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The Mind in Action

The importance of context in thinking about thinking

· Workplace,Research,Cognition

The programs developed by Thinking Habitats are grounded in empirical research. Thinking can be a tricky thing to study, though, since it can’t be touched or viewed. Different researchers have different ideas of the best way to study cognition.

For example, one way of researching thinking is in traditional laboratory experiments. Imagine participating in one of these studies: you enter a small, featureless room; interact impersonally with a white-coated researcher; memorize and repeat a list of words; and then leave, going about your day.

But is this the best way to study thinking? Many argue that it can’t be, since thinking never occurs in this isolated, “sterile” setting. The thinking that matters to us is the thinking that occurs in “real life,” when we must decide which brand to choose at the grocery store, or make a tough call in a high-stress work environment.

When researchers attempt to study this “genuine” thinking, with real-world problems and in authentic settings, it’s referred to as “everyday cognition.” Everyday cognition considers the mind in action, rather than the mind at rest. And if we want to be able to think critically, we need to learn and practice critical thinking in this situation-specific way.

In 1988, researcher Silvia Scribner performed one of the best examples of everyday cognition research. She didn’t conduct her study in a lab -- she conducted it in the authentic workplace of a dairy (Scribner 1988). Scribner observed how the dairy workers judged situations, made decisions, and solved problems to get their jobs done efficiently.

Based on her findings, Scribner concluded that the dairy workers were not using the same methods or making the same decisions every day, every hour, or even every minute. Instead, they were constantly reevaluating the problem at hand, adapting to the changing properties of their environment. Their minds were truly in action.

Why are Scribner’s findings still relevant for those working in the manufacturing industry, professional services, and other skill trades? While a lot has changed since 1988, the way we think hasn’t. You may not relate to the type of thinking that goes on at a dairy. But whether you’re a construction worker, administrator, or entrepreneur, your thinking is specific to your workplace and constantly adapting to the demands of everyday challenges and technology innovations.

Studies like Scribner’s form the foundation of Thinking Habitat’s best practices. We create products and experiences that are contextualized to fit your particular learning environment like a glove. Thinking is situation-specific, so it must be learned and practiced that way. With hands-on learning that considers real-world scenarios and workplace situations, we put thinking at your fingertips -- right where it should be.


Scribner, Sylvia (1988). Head and Hand: An Action Approach to Thinking. Retrieved 05 October 2016 from
Woll, Stanley. Everyday Cognition. In The Concise Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science. (3rd ed., pp. 3401-341).

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