Despite the seemingly harmless and simple intentions, people are likely to fall victim to organizational and cognitive biases. Those decisions that are made without proper consideration of potential difficulties are more prone to turn out to be erroneous. This paper will analyze the case of a girl, who started studying abroad and was expelled for smoking cigarettes. The impulsivity of her actions and a lack of paying attention to the complexity of the situation were the key reasons for such an outcome.
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Examining Biases, Complexity, and Reasoning
The case study shows that before deciding to study abroad, the girl’s family considered a range of alternatives, which was appropriate to select the best option. It is noted that she traveled across the Europe and lived in summer camps, but never longer than one month. Since studying abroad implies several years, it was not rational to think that her experience would be similar to living in Connecticut.
In other words, it seems to be a logical mistake as the very thought process was built without relying on reasoning. Rational decision-making prioritizes objectivity over intuition, which was present when the family pondered over the idea to study abroad (Gallop et al., 2016). However, when the girl accompanied her new best friend in the woods to smoke for the first time, there was no logical and multistep examination of alternatives.
The student did not practice a pre-mortem technique to avoid failure: her decisions were full of optimism instead of anticipating potential problems. As stated by Gallop et al. (2016), pre-mortem implies that a person starts thinking about the failure before it happens by imagining what exactly can lead to a negative result. In stressful and emotional situations, people are likely to refer to feelings instead of rational thoughts.
Likewise, the girl focused on her attachment to the friend, their common culture, and relationships while making decisions. One may assume that if she wrote down what went wrong, imagining that it already occurred, it would be possible to determine the factors and actions that could be avoided. The fact that she was intrigued by a group of smoking students, namely, collective thinking, is another avoidable issue, which could be achieved by applying pre-mortem. In other words, the preliminary analysis of the situation in a way like it already failed could allow preventing the biggest failure that is described in the case study.
Bias is a tendency to make illogical actions and decisions, which is opposite to measured judgment and common sense. When the girl secretly accompanied her friend and also smoked cigarettes beside the window, it was an action-oriented bias that was expressed in overoptimism and overconfidence that everything will be good. The possibility of being caught with a cigarette was not taken into account, and the influence of chance occurrences was ignored. Groupthink is the example of social bias, which is pertinent to this case since the intent to ensure conformity with its members resulted in dysfunctional decisions (Marchetti et al., 2019).
The student not only continued to follow them, but also engaged in smoking, which can be attributed to pattern recognition bias. Once she recognized the pattern of group smoking, the student paid more attention to those actions that support it, while disregarding objective arguments against it.
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Speaking of the ways to overcome action-oriented bias, one should state that awareness is the first step to overcome it. The consideration of the environment as static and making plans as it cannot change compose the key alarming signals. First of all, a person should identify the risks and uncertainties. Second, by encouraging dissent, it is important to actively consider multiple alternatives and understand their outcomes in terms of the pre-mortem strategy.
Third, the angle of vision should be changed to objectively evaluate various options and chose the best decision possible. Social bias can be addressed by means of encouraging diverse views. It was possible to get an outside view of the situation to better understand the potential outcomes (Marchetti et al., 2019). As for conformity and groupthink, the student could disagree with the course of actions that led to smoking, while remaining close with people. By making it safe to disagree, the girl might avoid the escalation of problems and the complexity of her case.
A mental model is another concept that explains how a person’s decision-making depends on the surrounding world. The poorly constructed mental model of the girl did not allow her to set an appropriate approach to solving problems. The strong reliance on emotions and feelings shows that the image of the world was not balanced. Nevertheless, such a positon promotes greater comprehension of her mistakes and further elaboration on her mental model.
Klein (2017) mentions that if a person has past reliable feedback and familiarity test, intuitive decision-making is regarded as rational. In addition, measured emotions and independence also shape the foundation for using intuition (Klein, 2017). It is preferable to refer to an intuitive style when it comes to low value issues, and the consequences do not seem to be critical. In the given case, the student had to report to her parents that she was expelled and smoked, which are serious for their relationships.
In this case, the situation was complicated, not complex since the cause and effect issues were crystal clear from the very beginning. The student knew that smoking cigarettes is strictly prohibited in her school, and she agreed to follow them. Being aware of this rule, she continued to accompany her friend and also engaged in smoking sooner. The sum of these issues could be considered as a whole, and the outcome might be predicted, which are two more signs of a complicated situation (Klein, 2017). The student mistakenly took her situation as complex, which led to unintended consequences and the false hypothesis that she would not receive any penalty.
The problems were initially transparent in this case, but they escalated to being opaque, from the first to third level, when the student and her friend smoked near the window. Nevertheless, it was still quite predictable that someone could observe them and report to the dean. The chances of failing increased with the actions of the girl, which were impulsive and unreasonable.
To conclude, this case study presents the student whose impulsive and irrational decision-making led to expel from school. A lack of rational thinking and a well-constructed mental model caused social and action-oriented biases. The inability to recognize and overcome these biases escalated the complexity of this complicated situation. It is suggested that the student should learn to balance her emotions and rationality to avoid similar problems in the future.
Gallop, D., Willy, C., & Bischoff, J. (2016). How to catch a black swan: Measuring the benefits of the premortem technique for risk identification. Journal of Enterprise Transformation, 6(2), 87-106.
Klein, G. A. (2017). Sources of power: How people make decisions. MIT Press.
Marchetti, A., Baglio, F., Castelli, I., Griffanti, L., Nemni, R., Rossetto, F., Valle, A., Zanette, M., & Massaro, D. (2019). Social decision making in adolescents and young adults: Evidence from the ultimatum game and cognitive biases. Psychological Reports, 122(1), 135-154.