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Popular culture plays an important role in the education of rapid cognition just as it does for the development of analytical thought processes, professional skills, and substantive knowledge.

Popular culture stories, particularly TV shows (sitcoms, reality shows, news programs) and films, privilege the depiction of characters that are intuitive and make rapid cognition decisions. Specifically in the criminal justice and legal practice fields, popular culture also offers multiple opportunities for students to observe lawyers and criminal justice officers take rapid cognition decisions. In some cases, these decisions are effective; and in others they are erroneous. Showing these situations, the ensuing rationalizations, and the results of the actions taken intuitively in class help students discuss and reflect about the rapid cognition process. For example, in The. Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991), agent Clarice Starling glances at a file for a few seconds and takes a quick look at the victim’s pictures. When her superior, special agent Jack Crawford, asks her to profile the perpetrator. Starling instantly concludes that he must be white, in his 30s or 40s; he must live in his own house and not an apartment as he needs privacy to cany out the crimes; he must also have physical strength and self-control. Starling also thinks that the perpetrator must be cautious, precise, and impulsive. She also speculates that he will never stop, as he is getting better at his work. Similarly, in Law and Order: Criminal Intent's episode Tru Love (Barba, 2006) detectives Mike Logan and Megan Wheeler discuss their gut feelings about the death of Dr. Grant Tyler, a police plastic surgeon. They do so after they have a quick look at the body and his motorcycle and right after they interrogate Keith, his son, his son’s teacher, Danielle McCaskin, and other suspects. By having a quick glance at the victim’s house, Logan and Wheeler make quick assumptions about Dr. Tyler’s social status, his personality, and his last actions before he is killed. They soon realize that Dr. Tyler has had sex with multiple partners, that he has taped his sexual encounters, and that he has kept tapes somewhere in the house. They also interrogate Iris ex-boss,

Dr. Clayton. While doing so, they briefly scan his office. They look at a picture of a young lady posing at what looks like a college. The detectives instantly know that Dr. Tyler and Dr. Clayton’s daughter have had sexual intercourse, which Dr. Clayton strongly objects to. Dr. Clayton takes out a damaged VHS tape out of a drawer, and detective Wheeler instantly realizes that Dr. Tyler has sent him a tape of him having sex with Dr. Clayton’s daughter. Then, detectives Logan and Wheeler interrogate Danielle’s husband. They soon infer that Danielle and Keith are in love, that they have planned Dr. Tyler’s murder together. They also rapidly conclude that they blame Danielle’s husband in order to get rid of both Dr. Tyler and Danielle’s husband. While interrogating Danielle, the assistant district attorney speculates that Danielle seduced Dr. Tyler to buy his silence about Keith and to frame her husband. After students observe and discuss these situations, you can recreate a similar setting in the classroom for students to face situations where they have to process information fast and take rapid cognition decisions. For example, you can give your students a file with detailed information about cases that were tried in the criminal justice system. Students can read a file for a few minutes and come up with a conclusion about the culpability of the accused. Recreated professional practice situations can be complemented with feedback sessions and metacognitive reflection, which enhance the rapid cognition process. So, after students make their decisions, you can give them feedback about the actual outcome of the cases. This practice is important because

Long before people are able to articulate how they think the system works, they are able to act as though they understand it. Moreover, when people are explicitly instructed to try and learn how the system works—i.e., in deliberate mode—they are not as successfill in gaining an understanding as when they interact with the system in more passive, tacit mode. [...] We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction. People are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. (Hogarth, 2003)

Popular culture stories also offer learners the possibility of focusing on obtaining feedback about rapid cognition decisions that people take in films and TV shows, that is to say, learners can observe when characters take a rapid cognitive decision and then see if those decisions were effective or not. If they were not, students can think of and discuss what went wrong and what the individuals who took those decisions need to correct next time they face a similar situation. Continuing with the previous examples,

you can show the last scenes of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) to see if agent Sterling’s rapid profile about Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) was tine. In Lnr and Order's Tru Love episode, just like in real professional life, some of the assumptions the police officers make about Dr. Tyler’s crime and the inferences about the role of each suspect are erroneous, and some are conect. Students can discuss what rapid cognition strategies work and what strategies do not work.


Rapid cognition, that is to say, the fast processing of stimuli and information that leads to intuitive conclusions and decisions, is pervasive in everyday life, including the criminal justice and legal systems. Despite its importance, it has been relegated to the margins of higher education. Rapid cognition processes can be improved with specific educational interventions. Popular culture offers innumerable possibilities to help students fully develop then rapid cognition skills and to reflect about them.

The next chapter explores the importance of motivation and student engagement for the adoption of a deep-learning approach. It will focus on the role of popular culture texts in promoting intrinsic motivation.


rapid cognition educating rapid cognition critical thinking cognitive skills feedback

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