The G.I. Joe Fallacy: Knowing is Half the Battle, Right?

G.I. Joe was an action figure who, to placate parents, ended each of his 1980s cartoons with the PSA, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle…” The PSA was given within the context of something dangerous kids did unintentionally – like running out into traffic. Each cartoon would end with G.I. Joe encircled by a group of kids gleefully shouting, “Now we know!” And presumedly, those smart kids will never make that same mistake again.

Sadly, they will, because simply knowing about our cognitive biases is not enough to overcome them. This predicament is what cognitive scientist Laurie Santos, Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale, calls the G.I. Joe Fallacy. She illustrates the Fallacy using the Müller-Lyer illusion, pictured below.

Even though we know that the shafts of each arrow are exactly the same length, when asked to point out the longer of the two, we invariably choose the arrow whose tails point outward. This is due to our cognitive bias. Another, more commonly experienced example of the G.I. Joe Fallacy is a $19.99 price tag. We know that it is only a single penny less that Twenty Dollars, but we perceive it as significantly less. In other words, knowing about our biases does not always make us less susceptible to them.

Cognitive science explains why knowledge of a desired or acceptable action is not enough to make it happen by pointing out to the link between rational knowledge and emotional knowledge. We use both types of reasoning in varying degrees depending upon or comprehension and character to make healthy decisions. Our rational, analytical minds crave tools to help us control situations and search for security. Without tools, we have nothing we can apply to decision-making. Emotional knowledge helps us internalize the use of those tools, taking us beyond mere knowledge to the benefits of true understanding through experience. When we use the two together, we get closer to intentionality.

G.I. Joe’s cartoon is long gone, but his fallacy is alive and well on campus, where the unpredictable forces of emotion, habit, and situation reign despite how much students “know’ better. When it comes to behavior change, we have to step beyond simple “knowing” to emotional regulation, habit formation, deep practice, and the situations we place ourselves in. This is where Focus Collegiate’s Student Skills Coaches and Collegiate Life Coordinator excel.

Knowing the ‘steps’ to success in college is not always enough to inspire us to take them. The new environment of college presents so many new challenges—the biggest of which can be the pressure to respond appropriately to constantly and rapidly changing experience, or emotional regulation—our best intentions can be easily derailed. Good habit formation keeps them on track through strategies based on each student’s expressed goal.

Through the following areas of focus:

  • Motivation
  • Structure and Accountability
  • Deliberate actions
  • Clarity of intention
  • Skill building
  • Frequent Check-ins and Re-evaluation
  • Celebrating the successes

students and their Focus Collegiate Coaches and coordinators create a strong framework for success. There are no halves to the “battle.” In fact, with appropriate individualized support, there is no battle. Focus Collegiate empowers action that transforms the struggle into the positive life-changing experience college is meant to be.

“Now you know!”

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