Deliberate, conscious, rational thought is the key to overriding our defaults. Diversity and Community Engagement Post

Last week, we explored how our brains use mental models (or “defaults”) as shortcuts. This week, we are going to look at how we can get out from under these defaults.

Deliberate, conscious, rational thought is the key to overriding our defaults.

The problem is that only 2% of our thinking is actually deliberate, conscious, rational thought. TWO PERCENT. The other 98% of our thinking is “default” thinking: it’s fast, unconscious and driven by emotion, instinct, and stereotypes. Why do our brains rely so much on this “default thinking”? Because deliberate, conscious, rational thought is the most glucose-intensive function in the entire human body (Kahneman and Tversky 2011). In other words, it’s just too much of a bother for our brains.

The culture we live in further complicates this whole situation; our media, in particular, reinforces these “defaults.” Case in point: what’s on our bookshelves? Our children’s bookshelves?

Are the characters “default” characters (e.g., white, cis-gendered, straight, male, etc.)?
Are the story lines “default” storylines (e.g., Euro-centric worldview, heterosexual romance, Christian holidays, Protestant values, etc.)?
For those of us who fall into some of these cultural “default” categories (because we are white/European, cis-gendered, etc.), it takes some glucose-heavy, conscious deliberate thought to seek out books that offer a more complete view of the world.

Paradoxically, even for those of us who don’t fall into a “default” category (because we are black, brown, Muslim, gay, etc.), it still takes a lot of conscious effort and emotional labor to find those books that represent us and offer that more complete view. My family certainly struggles with this. With one exception, in every single book that my wife and I read our child, the protagonist has a mom and a dad.


So, I invite us all to have another cupcake (our brains need that sugar!) and buy some new books. Books, as we all know, can be the pathway to seeing each other as we actually are.

Hope Miller (committee member)

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