1. Cognitive Biases
As children’s cognitive capabilities mature, they begin to reason and make judgments about more complex topics. But children are often highly vulnerable to cognitive biases and errors at this age. They tend to generalize based on their own limited experience.
Parents can help by encouraging children to reflect on their limitations and by bringing up alternative perspectives.
In children aged 10 to 12, the argumentative capabilities that we have analyzed in younger children can mature into lines of genuine reasoning, which are increasingly effective and cogent. Logic, therefore, comes to play a more important role, even though at this age it is primarily applicable only in concrete and imaginable situations and remains subject to multiple cognitive biases.
What exactly are cognitive biases?
We have already discussed briefly the kinds of biases that young children can begin to overcome through metacognition and engagement with new experiences and perspectives. “Cognitive biases” refers to something more specific: mistakes we tend to make in processing information. These are recurring cognitive tendencies that lead us to make errors over and over again. Cognitive biases are analogous to the biases in our perception that produce, for example, optical illusions.
At a higher cognitive level (for example, in memorizing and recognizing), we encounter cognitive biases. For example, we memorize faces in the context in which we encounter them. If, for example, I only ever see the local baker in the bakery, we may well struggle to recognize each other if we meet by chance on vacation. This is a cognitive bias.
We have all experienced this bias, but recognizing it requires a metacognitive process. Unfortunately, metacognition (that is, being aware of a bias) often does not help us correct it. As a rule, the lower the level at which the bias operates (for example, in perception), the greater its resistance to metacognition.
Yet, there is an area in which metacognition does manage to correct certain biases: the sphere of social cognition. For example, our cognitive system tends to produce overgeneralizations, which is how social stereotypes are born. The idea that “women are kinder than men” is a social stereotype.
If we learn to understand through metacognition (that is, through a cognitive process capable of analyzing, even correcting, other cognitive processes) how our tendency to overgeneralize leads us to harmful, unjust, and even dangerous stereotypes, we can thus try to stop ourselves from overgeneralizing. In social cognition, metacognition (which can be improved with practice) is effective in reducing the possibly disastrous effects of cognitive biases.