"I Know That" Bias

What is the "I Know That" bias, and why is it important to understand it?

The "I Know That" bias happens when people think they already know something and thus let their concentration wander off. They don’t perceive that which is happening as something that needs their attention. I see this bias constantly while teaching, so I often remind my students when I see it happen.

Let’s say you come to a class. You come from a Tai Chi background and we are practicing "push-hands" in this lesson. This is something you already know from Tai Chi. Because of this, you might think there is not so much to learn for you when we practice this topic, because unlike other things we do that have been all new to you, this one is familiar. Now your mind starts to wander off and you don’t pay the necessary attention to the task anymore, in contrast to the situation when everything was new. Now you are missing all the subtle details that I instruct differently from the way you have learned Tai Chi push-hands somewhere else. Different teachers look at the details differently when it comes to complex matters.

To think that you don’t have to concentrate anymore because you already know something is a big mistake. It will prevent you from learning. And it is preventing people from learning all the time. Do not waste your time because you believe you already know something. If you are in a learning environment and you are the student, you should dedicate all your energy to learning. Actually, even the master student can learn from someone who is less experienced, even if all he learns is how not to do things.

By carefully observing, you might even learn something new from a less advanced person, because you might notice a difference in how they do a certain thing/detail and start to like it. Observe and catch yourself when your mind is wandering off because you think you "know this already". Keep your eyes and ears open, even if you already have experience with the topic. Become a master student, do not let arrogance shut off the learning. Don’t fall for the "I Know That" bias and you will learn much better.

Joseph Bartz