Showing posts with label Psychological science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psychological science. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment


Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment


   Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton


We are constantly exposed to opinions. Some of those opinions are judgments. And some of those judgments affect our opportunities to work, obtain healthcare, receive fair treatment by government entities, and earn fair evaluations in school. Some people are paid to make informed judgments. Unfortunately, some judgments are noisy—they vary. Noise is about the differences in judgments that affect our lives.

When the authors provide examples of variation in judgments, they are writing about variability in a statistical sense. As a retired professor who taught research and statistics to undergraduate and graduate students, I’m not sure the authors were entirely clear—at least not clear enough for readers who are either new to the concept or haven’t drawn on their statistics knowledge for some years. In any event, I think the book deserves a look because it draws attention to a real problem—a problem with which I’m familiar.

The authors often provide examples of judges in the criminal justice system. For example, they note that judges can vary in the length of a sentence for the same offence. They also provide examples of different diagnoses provided by physicians for the same set of symptoms—this is especially true in the diagnosis of mental disorders.

The authors introduce the problem of variation in judgments by referring to shots at target. Given a group of people firing at a target, there will likely be some variation. If they are experienced, we would expect them to be close to the bullseye. The degree to which the holes are scattered is variance. The variation is like noise in judgments, which deviate from accuracy. Those deviations represent error.

Let me suggest dropping the term variance in judgments in favor of differences. We can expect people to have differences of opinions about one thing or another but when it comes to a medical diagnosis, we want an accurate decision. When different experts arrive at different diagnoses, that’s noise. And that can be scary when the diagnosis leads to very different types of treatment.

Bias is a related concept. Bias is a systematic type of error. Using the target analogy, bias reveals a tendency for all the deviations from the bullseye to be located in the same area. In psychology, it might be a tendency for some clinicians to diagnose anxiety rather than ADHD or ADHD rather than anxiety when observing fidgety children. Bias can be found in numerical scores too such as when some psychologists tend to obtain lower scores than others on intelligence tests.

The authors also cover the problem of transient differences or occasion noise. That’s the kind of inconsistency that can happen when the same person looks at the same data but comes up with a different judgment on two different occasions. The authors mention some well known influences like time of day and hunger affecting judgments.

I’ll skip ahead to their recommendations. After providing us with additional terms and many examples, the authors offer suggestions for controlling unwanted noise. One major suggestion is to rely on algorithms based on the evidence that computerized assessment of all relevant data can often beat human decision-makers in accuracy. The authors recognize this won’t sell well to a lot of readers but they do offer a defense against common objections.

A second, and in my mind more palatable approach is to create a structured approach to decision-making. This can be as simple as guidelines, checklists, and preset questions to use in various fields. In applied psychology and counseling, students learn to use checklists and decision trees when making a diagnosis. Others learn to use scales and questionnaires and ways to aggregate available information relevant to both diagnoses and treatment plans.

There’s a lot more in this book both in terms of examples of noise as well as suggestions for reducing noise in different areas of life. They supplement their work with useful appendixes: How to conduct a noise audit, A checklist for a decision observer, correcting predictions.



Kahneman, D., Sibony, O., & Sunstein, C.R. (2021). Noise: A flaw in human judgment. New York: Hatchette.


 Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Seven Sins of Memory- Book Review & Resources


The Seven Sins

  of Memory


Daniel L. Schacter     


Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

Schacter’s Seven Sins of Memory is like a fine seven course meal. Each course serves up an interesting collection of research that’s easy to read by the general public and pleasantly presented, yet rich with enough details to appeal to scholars and practitioners. I left feeling satisfied.

Every mental health clinician and all who work with people should read about the seven sins of memory and come back to it when they wonder about memory complaints or detect discrepancies in recall.

Students will find it helpful too as Schacter weaves psychological science into meaningful stories—a good example of how to write about psychological science for nonpsychology majors.

I must say that I found the notion of “sins” strange—is this a psychology of religion book? I suppose it could be. Afterall, religious scholar Craig Keener included a discussion of memory in his book about the Gospels and the Life of Christ. However, the sins of memory are the problems with human memory—problems that can deceive us and lead to inaccurate conclusions. We can miss the mark and we may need forgiveness.

I’d like to suggest a title: Memory: Seven Reasons for Humility. But then again, I’m not a best selling author or a famous psychological scientist.


There’s so much in this book. In this post, I will just note some of the key features of each chapter so you get a sense of what this is all about.

Problems of Forgetting

1. The Sin of Transience

We forget names and other things as time passes. Memory fades. Memories are fleeting- transient. We have less mental reserve as we age. How much we remember is linked to how much we elaborate on new information when forming a new memory (encoding).

