying: "... and then I multiply nine by eight and get fifty-four ..." Here, I wouldn't say: "that's a mistake." I would rather say, "hmm... is that the case?" or "is that so?" or "wait a second, what did you say that was again?" or "hold on, can you repeat that for me?". It's a bit difficult for me to translate my question-phrases from Norwegian to English, because a lot of the effect in the tone of voice. My theory for why this works is that when you say "that's wrong" or similar, you are more likely to express the emotion of disapproval at the student's actions or the student herself (and the student is more likely to read that emotion into you whether or not you express it). Whereas when you put it in the form of a question, the emotions you express are more of the form: mild surprise, puzzlement, uncertainty, curiosity, interest, etc. which are not directly rejecting or disapproving emotions on your part and therefore don't make the student feel bad.

After you do this a couple of times, the student becomes aware that every time you put a question to them, they are expected to double check that something is correct and to justify their conclusion.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 20 December 2016 08:37:00PM 7 points [-]

I'm actually surprised that Cognitive Biases are focused on to a greater degree than Cognitive Distortions are in the rational community (based on google-phrase search on site:lesswrong.com), especially when Kahneman writes more or less in Thinking: Fast and Slow that being aware of cognitive biases has not made him that much better at countering them (IIRC) while CBT techniques are regularly used in therapy sessions to alleviate depression, anxiety, etc. Sometimes as effectively as in a single session.

The concept of cognitive biases is sort of like training wheels; I continue teaching people about them (at SPARC, say) as a first step on the path to getting them to recognize that they can question the outputs of their brain processes. It helps make things feel a lot less woo to be able to point to a bunch of studies clearly confirming that some cognitive bias exists, at first. And once you've internalized that things like cognitive biases exist I think it's a lot easier to then move on to other more helpful things, at least for a certain kind of a person (like me; this is the path I took historically).