Some people say television rots your brain, but I believe some shows actually model critical thinking for it’s viewers. Some shows demonstrate the process of elimination while others walk viewers through discussions about fact versus opinion. Here are a few examples of tv show characters that model critical thinking skills.
1) House- Ever the skeptic, House may assume that all people lie, but he is sure to collect appropriate information, test to eliminate possibilities, and use trial and error when necessary. House’s critical thinking struggle revolves around his emotional biases. He rarely believes the patient, and assumes the worst in people’s character. However, House’s team tries to remind him of his emotional biases and rely only on facts.
2) Patrick Jane; The Mentalist- Patrick Jane, much like the characters on Lie to Me (which Lizzie Paukerblogged about this week) relies on basic human behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal, to assess likelihood of deception. While some people believe he is a psychic, he is actually just incredibly perceptive. He watches for things like perspiration, speed of breathing, and eye contact to gather additional information about the individuals involved in a crime.
3) All lead characters; CSI- Forgive me for lumping all of the key cast members together on the show CSI, but with so many versions of the show I can’t remember who is who. One of the things all criminal investigators demonstrate on the CSI series is a strong ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. As the investigator interviews potential suspects, each one typically offers their opinion on who they believe committed the crime. The investigators must then distinguish the facts/evidence gathered from the opinions of those emotionally involved in the situation.
4) Mark Benford; Flash Forward- This show was recently cancelled, but one of the main things that AgentMark Benford had to do was make connections between seemingly unrelated events in order to make sense of a global blackout that killed millions of people. During the global blackout, everyone had a “flash forward” of consciousness and saw 137 seconds of what would happen in their lives six months into the future. During this blackout, Mark Benford saw components of his own investigation, which caused him to rely on facts from his “memory/flash forward” as well as facts in the present that could be verified. In essence, he had to reserve judgement when brainstorming possible causes of the blackout because few theories could even be tested.
5) Olivia Dunham, Fringe- As Olivia Dunham investigates seemingly unexplainable scientific events, she is challenged with overcoming all assumptions. Much like X-Files, the agents in Fringe must keep their minds open to things like parallel universes, teleportation, psychic abilities, mental time travel, and bizarre diseases. In essence, Olivia Dunham must operate without any assumptions in order to comprehend the files she investigates.
These TV shows do mimic life in that none of the characters mentioned are perfect critical thinkers. Each one fails along the way and needs the support and input from others to draw the correct conclusions. None of the critical thinkers on TV operate alone in their problem solving process. The team’s input is always as essential as the thought process of the main character.
When making decisions and solving problems, do you rely on the support of a critical thinking team?
Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.