2. The Sin of Absent-Mindedness

When we are distracted, we may not capture sufficient information to form an adequate memory—we are absent-minded. We can also be distracted, which can  lead to impaired recall of a memory. The phenomenon of change blindness fits here too.

3. The Sin of Blocking

Name blocking is so common and serves as a quintessential example of blocking. Sometimes, information seems like it’s on the tip-of-the-tongue – a well-known phenomenon in memory research.

When Memory is Present but Wrong

4. The Sin of Attribution

We can make errors in recall when our memories store misattributions. This can be serious when people falsely accuse someone of a crime because they have seen someone else’s familiar face and stored it along with the offense. Psychologists refer to memory binding—connecting various bits of information into a memory, which isn't really a record of our personal experience.

5. The Sin of Suggestibility

The questions we ask can influence what people recall when they provide answers. Questions are so powerful that people have recalled events that never happened. Suggestibility can create false memories. Obviously this can, and in fact has been, a serious problem when witnesses to a crime are interviewed about what they saw or heard. Not surprisingly, Schacter refers to the work of Elizabeth Loftus.


6. The Sin of Bias

Our memories can be influenced by present experiences. We tend to recall the past in ways that are consistent (consistency and change biases) with our present. 

Current knowledge influences what we think about the past--that's hindsight bias. We serve ourselves well in egocentric biases. 

And our  stereotypical biases combined with recall of memories can affect our views about people and experiences in the present.

Schacter includes a useful analysis of the power of fake news to influence our beliefs. Mere repetition appears to strengthen beliefs in fake news (the illusory truth effect).

 Persistence and Distressful Memories

7. The Sin of Persistence

When memories persist, we can re-experience pain and humiliation. Emotional experiences act to highlight certain experiences and not others. Emotions can also impair what we remember about an event when we focused on the threat and did not perceive other details of the event. Thus, because we focused on the threat, our memories are incomplete. Our current mood can influence the nature of memories we recall.

The Seven Sins: Vices or Virtues

In Vices and Virtues, Schacter suggests ideas about how our problems with memory may have developed. And he cites some evidence suggesting how our problems may be beneficial that is, virtues. For example, the gradual fading of some memories can relieve us of the burden of nonuseful details and may even lessen the pain of bad experiences. Even trauma can serve us when it allows us to avoid similar painful situations in the future.


I praised the book at the beginning and conclude with a clear statement that I recommend this book. I say this as a psychologist with years of experience testing the memories of children and adults in clinical practice and for the courts. I have also consulted in numerous cases of people claiming disability due to memory impairment.

I suggested a different title: Memory: Seven Reasons for Humility. In addition to the applications suggested by Schacter, I add a lesson in humility. Even those blessed with the best brains must deal with the common problem that our memories can lead us astray thus, a dose of humility in warranted. Though some people are undoubtedly out to deceives us and spin their misdeeds into golden memories, others are simply mistaken. Great interviewers will be mindful of the frailties and strengths of human memory. And many of us will need forgiveness.

Our memories are precious. Without adequate memories, we lose a sense of self-identity—who are we without a memory?


Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2022). The sevens sins of memory: Book review & resources. SuttonReviews. Retrieved from


Book Reference

Schacter, D. L. (2021). The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers, updated edition. New York: Mariner. (Kindle Edition)

Book details: 532 pages, Preface to the updated edition, Introduction, 7 chapters- one each for the 7 sins, A final reflections/ideas chapter, notes, bibliography, end material.

About the book author

Daniel L. Schacter is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

Available as





Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Related works

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann

Christobiography: Memory, history, and the reliability of the gospels by Craig Keener.

The myth of repressed memory by Elizabeth Loftus & Katherine Ketcham

The malleability of memory with Elizabeth Loftus by Howard Burton

Picking Cotton: Our memoir of injustice and redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton


Daniel Schacter on The Seven Sins of Memory on YouTube

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Think Again- Learning to Rethink - A review


Think Again

The Power of Knowing  

What You Don’t Know


  Adam Grant

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton


ThinkAgain works. Throughout the book, I found myself rethinking some of my assumptions and learning new applications of familiar and new psychological findings. In many ways, Adam Grant challenges us to rethink what we are doing at work, school, and even in relationships. It’s a book that deserves a place in any syllabus challenging students to think and rethink their assumptions and to develop confident humility. But Think Again also belongs in discussion groups in the workplace.

