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Tools for Thinking

Thinking and Memory

Site: AB Course Sharing Hub
Course: General Psychology 20 - Cindi Sawchuck
Book: Tools for Thinking
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Saturday, 15 June 2019, 5:01 PM

Language and Symbols

charadesHave you ever played charades?  It can be very frustrating to express an idea without using verbal language.  Language has the power to convey practical information, values, emotions, ideals, humor and entertainment.


Did you have secret language with a friend when you were smaller?  Either written or spoken?  A language system uses a random selection of sounds to indicate meaning.  For example, why does the word BOOK mean book?  At some point in time, people agreed to that meaning for B-O-O-K.  After a while a particular meaning for those letters, in that order becomes known.

Rigid rules for sounds and words must be obeyed.  Both the listener and the speaker must understand and accept the sounds and definitions. 

Language uses symbols  - something that represents something else.  Letters are symbols for sounds, and then there are common symbols like $ and % that we use as well.

Significant Benefits of Language

 - Language enhances our recolection of past experiences

 - More precise and accurate discriptions of objects and events are possible through language

 - Langauge establishes and builds group unity and the more unique the language, the bigger the feeling of belonging.  For example a drug group uses slang terms to identify people wihin their group.  Drug related terms frequently change to keep the group more isolated.

 - Language can be used as a means of control through the use of direct requests, orders and commands. For example, instructions on a written exam.  It can also be used indirectly (the langauge of advertising)

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Thinking Basics

Explicit and Implicit Behavior

There are two important categories of behavior

Explicit Behavior Implicit Behavior

 - easily observed

 - easitly measured

 - referred to as "overt" behavior

 - any behavior involving strenuous muscular activity like someone lifting a heavy box, or raising their hand to ask a question

 - not easily observable

 - usually detected with the help of measuring instruments

 - referred to as "covert" behavior

 - indication of surprise - a person may remain expressionles, bu their pupils may dilate. 

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What is Thinking?

Children often talk out loud to themselves while they are busy. When they get a bit older, they usually talk silently to themselves.  Even adult admit to talking to themselves.


Every time we listen we can hear our inner voices. This is sometimes mistaken as thinking but it is not, as thoughts have flow.  We think as we speak and write, but self examination stops. 

So what is thinking? It is the mental processes and skills we use to shape our lives.  It goes on all the time, even without being aware of it. 

It is the most complex activity that you perform.  It is an implicit behavior where you become aware of and can manipulate past experiences.  This lets you review choices and make the best decision possible.

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Thinking Processes: Remembering

If we didn’t have memory, language would disappear along with meaningful communication with others.  We also could not use our past experiences to improve our current lives.


Memory can be divided into three sections:

Sensory Memory  - pertaining to the senses like the smell of a flower. the taste of chocolate or the feel of an animal's fur
Motor-skill Memory - pertaining to the remembered response of doing something physical like walking, skating or turning a somersault
Verbal Memory  - pertaining to everything a person has thought, read or heard

Retention is the ability to hold on to what has be learned.  People are able to retain phenomenal amounts of sensory and motor-skill memories.  A few people have been blessed with photographic memories.  This means that they can remember even the smallest details.

Verbal memory is not as easy to master as the other two.  It comes in two forms - short term (active) and long term memory.


All information goes into short term memory where it can be recalled very easily. Some of the information will then be coded into our long term memory.  Not everything we put in long term memory is remembered forever.  Some seems to be forgotten, while other memories are not being retrieved using the cues or 'headings" we remembered them under.  Long term memories seem to decay less than short term, but are more subject to interference or distortion from competing memeories.  memeories are more likely to get put into your long term memory if they  are more novel, actively rehearsed or have a greater significance to you. 

mem cartoonOnce material has been learned, relearning it will be easier.  ir example: When a song is very popular you may memorize all the words.  When youhear the song several years later, youmay realize you remember a lot of it still.

