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Linus's belief perseverance

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With the entire Peanuts comic strip archive available freely online, there’s no reason not to use the genius of Charles Schulz to illustrate some of the psychological concepts we cover in Intro Psych.

On September 27, 1961, Charlie Brown wonders how much Linus’s favorite teacher, Miss Othmar, gets paid. Linus cannot believe that Miss Othmar even gets paid. He is beside himself in anger. She teaches out of love for her pupils, Linus believes. Finally, his sister Lucy confirms what Charlie Brown said—Miss Othmar does indeed receive a paycheck. On September 30, 1961, Linus finds a way to come to terms with it.

After covering belief perseverance, show your students the Peanuts comic strips for September 27, 28, and 29, 1961. At this point, Schulz has established that Linus holds a certain belief about his teacher that he just does not want to let go, and his sister, Lucy, has burst his bubble.

Invite your students to discuss in pairs or small groups how belief perseverance may look for Linus. He has a strong belief that he does not want to give up: Miss Othmar teaches just for the love of her pupils. And, yet, he has been given information that contradicts this belief: Miss Othmar does indeed get paid. If Linus succumbs to belief perseverance—as we know he does—what might Linus do with this information that would allow him to continue to hold onto his belief that Miss Othmar teaches out of love?

Once discussion dies down, ask groups to share their solutions.

Finally, show how Schulz resolved it in his September 30, 1961 strip.

If time allows, take this discussion one step further and ask students to apply some strategies that can help Linus—and ourselves—avoid falling into the belief perseverance trap.

One strategy is to consider the opposite (Lord et al., 1984). What would that look like for Linus? “What if Miss Othmar got paid and kept the money?”

Another strategy is to take the perspective of someone else (Yaniv & Choshen-Hillel, 2012). What other conclusions might Linus come to if he stepped into someone else’s shoes and thought about how that person would respond to the same information he has. For example, “What would Charlie Brown (or Lucy, or any other Peanuts character) say about Miss Othmar getting paid?”

Conclude the activity by letting students know that seeing our own belief perseverance is not easy, but periodically considering the opposite and switching perspective to look as the evidence through someone else’s eyes can help us avoid the trap.

References

Lord, C. G., Lepper, M. R., & Preston, E. (1984). Considering the opposite: A corrective strategy for social judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(6), 1231–1243. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.47.6.1231

Yaniv, I., & Choshen-Hillel, S. (2012). When guessing what another person would say is better than giving your own opinion: Using perspective-taking to improve advice-taking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(5), 1022–1028. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.016

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.