You May Be Wrong, But You May Be Right: Exploring Biases with Sven Van de Wetering

“People who think they’re always right are almost always wrong. People who are always willing to consider the possibility they’re wrong tend to be right much more often,” says associate psychology professor Sven Van de Wetering.

It is this basic conundrum that Van de Wetering wanted to explore in a course he’s designing — one that looks at ideological biases from a psychological perspective. Heuristics, Biases and Critical Thinking, will be available in Winter 2019 and Van de Wetering sat down with the College of Arts blog to talk about his inspiration for this new offering.

“We know a huge amount about how we, as human beings, fool ourselves,” says Van de Wetering. In fact, he says, there is no shortage of psychological literature on the topic and he recently found a book that listed 99 different biases, which he says isn’t even complete.

What isn’t discussed as much is how to recognize these biases in your own thinking and how to account for this not only in research, but in day-to-day discussions.

One of the things that led him to the topic is a recent crisis in his field of social psychology, where liberal thinkers have been accused of shutting out their more conservative-minded colleagues. Van de Wetering was at first determined to do some research into this question, but eventually he and his research assistant, Flora Oswald realized that what social psychologists really need is more help identifying their biases from the outset. He considered developing a workshop for his peers, but decided that those who chose to attend such a program were probably already aware of the need to take other perspectives into account.

“Maybe, what I need to do instead, is catch them young,” he told himself.

Fortunately, Van de Wetering, who has been teaching psychology at UFV for 20 years and has access to a new crop of students every semester, is in a good position to do this. Encouraged by Oswald, he came up with a 13-week course in about 20 minutes. Still he wasn’t sure how interested students would be in the idea of studying their own prejudices and biases, so he offered a prototype in winter 2018. The response, he said, was overwhelming.

Moving away from the typical lecture format, Van de Wetering asked students to do a great deal of reading ahead of time and then to spend class time discussing real-world issues through the lens of various biases. Issues like: should there be a ban on pit-bulls? (an interesting topic, but one Van de Wetering says he’ll probably never use again, as it was too inconclusive.)

Van de Wetering also made it clear from the outset that the students would have input into the way the class ran.

“Just about my first line . . . was ‘I am not the only smart person in the room. I’m counting on you guys to help me figure out what it is we’re actually doing to think critically in this course,’” he said.

Students, he says, loved being so involved. “I think I’ve touched a nerve – I think I’m offering something that they really, really want: relevance and an active role in the overall design of the course.”

With algorithms constantly directing content on our social media channels to things we’ve shown interest in before, Van de Wetering thinks a class about biases is particularly relevant today.

“If you are actually seeking the truth, having people echoing your prejudices back to you is not a good thing,” he says. “You want people to challenge you even if it turns out that they’re ultimately wrong.”

A Few Examples of Cognitive Biases

  • Confirmation Bias: Favoring information that conforms to your existing beliefs and discounting evidence that does not conform.
  • Halo Effect: Your overall impression of a person influences how you feel and think about his or her character. This especially applies to physical attractiveness influencing how you rate their other qualities.
  • Self-Serving Bias: The tendency to blame external forces when bad things happen and give yourself credit when good things happen. When you win a poker hand it is due to your skill at reading the other players and knowing the odds, while when you lose it is due to getting dealt a poor hand.
  • Narrative bias (from Van de Wetering): The tendency, when one has embraced a narrative that can be used to explain a certain group of facts, to ignore facts and possibilities that do not cohere with that narrative.

 

 

UFV History Instructor, Dr. Ian Rocksborough-Smith, featured at Illinois Press Book Exhibit

Dr. Rocksborough-Smith, a sessional faculty member in UFV’s History department, holds his newly published book Black Public History in Chicago at the University of Illinois Press book exhibit on April 12, 2018.

What did you do?

“This is my first book. It represents nearly ten years of archival and oral history research from my PhD studies through my early years as a history instructor at UFV (2013-present). It focuses on how black Americans, many of them school teachers in Chicago, used public history projects to engage with struggles for civil rights and citizenship over the middle decades of the 20th Century. These projects included things like curriculum reforms for public schools, local history organizations and societies, and efforts to build museums and institutions, like the DuSable Museum of African American History – which is alive and well today. For my research, I was very fortunate to interview the now deceased founder of the DuSable Museum, Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs, who is considered an artistic and cultural icon of 20th Century Chicago and especially its African American community. I am thankful for all the support I received from UFV History Department colleagues and associates over the years as well as colleagues at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, where I have also taught.”

What’s next?