On a technical note, Grant divides the book into four parts followed by an Epilogue, and a more or less set of summary statements presented as Actions for Impact. The chapters are introduced with a poignant story. As the theme of a chapter unfolds, we encounter more stories and illustrations that help us appreciate the author’s point. You’ll find it’s like taking a course from a master lecturer with the added bonus that you can pause and think about the points. The notes are extensive and the index, comprehensive. Including the end matter, it’s only 307 pages but the conclusion ends on page 243.

A Brief Summary

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. I’ve focused on some of the salient points.

Part 1: Individual Rethinking

We learn about three roles we may take in arguing our opinions; however, Grant wants us to think like scientists, which is a theme repeated throughout the text. When we adopt the scientist role, we begin with doubt but have hypotheses. We collect data from experiments, which enables us to discover usable knowledge. Now about those other roles. As preachers we present our ideas as gospel and argue against different views by calling them heresies. As politicians, we are swayed by popular opinion instead of facts. As prosecutors, we are passionate about destroying other ideas instead of discovering truth. Throughout part 1 we learn to appreciate conflict as long as we are focused on information about how to improve our work on the tasks at hand rather than defending against interpersonal threats.

Part 2: Interpersonal Rethinking

Here the focus changes on how we can interact with others in a positive manner by framing disagreements as debates and discovering ways to influence people who resist new and effective ways to solve problems. People are not easily persuaded by logical arguments with a long list of reasons why we should support a particular opinion. Researchers find that the weaker reasons gain the focus of those who want to reject the main idea. Thus, presenting a few strong reasons is often the best approach.

Also, it turns out that presenting two sides of an argument is not the best way to help others rethink a strongly held position. What works? Sometimes, the best method is to present several alternatives—that is, move from simplicity to complexity.

Catchy quote: “What doesn’t sway us can make our beliefs stronger.”

Part 3: Collective Rethinking

Grant encourages us to think about out community and promote lifelong learning. We learn how to promote rethinking at work by creating a psychologically safe setting where conflicting opinions can be offered without fear of reprisal. We find an example of a teacher who encourages children to rework their original projects based on peer and expert feedback. And we are reminded of the importance of rewriting drafts.

Part 4: Conclusion

Grant encourages us to rethink our careers and plans rather than pursuing a vocation or life choice that isn’t working out. The problem with persistence in a failed enterprise is known as the “escalation of commitment.”


I began this post by recommending the book for students and people in the workplace. I can easily recommend it to retirees like myself. It’s rarely too late to rethink a course of action by examining the data of our lives and making new plans. As I write, the pandemic of 2019 as thwarted a number of plans. I’ve made plans based on what I know at this time. Flexibility is built into offers of wonderful adventures I can book. What strikes me is the importance of flexibility when pursuing a course of action.

I strongly affirm Adam’s theme of learning to think like a scientist. In graduate school, we were to be scientists first before applying scientific knowledge to helping people. The culmination of our work was to be an original experiment following strict rules of protocol. As a clinician, I encouraged patients to think about their beliefs, assumptions, and how they could rethink the troubling events in their lives. After years as a clinician, I taught research and statistics to undergraduate and graduate students. Many were fearful of statistics. Yet, many developed a sense of pride when it came to presenting their end of semester projects—they had learned how to discover knowledge rather than rely on mere opinion.

It may be an oversimplification of dealing with information by considering four roles (scientist, preacher, prosecutor, and politician), but I see his point and find myself in agreement. There is a nuance. In some settings, preaching and prosecuting may make sense. We live in a time when scientific knowledge presented by scientists is treated with cynicism rather than skepticism. My skepticism probably began with my father who was highly critical of opinions other than his own. Philosophy courses helped me develop more cogent arguments as I learned to identify weaknesses in my own opinions. I value skepticism but not cynicism. It’s good to analyze news reports, advertisements, educational theories, politician’s promises, history books, and medical advice. However, rejection of expert views in favor of opinions by those lacking expertise can lead to disasters in relationships, health, and governance.

The Epilogue could use some rethinking. Perhaps a few questions could send us on our way.

Quotes and Highlights

About the author

Adam Grant  is an organizational psychologist at Wharton. He earned his PhD from the University of Michigan.

About the reviewer

GeoffreyW. Sutton is a retired psychologist and professor of psychology who continues to write about psychology. He earned his PhD from the University of Missouri.

Book Reference

Grant, A. (2021). Think again: the power of knowing what you don’t know. New York: Penguin Random House.


Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON  


Also, consider connecting with me on  

    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     

  ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

 Adam Grant - Think Again - insights by the author on YouTube

An interview on YouTube about "Think Again"

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Creating Surveys-Second Edition



How to Create & Administer Surveys,

Evaluate Workshops & Seminars,

Interpret & Present Results

Click to Download Free Sample

Available on


GOOGLE e-Books


“This resource provides practitioners and students a systematic, easy-to-read overview of what surveys are and how to use them. Even seasoned researchers could benefit from reviewing this book and keeping it handy for reference, but undergraduate and master’s students should find it particularly useful for grasping basic research constructs and designing simple survey projects. Not only does the book explain important principles, but it also provides many clear, concrete examples and links to additional resources that the reader will find helpful.”

—Joe D. Wilmoth, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Human Development and Family Science, Mississippi State University


“Many researchers find themselves in contexts where they have access to groups of people whose values, opinions, behaviors, emotions, and beliefs are worth studying, but too many then use surveys that are poorly constructed or inappropriately worded. Sutton’s Creating Surveys is a treasure trove of valuable resources and easy to follow instructions that have been created to increase the validity and reliability of survey research. It is a long-overdue addition to the researcher’s toolkit.”

—Johan Mostert, Ph.D., Director of Research, CompACT



"Creating Surveys is a practical and readable handbook for researchers providing a broad look at the many facets of survey research. I highly recommend this text for doctoral students and researchers utilizing and creating survey research. Dr. Sutton provides objectives to establish a clear purpose for each chapter. He brings to life quality survey components with clear examples from a variety of topics and fields of study." 

Shonna Crawford, Ph.D., Professor of Education in Literacy, 

    Education Department Chair, Evangel University



“Having guided dozens of Doctor of Ministry students through research projects for over ten years, I can attest to the fact that achieving quality design of assessment tools—and accomplishing proper interpretation of survey results—can present considerable challenges to students. Geoff Sutton’s Creating Surveys, with each chapter’s clear objectives, well-organized content, and chapter summaries, will serve research students, professionals, and community leaders well in their efforts to better understand the necessary components and methodologies for gaining desired information and presenting it in a way that reflects critical thinking about survey results.”

—Dr. Lois E. Olena, Professor and Doctor of Ministry Project Coordinator, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary



"In this day and age, being on the cutting edge is more important than ever. Science allows us to better understand the world around us and effectively impact change, innovation, and growth. Yet, many are intimidated by the confusing process of gathering and interpreting empirical data and give up before they even begin.  Creating Surveys simplifies this process and can help researchers, professionals, students, and lay people alike easily access data that can be used to affect change in the future. I only wish that this resource was around when I was a graduate student!"

—Luke J. Davidiuk, PsyD, Major, USAF, BSC

ADAPT Element Chief, Vandenberg AFB, CA

 Table of Contents

Introduction           9


Part 1: Planning and Organizing a Survey


Unit 1: Planning a Survey


Chapter 1. Focusing on a Purpose                    19

Chapter 2. Learning from Previous Research              26

Chapter 3. Writing Items and Questions            40

Chapter 4. Organizing and Formatting Surveys           55

Chapter 5. Getting Approval: Ethical Thinking              63

Chapter 6. Selecting Respondents                    68


Unit 2: Using Surveys to Understand People


Chapter 7. Considering Multiple Dimensions               79

Chapter 8. Assessing Self            95

Chapter 9. Assessing Spirituality            104

Chapter 10. Assessing Cognition 110

Chapter 11. Assessing Behavior Patterns and Personality     115

Chapter 12. Assessing Physical Health  124

Chapter 13. Assessing Emotions and Attitudes 131

Chapter 14. Assessing Social Context    135


Part 2: Understanding and Presenting Results


Unit 3: Understanding Basic Survey Designs and Statistics


Chapter 15. Using Surveys to Evaluate Workshops     143

Chapter 16. Understanding Survey Results: Part 1      154

Chapter 17. Understanding Survey Results: Part 2      162

Chapter 18. Assessing Survey Reliability                               175

Chapter 19. Assessing Survey Validity                                   181


Unit 4: Communicating Results


Chapter 20. Writing Survey Reports                  191

Chapter 21. Presenting to a Group                    202

References             211

Glossary                  223


Appendix A: Survey Approval Checklist             238

Appendix B: Online Ethics Resources               240

Appendix C: Survey Consent Example              242

Appendix D: Survey Debriefing Example           245

Appendix E: Organizing a Spreadsheet             247

Appendix F: Examples of Survey Items             248

Appendix G: Sample Workshop Evaluation       253

Appendix H: List of Survey Measures                255


Table of Contents: Expanded                 258

Acknowledgments             269

About the Author                271

Click to Download Free Sample

Available on


GOOGLE e-Books

Author Website