Sunday, 11 May 2008

Styles of thinking

Sitting around at home in the sun today I started reading one of the books I took a punt on in my latest Amazon order - Learned Optimism by Dr Martin Seligman. I'm already gripped by it, not least because just a few chapters in he alreadys gets onto something I've been pondering recently - styles of thinking. It also ties in with my interest in narratives. In this specific case he talks about how some people react to certain situations with 'helplessness' (pessimism) whilst others have a more positive approach. This is concerned with the explanations people provide for events and situations (attribution theory in the lingo).

"[W]e were interested in habits of explanation, not just the single explanation a person makes for a single failure. We claimed there was such a thing as a style of explanation: We all had a style of seeing causes, and given a chance we'd impose this habit on the world."

Obviously in this case he is specifically concerned with optimistic or pessimistic views - which are in effect differing explanations. But it strikes me there are probably other explanatory styles out there too - why are some people more drawn to a conspiratorial view of events than others for example? I'm sure that styles of explanation (and styles of thinking) play a significant role in our taste for different kinds of ideas. Whilst we might think that we are convinced by the logical case for a proposition, perhaps we are more influenced by the form?

It also makes me realise that I'm only really be scratching the surface of how narratives really work in respect of political movements, and ought to read more about this kind of thing. It must work on a much more complex level than simply, for example, that the voters' current narrative about politics is that Brown is a poor leader and the Government is failing. That's a kind of meta-narrative (not using the term precisely), there must be smaller narratives that feed into it.

One for another day...

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