“My primary research interests include the study of late 19th and 20th Century United States history, urban studies, and histories of race, religion, and empire in the Atlantic world. In particular, my future work will continue to look at how local and public history methods can help to uncover these aspects of the past, particularly in cities like Chicago which became almost “laboratories” for how the “modern” North American city evolved. Currently, I am working on a new project about how white Catholic liberals engaged in anti-racism in the 1950s in northern U.S. cities like Chicago. Indeed, many North American cities became the site of successive immigration of Catholic Europeans over the early decades of the 20th Century and I am fascinated with how these groups on the one hand experienced discrimination themselves but came to in turn discriminate against black Americans and other people of color who moved to the city.”

“I am excited to be returning to teach as a LTA history instructor with UFV. In the courses I have been privileged to teach here, I have learned a lot from my students who are deeply engaged in local issues in the Fraser Valley community as well as global issues of significance, such as the forces that have given rise historically to developments like Brexit or the current presidency of Donald Trump. I’m particularly excited to be teaching a new course on Populism in America (History 396Q), which looks at the ways populism has informed American political culture from the administration of Andrew Jackson through the present.”

Dr. Rocksborough-Smith sits on a panel at the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento.

Stefan featured at NYC’s Infinite Archive: NYPL art exhibit

Shelley Stefan’s work will be housed in a vintage card catalog at the upcoming Infinite Archive: NYPL art exhibition in New York City.

What will she do?

Visual Arts associate professor Shelley Stefan is set to be featured as a guest artist in the upcoming Infinite Archive: NYPL art exhibition in New York City from April 5 to September 3, 2018. The exhibition will introduce a diverse group of 30 artists, each responding to a book, poem, periodical or other archival material from The New York Public Library’s vast collection.

Artworks included span across a wide spectrum of media ranging from:

  • Paintings
  • Printmaking
  • Photography
  • Assemblage
  • Sculpture

Each artwork presents a complex dialogue between the artist and the selected text and will be housed in a vintage card catalog. Visitors will be encouraged to discover a variety of artworks as they open each drawer. Many artworks will include interactive elements, such as solving a puzzle, exploring a maze or unfolding an abstract painting. To see pictures and learn more, visit: https://www.infinitearchive.art/infinite-archive-nypl/

What’s Next?

You can find Stefan in her art studio working on a new series of figure paintings based on her time in Bologna, Italy. This body of work will culminate her arts-based sabbatical research from Northern Italy.

Faculty Accomplishment: Dr. Lenore Newman

Dr. Lenore Newman gives a keynote speech to 240 attendees at The 2018 Urban Agriculture Forum in Melbourne, Australia on February 23 and 24, 2018.

What Did She Do?

The College of Arts’ Dr. Lenore Newman, a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and the Environment and faculty member in the Department of Geography and the Environment, embarked on a speaking tour of Australia (February 2018) to discuss the subject of farmland’s role in food security.

While in Australia, Dr. Newman spoke at a variety of events and toured several innovative farms and not-for-profit organizations, which included:

  • A keynote speech at the Blueprint for future food systems in regional Victoria in Bendigo, Australia on February 20, 2018 (organized by the City of Greater Bendigo).
  • A keynote speech at the Grampians Food Forum: strengthening food security in the Grampians Pyrenees region in Ararat, Australia on February 21, 2018 (organized by Sustain and the Grampians Food Alliance).
  • A keynote speech and panel discussion at The 2018 Urban Agriculture Forum in Melbourne, Austrailia on February 23 and 24, 2018 (organized by Sustain).
  • A presentation at the Urban Farming: Feeding the Future in Sydney, Australia on February 26, 2018 (organized by the Sydney Environmental Institute at the University of Sydney).
  • A half-day workshop presentation for graduate students and policy members at the Urban Agriculture Workshop in Sydney, Australia on February 27, 2018.
  • A panel presentation at the Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities: Pathways for regeneration from farm to fork in Perth, Australia on March 1, 2018 (organized by Edith Cowan University and the Heart Foundation).

She also made guest appearances on several radio and podcast interviews:

  • An Interview with Steven Martin from ABC Radio Ballarat on February 21, 2018.
  • The Conversation Hour with John Faine from ABC Radio Melbourne on February 22, 2018.
  • Greening the Apocalypse (podcast recording) with Adam Grubb on February 23, 2018.
  • Late Night Live with Phillip Adams from ABC Radio Sydney on February 27, 2018.
  • A radio interview with Tara De Landgrafft from ABC Radio Perth on March 1, 2018.

What’s Next?

Dr. Newman made a number of connections on the Australian tour, which could result in the following future collaborations: sharing data, co-writing a paper, developing a case study in Melbourne with a role for students, and working with the City of Greater Bendigo.