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Optical Illusions, Inkblot Test, Irrational Beliefs, and Asch Experiment

The St. Louis Arch

The St. Louis Arch

Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the St. Louis Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, was completed in 1965 on a site overlooking the Mississippi River. Although the height of the arch and its width at the base are both 630 feet, the graceful catenary creates the illusion that the arch is taller than it is wide. Even if we are told that its height and width are the same, we still have great difficulty making the cognitive adjustment to correct what is known as the vertical/horizontal illusion. Because of this optical illusion we also tend to overestimate the height of trees and tall buildings.

Discussion Questions

1.What was your first reaction when you were told that the height and width of the arch were the same? Did they look the same after you were told the dimensions of the arch? Share with the class other optical illusions that you have encountered in architecture or elsewhere.

2.Working in small groups, discuss why we might experience optical illusions such as the vertical/horizontal illusion. Discuss what resources you could use in developing your hypothesis (a hypothesis is an educated guess based on evidence and experimentation). Share your hypothesis with the class for analysis.


In an inkblot test such as the one above, a psychologist asks a person to describe what he or she sees. The psychologist uses the descriptions to learn more about a person’s motivations and unconscious drives.

Discussion Questions

1.What do you see when you look at the above inkblot? Why do you think you saw what you did?

2.Discuss how the inkblot test illustrates our tendency to impose order on random data. Think of a time when you fell for this error in your everyday life. Come up with two or three critical-thinking strategies you might use to make yourself less prone to being taken in by our tendency to impose meaning on random data.

Irrational Beliefs And Depression

Albert Ellis (b. 1913), founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy, maintains that irrational ideas are the primary source of depression, rage, feelings of inadequacy, and self-hatred. Some of these irrational beliefs are:

1.“I must be outstandingly competent, or I am worthless.”

2.“Others must treat me considerately, or they are absolutely rotten.”

3.“The world should always give me happiness, or I will die.”

4.“I must have perfect control over things, or I won’t be able to enjoy life.”

5.“Because something once strongly affected my life, it will indefinitely affect my life.”

According to Ellis, a depressed person feels sad because he (or she) erroneously thinks he is inadequate and abandoned, even though depressed people have the capacity to perform as well as nondepressed people. The purpose of therapy is to dispute these irrational beliefs and replace them with positive rational beliefs. To achieve this, the therapist asks questions such as:

1.Is there evidence for this belief?

2.What is the evidence against this belief?

3.What is the worst that can happen if you give up this belief?

4.And what is the best that can happen?

To assist the clients in changing their irrational beliefs, the therapist also uses other techniques such as empathy training, assertiveness training, and encouraging the development of self-management strategies.

1.Discuss how cognitive errors contribute to irrational beliefs. Make a list of other irrational beliefs people hold that are based on cognitive errors.

2.Do you have any irrational beliefs that interfere with your achieving your life goals? If so, what are they? Discuss how you might use your critical-thinking skills to work toward overcoming these beliefs. Be specific.

Asch Experiment

In Asch’s experiment the six confederate subjects all gave the same wrong answer when asked which line in Exhibit 2 matched the line in Exhibit 1. After hearing their answers 75% of the naïve subjects also gave the same wrong answer.

Discussion Question

1.What do you think the naïve subject in the experiment was thinking?

2.Think back to a time when you were in a similar situation where you thought you were correct, but everyone else with you thought something else. How did you respond to the discrepancy between your belief and theirs?

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