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[Psychology Images] PSY 101 Introductory Psychology

Instructor: Vincent W. Hevern, S.J., Ph.D.

  • Section 01 MWF 1:30 PM-2:20 PM Grewen Hall 207
  • Section 02 MWF 2:30 PM-3:20 PM Grewen Hall 207

 Fall 2003


On a test in Introductory Psychology recently, students were asked to write two short essays. The instructions said:

Answer any two (2) questions below in the form of a short essay (one paragraph). Be clear and succinct.

One of these questions read:

Describe any two major fallacies in decision making and illustrate each fallacy with an example.

More than a few students wrote short essays which were not essays. They were too short and often incomplete in some basic way. For example, one student wrote something like the following:

"Gambler's fallacy. When you link independent events together. Like when you get all high cards in a row and bet the next one will be high. Then, there's Overestimating the improbable. That's when you think rare stuff is going to happen because of television."

What's wrong with this answer?

  • It is not really an essay which must, at least, be a full paragraph of writing. There are incomplete sentences. The thought does not flow smoothly. The writing shows a "telegraphic" style.
  • There is no introductory sentence to orient the reader to the question the student is answering.
  • The student fails to given an example of the second kind of fallacy. The "rare stuff" the student mentions is, perhaps, part of a description of the fallacy. It is certainly NOT an example illustrating the fallacy.
  • The student uses the word "when" to define or describe concepts. Students should never define or describe by using the word "when". This simply signals to a teacher ignorance or poor writing skills.

Compare the example essay above with the following short essay which is much more acceptable:

"Decision-making can sometimes be filled with errors because people use fallacious ways of reasoning in deciding what to do. Consider the impact of the media as we are exposed to very dramatic or vivid events on TV such as floods or a brutal murder. These kinds of events actually do not happen very frequently. But, under the influence of the media, people sometimes make the mistake of "overestimating the improbable" by thinking that such rare events happen more frequently than they do. Thus, someone may avoid visiting an urban area under the mistaken judgment that it is more dangerous to do so than it actually is. Or, consider a second kind of fallacy--what some call "The Gambler's Fallacy". In this faulty way of thinking, people improperly estimate the odds of an event happening by linking together the odds of previous events which are actually independent of one another. Thus, after seeing a roulette wheel in Las Vegas come up with eight red numbers in a row, a gambler might bet highly on black thinking it is "time" for black to show up. Actually, the odds of a red or black number are the same on any spin of the wheel."

Notice that this essay has an introductory sentence which serves to alert the reader to what the writer is discussing. All sentences are complete rather than telegraphic: they contain subjects, verbs, and objects. For both types of fallacies, this essay describes the fallacy and gives an example of it in action.

  This page was first posted 11/12/03