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Mercyhurst’s Kris Wheaton designs game to mitigate cognitive biases

Posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 2:37 PM
THE MIND'S EYE (Beta Version)

Your mind is lying to you. It is making you believe things that aren’t true, to see and hear things that aren’t real. And that’s poison to an intelligence analyst.

Knowing that human beings often look at situations in biased and misleading ways, Kristan Wheaton, J.D., associate professor of intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University, sought to find a technique for mitigating biases that his students bring to their analyses.

So, Wheaton did what he’s been doing since boyhood. He invented a game.

In “The Mind’s Lie,” players examine a scenario and then participate in one or more rounds of voting in order to determine the bias most clearly present in the scenario. By becoming aware of your cognitive biases, you can develop strategies to alleviate them, Wheaton said.

Through the tabletop game he identifies the six biases that he considers the “worst” for intelligence analysts. For example, the “anchoring bias” is the tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. The “confirmation bias” is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Wheaton’s gaming skills have put Mercyhurst on the pages of USA Today, featured him as a subject-matter expert in notable academic publications, and served as the impetus behind Mercyhurst being ranked among the nation’s “10 best colleges for game-based learning” by bestcollegesonline.com. A pioneer in game-based learning, largely as it applies to the teaching of intelligence, Wheaton was most recently quoted multiple times in the new textbook, “Game Interface Design” (2nd Edition).

Playing games, applying them to the classroom and inventing his own is nothing new for Wheaton, who has vivid memories of his introduction to them.

As a young boy, his mother arranged for him to fly from Tennessee to his native Texas to visit an old friend. It was a birthday gift he would long remember because his friend had gotten into war games and enticed Wheaton to do the same.

Over the next 10 years, Wheaton and his brother would buy hundreds of games. At the University of Notre Dame, he formed a gaming club. In the military, he designed games and simulations. As a father, he cultivated an appreciation for games in his two sons.

Since joining Mercyhurst’s intelligence studies faculty a decade ago, he has become an increasingly strong proponent of game-based learning. Production of “The Mind’s Lie,” meanwhile, is being financed by a Keystone Innovation Grant. Wheaton is using Erie businesses for its manufacture and has also engaged engineering students at Penn State Behrend to design an android version. Wheaton's tabletop version is expected to be ready for distribution this December.

   
 
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