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longtresses's avatar

How are people in different professions trained to think differently?

Asked by longtresses (1324 points ) February 6th, 2012

I was reading on unsolved mysteries, and I realized that detectives/investigators do think differently. They are trained to think in a very specific manner; I may even say conditioned, not trained, to process the information in their… problem-solving ways

A few of my friends in engineering professions—obviously well-trained—also have this very organized, methodical way of flowing from one thought to the next. The way they process information, it’s like.. ABC; do this first, and if this doesn’t work, try this; let’s go eat at this place because so and so. Jokes can be sarcastic.

.. while I’m more straightforward. If detectives show up at my door, disguised as neighbors, I wouldn’t have a clue, while their eyes would already be darting all over my house.

So the question is, how are people in different professions trained to think or process information differently? Does each profession-trained mentality carry over in their real life?

Are there books on the topic, e.g. “How Engineers Think”?

Quick examples I can think of right now; please pardon gross generalization for the sake of illustration:

how detectives think? :: (clues, puzzles, why her words don’t match the clues in the room)
how doctors think? :: (diagnostic; this doesn’t match symptoms in the book)
how engineers think? :: (ok, ABC, do this, if not, draw a flow chart leading to another solution)
how carpenters think? :: (SAFETY first)
how athletes think? :: (i don’t really care who says what, or who thinks what. i just care about winning my games. oh, hi, detective *shake hand *)
how diplomats/politicians think? :: (how can i persuade this person to vote for me? is my uniform vote-winning? say this sentence in a way that makes her agree)
how businessmen think? :: (deal-focused: even at supermarket. very tangible-concerned. this isn’t a good deal, let’s look at the other shop)
how artists think? :: (form-focused: this new neighbor has a beautiful form. look at his beard and intense eyes. the way he talks seems to carry a little heaviness. oh, sorry, what was your question?)
how craftsmen think? :: (this is probably my mother: everything has to be neat, every needle, every sole. the room must be kept tidy.)
how social media person think? :: (the ceo isn’t very nice, but we have to make sure he enjoys the party. get more people to join. dress nice for the job.)
how advertisement people think? :: (this ad has to convey luxury, while saying very little. the paper has to be glossy and nice to touch. classy. out for a martini tonight.)
how royalties think? :: (look at the way that man carries himself? when you say something, don’t just *say * it; do it with class and elegance.)
how hippies think? :: (everything is cool. knowledge is unnecessary. be yourself, don’t dress up, just wear something. the hole in the roof is ok as it is. hey, listen to the wind whistling—the essence of that sound!)

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12 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Ever consider different professions might draw people who think along the same lines?

thorninmud's avatar

Interesting question, and one that has fascinated me too. What @Adirondackwannabe says is certainly a factor—people whose minds naturally function in a certain way will be drawn to professions where that mode is valued—but it’s also true that one’s work environment molds one’s way of looking at the world.

While people may have dominant mode of interacting with the world, I think most of us are capable of adopting different modes in different circumstances. I see in myself, for instance, that watching movies of different genres will shift, for a short time afterwards, my mode of perception and response to the world. I think this is a large part of the appeal of movies and literature, that they move us into other, unfamiliar ways of seeing. We’re marvelously adaptable creatures.

If spending a couple of hours watching a movie can put us in a different mindset, then surely spending day in and day out in an environment that emphasizes a particular mode will have a profound influence. Look, for instance, at how much difficulty soldiers have in returning to civilian life.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s all about method. Each discipline has a different method. One gross difference in my field is the difference between qualitative and quantitative methods. They have different jobs and are useful for answering different kinds of questions, and that’s where the difference comes from.

Within each kind are subdivisions of methods. So with qualitative methods there are several different approaches. I’m going to describe these quickly by method, rather than by name. They are each used in different disciplines. So one method requires that you gather data in any way you want. Then you approach it without preconception (as much as possible), and look at what sticks out to you. You then categorize the statements that catch your attention, and build a coding scheme that sorts through your data according to what the data tell you.

There are ethnographic methods, where you observe a live scene and try to write down, dispassionately, only what you observe. Then the opposite, where you look at it completely from your own perspective, almost focusing on your own emotional responses to the data. Obviously, you can mix these methods.

