Tree Fruit and Cognitive Bias

IdeaI received a question via email early  this morning, which led me to experience one of those “a-ha!” moments that are sometimes very dangerous in the early morning hours. (You know what I mean?  Can’t go back to sleep, don’t eat breakfast, skip the gym, phone calls go unanswered…all until you GET THIS DONE!)

The question, concerning the logical tasting rationale that is part of the CWE (Certified Wine Educator) exam,  was a good question, and went something like this: “What do you mean by tree fruit? How does tree fruit differ from citrus fruit? Don’t most citrus fruits grow on trees?”

The question was really quite brilliant in its simplicity, and demonstrates to perfection the issue that educators know as “The Curse of Knowledge.” The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that causes well-informed parties to find it almost impossible to think about topics from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.

Teachers often suffer from the curse of knowledge when – #1 – they know things their students don’t know (which better be true) and #2 – they have forgotten what it is like not to have this knowledge. That’s where a quick understanding of how to lift the curse of knowledge comes in.

The first step in lifting the curse of knowledge is to realize that it does indeed exist. However, like a person who is drunk but doesn’t realize it, the curse, by definition, means we don’t realize we are affected by it.  So here are a few tips to avoid this curse.

curse of knowledgeIt’s really quite simple: first of all, educators should review their lecture notes and other written materials such as handouts and course syllabi in order to ensure they aren’t confusing their students by their choice of words or by “diving into” the complicated parts of the topic. Hard as it may be, try to pretend you’re not an expert in the subject matter – would you understand what is being said?

Another good idea is to “try out” your handouts, power points, or lecture on an unsuspecting victim (hopefully a significant other or best friend who is NOT an expert in what you are the maven of.) If you’d rather not bother your loved ones in this way, you can also prepare your materials, wait a few days, and review them yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read over my work and – assuming I can read my own handwriting – wondered to myself what did I mean by that???

Perhaps the best way to break the curse of knowledge is to encourage and pay attention to feedback – written, verbal, even non-verbal. That’s what happened to me in the wee hours of this morning – so be sure and listen to and respond to the feedback your audience gives you. It sure worked for me – tree fruit and all!

If you are a wine educator who has been using terms like “dry, sweet, body, terroir, complexity, mouth-feel, balance, mineral, earthy, and – PERFECT EXAMPLE ALERT – tree fruit,” it might be a good idea once in a while to go back and create some clear, meaningful, and simplified definitions for such terms – and remember to use them when teaching beginners!

Idea TreeWith that in mind, here’s a breakdown of fruit aroma and flavor terms, as they are often used to describe wines:

Fruit Descriptors – Mostly Used for White Wines: 

Tree Fruit: Apple, Green Apple, Green Pear, Yellow Pear, Asian Pear, Peach, Apricot, Nectarine, Green Plum

Citrus Fruit: Lemon, Lime, Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon Peel, Orange Peel

Tropical Fruit: Pineapple, Mango, Papaya, Banana, Passion Fruit, Melon, Lychee

Refuse to be Classified: Raisin, Golden Raisin, White Grape, Gooseberry

Fruit Descriptors – Mostly Used for Red Wines: 

Black Fruit: Blackberry, Black Currant, Black Cherry, Blueberry, Black Plum, Prune, Fig, Raisin

Red Fruit: Strawberry, Red Cherry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Red Plum, Pomegranate, Red Current

Refuse to be Classified: Red grape, grape juice, Welch’s, grape jelly/grape jam

Note: The term “the curse of knowledge” is credited to Robin Hogarth, and the effect was first described in print by the economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber in The Journal of Political Economy, 1989.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

4 Responses to Tree Fruit and Cognitive Bias

  1. foxress says:

    I like to distinguish tree fruit from citrus fruit by describing it as orchard v. grove. I’m not sure if that is correct as I am neither a farmer nor a linguist, but I think our language puts apples in orchards and lemons in groves. Thank you, once again, for the great advice as well as the food for thought.

  2. Marina says:

    Dear Miss Jane,
    Thee is also a term ” stone fruit” used for peach, apricot,and (? If i m correct) plum. When would you use this category, please?

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