There are three major kinds of memories:

semantic - knowledge of facts - it does not decline with age, in fact it grows

implicit - automatic skills - speaking correct grammar or hitting a golf ball - they do not decline either

episodic - knowledge of specific events - it may decline,butthis could be reversable.

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Thinking Processes: Reasoning

Reasoning is the cornerstone of good decision-making.  It is the process of forming conclusion,s judgements or inferences from facts.  Before reasoning is used, we must first have cognition - the act or process of knowing, understanding data, or to become conscious of something.  Using reasoning may point us to a previous answer, a modification of an earlier solution or a new and unique idea.

There are two types of reasoning:

Inductive Reasoning Deductive Reasoning

 - process information by moving from specifics to general principles

- the thinker moves from the known to the unknown

- form new hypothesis about future observations

 - involves relating pieces of information to each other by association

After examining a textbook, dictionary, atlas and paperback novel you reach the conclusion that books are rectangular and contain pages of printed material.

 - process information by moving from general principles to specific cases or consequences

 - the idea of putting two and two together

 - a general rule is tested on separate occasions and separate cases are judged

You believe that all wild water fowl migrate for the winter.  You examine wild ducks, geese and swans to find out what they do.


Please begin your Lesson Four Challenge - PART B - Matching

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Thinking Processes: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a desire for or habit of determinign the authenticity, accuracy and worth of information.  It is not a process we can turn on or off, but a part of thought on every occasion.


A critical thinker must be ready to doubt and challenge what is held to be true.  They must have a readiness to pause and reflect, be open to controversy and examining their personal beliefs.

In order to think critically, you must be able to tell the difference between facts and opinions.  For example, a Labrador retriever is a type of dog (fact) and is the most loyal dog someone can own (opinion).

Key Components of Critical Thinking:

~ Realization of a problem –

                The person is confronted with a new situation

~ Diagnoses or examination of the situation –

                What ways can you attack the problem? Examine each on and see if it is likely to lead to a solution.  This can be done in various ways.

Ideas for Diagnosing A Situation

Move step by step towards the goal

Look at the problem from different angles

Judge the feasibility of the idea

Break the problem into parts and explore how these parts can be recombined in new ways

Attack a task from the perspective of the desired solution

Rearrange existing facts and come up with new insights

 ~ Forming a hypothesis –

                More than a guess for the right answer, this is a possible explanation that seems worth examining.

 ~ Testing the hypothesis –

                What would be the outcome and consequences if the hypothesis was true? This uses logic and deduction.

~ Verifying the hypothesis –

                This is done by checking the logical consequences against actual fact.

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Thinking Processes: Forgetting

Forgetting is an active process; it is not a passive one where we are a victim of memory loss. 

keysWhat Causes Forgetting?

Forgetting is a normal memory system that is a defense against too much information.  You need the right cues to recall data.  Information is not usually lost, it lays dormant until something stimulates the memory.

Sometimes “forgotten” material sinks down into unconscious levels.  For example, if a young child is molested that memory may be “forgotten” for many years. 

Factors Impacting the Forgetting Process

1. Inattention

                Information is not properly anchored in the short term memory, therefore cannot move to long term memory.  The quality of the original learning makes a huge difference memory retention. 

2. Retroactive Inhibition

                The belief that what we just learned may interfere with previous learning.  This seems to happen when learning something very similar to what you have already learned.  For example if you memorize a grocery list for this week and then decide to memorize a list for next week, you may have difficulty recalling the separate lists if there is a lot of overlap.

3. Proactive Inhibition

                The belief that previous learning may interfere with new learning. This is the opposite of retroactive inhibition.  The idea is that the original powerfully fixed in your mind that the new data has a hard time being stored. For example, in English “j” has a certain sound.  If you later study Spanish, the “j” sound is different.  You may make a lot of mistakes learning Spanish because you English is dominant.

4. Motivated Forgetting

                You are more likely to remember tasks that are unfinished than those that are complete.The Zeigarnik effect is the theory that incomplete tasks are remembered longer than completed tasks as they nag at our minds until we get them done.

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