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