Historians focus on documents from a historic period. Most use qualitative methods, but there are also quantitative historians who look at census data, or count various historical records. Archeologists also use both qual and quant.

Hard scientists might use experimental methods. Or do computer modeling using various stochastic (probability) methods. Statistical techniques are common quantitative methods.

You mention logic, which is used by philosophers and in many other disciplines. Logic is supposed to be quantifiable, but there are people who try to use it in more qualitative ways, such as thought experiments.

Every discipline has a method. Religions have methods. This is how we know that people are trying to do the same thing; the acceptable thing. This is how we know whether we can believe the knowledge they bring us is legitimate. We can check the method they used, and if it follows protocol, we have more confidence in the knowledge. If not, then we may mistrust it. Some methods are more confidence-inspiring than others.

Methods that are transparent—ie., where we can easily see and document each step, and thus reproduce it—are more trustworthy. Methods that are “black box”—i.e., where you use intuition, or commune with spirits, etc—are harder for most people to trust. They involve personal experience, and it is hard to know if one person’s experience is the same as another’s, even if you use the same words to describe the method and results.

Still, there is a method for every discipline, and when you go to school, whether for ceramics, or waste-water recovery, or electrical engineering, or sociology, or music, what you will learn is the state of the art of the method of that discipline. This is how we do what we do. And the how influences not just what knowledge you create, but how you think about it.

Most methods are universally applicable, but applied in very specific ways, depending on discipline. Training in one discipline teaches you how to think about that particular subject area, but the training can be applied elsewhere, to different subjects. When you do that, you see different things—and often you can see things that people who only have their own discipline’s training don’t tend to see.

The more methods you have in your tool box, the better a student you will be.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is quite a good question, and well worth learning. But it’s not so difficult to consider – and the way people think critically and logically is not so different from one profession to another. Areas of expertise differ widely, obviously, and detectives in search of a murder suspect are looking for something very different from, say, a carpenter looking for a leak in a roof. But “how they do that” isn’t so different.

There are some common techniques that cross all disciplines that I’ve seen.

Among those are “evaluation of importance”. Those who have been trained in first aid know this very well: Breathing / Bleeding / Burned / Broken. That is, if you’re not breathing, then you can die in just a couple of minutes. Breathing is the most important function to restore in an unconscious person. Next is bleeding. You can bleed out and die in not much more time than it takes to suffocate, but this still takes second place to breathing. If a patient is breathing, however, then serious bleeding needs to be stopped. And so on. Perhaps you hadn’t been trained in first aid, so you might not know this (very little knowledge is “automatic”), but you can learn it. When you learn something like that then that helps you to understand other “importance” issues.

For example, in construction I know that the foundation is more important than the roof – even though the roof is vital. There would be no point in re-roofing a building with a crumbling foundation, just as there would be no point in expertly bandaging a person who wasn’t breathing.

A homicide detective looks for his own “importance” issues: means / motive / opportunity. Did this suspect have the means (the tools, strength, mental capacity, etc.) to kill? Did he have a motive to kill? Did he have an opportunity to kill?

You also need to have some kind of “stable datum”. That is, you need to align “what you learn” with “what you already know”. To give an example from construction again, when we have to measure elevations of floors, beams, roofs, windows, doors, plumbing fixtures, etc. we have to have some kind of reference. We start work from a benchmark, and relate different land and building elevations to that unmovable reference point. That’s a stable datum. No matter what we do with the building, that benchmark doesn’t move, so we can align other things to it.

Different professions have their own “stable data”, or the body of knowledge from which they can branch out and learn new technology and new information about how the world relates to what they know. This is akin to how a builder can start his building and, knowing the solidity of the structure, not have to refer every measurement back to the benchmark, because that was used to set the structure that’s in place, so now he can use the rest of the structure as an extension of the benchmark.

In the same way, your homicide detective builds his case. The stable datum is “dead body”. When he hears from the Medical Examiner that the mode of death was “homicide”, then he starts the structure of his case. From “homicide victim” he seeks to find “scene of the crime” and unmistakably tie that victim to that crime scene. From there he seeks clues as to “who else was here? who did this?” and he looks for more ties to find the suspect and make the proof.

For various professions, each has its own process. That’s where variation occurs. I don’t investigate homicides (I read about them), but I can “think like a detective” from time to time to figure out the process of investigating crime. You have to think “how would a person investigate this crime? what has to be known?”

