Public Release:  Why Smart People Do Dumb Things

Psychologist explores 'blind spots' to critical thinking

Prometheus Books

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IMAGE: 224 pages (illustrations) • ISBN 978-1-59102-509-2 • Paperback: $18 • Publication: June 28th, 2007 view more

Credit: Prometheus Books, 2007

Sometimes the discoveries that lead to Nobel Prize awards make people wonder in retrospect, 'How did we miss that"' Nobel Prize winning medical researcher D. Carleton Gajdusek's discovery of the cause of the dread disease kuru was delayed years because initially he failed to see possibilities that in the end turned out to be correct.

Engineers couldn't see any use for the odd material a GE engineer had experimented with, a compound we know today as Silly Putty. Their minds initially rejected out of hand possibilities, limiting their ideas.

Psychologist Madeleine L. Van Hecke labels these impediments to critical thinking "blind spots". Just as the blind spot in the driver's side mirror can swallow up a passing car, patterns in the way we think can likewise become blind spots, sifting out information and observations that other people may have noticed. Dr. Van Hecke points out, "Blind spots create a tunnel vision that limits our problem-solving and our creativity."

Drawing on research in creativity, cognitive psychology, critical thinking, child development, education, and philosophy, Dr. Van Hecke shows how our assets as thinkers create the very blind spots that become our worst liabilities. She devotes a chapter to each of ten mental blind spots that afflict even the smartest people: not stopping to think, jumping to conclusions, my-side bias, getting trapped by categories, and much more. At the end of each chapter she offers tactics for overcoming that specific blind spot, so we can become more creative and competent thinkers.

This book allows us to see ourselves more clearly, and assess others more tolerantly. Full of funny, poignant stories about human foibles, Blind Spots offers many insights for improving our social and political lives while giving us fresh slants into the minds of people who are poles apart from ourselves. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine says, "Van Hecke's engaging writing style, personal anecdotes, and real world examples of the numerous blind spots that all of us have--especially intelligent and educated people--brings to a wide audience decades of scientific research on cognitive fallacies and critical thinking".

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Madeleine L. Van Hecke, Ph.D. (Elmhurst, IL), is a licensed clinical psychologist; an adjunct faculty member at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois; and a lecturer and workshop leader for Open Arms Seminars.

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