Experience level: 
Intermediate
Intended Audience: 
All
Authors: 
Michael Conklin

Unbiasing the Classroom: How the Sequence, Severity, and Sincerity of Information Affect Student Opinions

This Article presents the findings of a study designed to measure how variations in the way college professors present information can affect students’ interpretation of the information. The topic analyzed involves two competing theories of constitutional interpretation, originalism and living constitutionalism. Variations on how the information was presented include informing the student which theory typically aligns with which political party, making salient the student’s political philosophy, including a short argument in favor of each position and altering the sequence in which they appear, and informing the student as to which theory the professor allegedly prefers. These changes resulted in stark differences in which theory of constitutional interpretation the student elected to support. This is consistent with existing literature on cognitive biases, such as anchoring and the serial-position effect. The results of this study serve as a valuable reminder to professors of the significance of how they present information as it pertains to biasing student beliefs. This Article also addresses effective strategies that can be implemented to minimize the anchoring effect and create a more neutral and conducive learning environment. Cognitive anchoring can also be utilized as a highly engaging topic for class discussion. Students educated on the wide-reaching effects of cognitive anchoring will be better equipped to acquire better outcomes in their academic, professional, and personal lives. This article provides pedagogical best practices for how to present the topic in a Legal Environment of Business course, as well as an interactive classroom activity to spark interest in the subject among students.