As part of process, you have to understand how your materials work. A builder wouldn’t make a foundation of roofing shingles in the same way that he wouldn’t (normally) pour a concrete roof to a house. Shingles work well to keep out rain water. Concrete forms a solid structure. Detectives start to learn “how people work” in ways that you and I are not familiar with. They have experience with “guilty people” and learn to spot behavioral cues that tip them off to lies faster than the average person. (And as @Adirondackwannabe suggests, sometimes people gravitate towards professions that use their talents better than others. A psychologist might make a good police detective because of prior inclination and training, for example.)

auhsojsa's avatar

With the rise of the Stone Age came the rise of controlled food, a farming system. Farming system lead to the rise of self sufficient towns which lead to cities which lead to specialization within one field over a life time. The thought processes are just human nature, and I believe anyone can learn to do anything and serve any profession. As a professional, through the collegiate system, compartmentalism is a key strategy in the sense that it helps prevent carrying your work with your personal and family life.

BoyWonder's avatar

I think in anything you do or any problem you proceed to tackle, you need to get the big picture. That’s the bottom line. Before you do anything, you take a moment to assess the situation and then proceed in the best possible, logical manner so as to minimize your margin of error as much as possible. Everything else that follows depends on the knowledge you possess with respect to the field you’re in.

longtresses's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Yes I wondered about it; kind of goes back to the Nature VS Nurture debate. With a few exceptions I strongly believe that you can turn your kid into anything—if you’re doing it right. Fascinating topic..

@thorninmud “If spending a couple of hours watching a movie can put us in a different mindset, then surely spending day in and day out in an environment that emphasizes a particular mode will have a profound influence. Look, for instance, at how much difficulty soldiers have in returning to civilian life.”
How true this is.. I agree completely.

@wundayatta @CWOTUS What you both discussed went over my head, something I probably missed out pursuing a creativity-related degree. I would need a fundamental set of “toolbox” to become a better learner, or at least to understand the way my engineer acquaintances think. It’s been a mystery how their thinking is so systemized, how they tackle subjects.

@auhsojsa @BoyWonder Absolutely.

CWOTUS's avatar

Okay, @longtresses, fair enough. In that case, just think “what is the process?” “How did they do that?” In other words, when you look at something complex, just ponder: “How would anyone do that? Where did they start? What was the next step?”

As you’re doing that, you’ll realize that there are things you forgot, things you didn’t know, and assumptions you made that were wildly off the mark. So you get to increase your memory, expand your knowledge, correct your assumptions – and the world gets smarter. That’s how that process works.

longtresses's avatar

@CWOTUS Thank you. Is that a new name? I recognize the avatar, but the name is vaguely familiar..

longtresses's avatar

@CWOTUS Oh, ok.. don’t change the avatar. :-) That’s a cute dog with silly ears.

wundayatta's avatar

@longtresses As @CWOTUS said, look at the process. You may be in a creative field, but you have a process, too. Maybe it’s instinctual, but probably not. Every person I know in a creative field has a creative process. It’s the only way you get things done. And it’s different, depending on what you want to get done.

What’s really interesting is thinking about improvisation and how that plays a different role in classical composition compared to jazz composition compared to free improvisation. Good stuff.

longtresses's avatar

As @auhsojsa said, I understand that the underlying, bare-basic cognitive skills aren’t that different. That’s why people go to schools/seminars/workshops to expand those skills. But I have difficulty going through @wundayatta‘s list, to identify or recognize the name of those processes alive, as in when one is actually doing something or thinking something. Maybe because they’re all schooled skills, most of us would find it hard to translate that list into real life, despite your brief examples.

Examples of identifying?: “What kind of thinker am I, most of the time? Am I mostly transparent; how did I develop preference for this mode of thinking?” “Is he being qualitative right now?” “Oh, she’s a very ethnographic writer; I’m not surprised, her mom raised her.” “Is Michael a natural scientist? He’s such a fact-gatherer; nobody even taught him that.” “This doctor is using xyz technique, but I don’t think that one-sided approach is adequate.” Etc…

Anyway if most of us are a mass of undifferentiated cognitive skills and can still survive day-to-day it wouldn’t matter. We’re not specialists, so.

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