After doing this module and after picking this topic in particular, I will in future be a lot more careful about believing what I read, I found quite often that something I read, once followed up would be just nonsense or someone’s opinion taken out of context.

Did I “prove” my theory ….I think it is widely acknowledged that you aren’t born with common sense and that it is a store of knowledge built up through our life time. After completing the Blog I think I have a better understanding of common sense, I still believe it isn’t innate and I more than ever believe that it is something we learn throughout our life’s, but what I have changed my opinion about is the definition of common sense, I think to each and every single person,culture,society it is something completely different and therefore its wrong for us to say someone doesn’t have common sense because it just may not be the kind that we have. I believe it is an area that has a lot of layers to it and needs a lot more research done before we can begin to fully understand it! I think i focused on some of the aspects but i think there are so many that i could have run this blog for a year and not have covered them all.

But can we learn it? i think by breaking it down over the last few weeks that it is obvious that we learn it…can we teach it? now that is a whole different blog :p

Thank you all for taking the journey with me 🙂 i think i may keep the blog running and in my spare time try to find the odd bit of credible and maybe non credible research to post!

Google searches!! how do you know what’s right or wrong?

So far I have sourced all the information I have used to back me up from “Google scholar” or “Ebsco host” both of which you can breathe relatively easy in the knowledge that the information will be correct and true as far as you can get on the internet, and you will normally find that the articles/journals are factual as far as you can get, provided by qualified individuals in their respective careers.

When you do a search in regular “Google” for “do you have common sense” “can I learn common sense” or something similar you can be bombarded with sites with quizzes professing to tell you whether you have it or not, or pages of information telling you how you can learn it or not. Most of the quizzes I found are extremely hard to take seriously, most if not all are multiple choice questions with 1 correct answer and absolutely ridiculous other answers. I have provided a great example of what I am talking about in the link below.


So HOW are you supposed to find a credible site that will help you? Well this is a problem faced with the internet not just in this subject but ion about every subject you can think of – you would hope 9 times out of 10 we can distinguish by the name and way the site is set up if it’s going to be credible or not but this is not always the case. For things like journals/articles it’s always worth checking if they have been “peer-reviewed” meaning that they have been checked and double checked before and after publishing by someone better informed / qualified than you to know. However when it comes to a regular Google search where you will get all the junk as well as legit sites, how do we know? I suppose we don’t ever KNOW but there are steps you can take to insure you are as confident as possible. We can check and double check things we read, we can see where they got their information from, check their references and double check what they are saying is correct from the original source, if something is credible you should be able to find a trail back to the original research.

Coming back to what I was saying about quizzes, in my regular Google search I came across a common sense test on a fairly reputable dating site – one of the things these dating sites pride themselves on is that they use psychologists to construct their quizzes so that you will have a better chance of finding the “one” best suited to you! So automatically I thought it’s made by a psychologist it MUST be correct, then you take the quiz and straight away from the set of answers again you can tell it’s not done by a professional and if it is, then they were having a seriously bad day! “and note of warning to get your results you have to sign up to the site…if you have common sense you WONT do this as your email inbox will be full of dating site emails, not admitting to having done this I am just advising 😉

One I did find which I thought had a bit more credibility maybe the most credible you could find on a straight forward search but even this I don’t think has the capacity to tell you by just a few questions whether you have common sense or not! I’m not sure a simple multiple choice quiz can tell you or measure your ability of common sense? Link below if you want to check it out.

Reading this month’s psychologist magazine I came across an article called “problem solving in the community” It was related to a new television programme called “the audience” as I don’t watch TV I wasn’t sure what it was about but after reading the article and watching a clip online it seemed pretty straight forward. The participant has a problem/decision to make and they have found they can’t make it on their own so they turn to a socially diverse audience to help make the decision for them or with them. This got me thinking, in today’s society we mostly have daily social interactions but do we have “support systems” – to be able to accumulate knowledge and transfer it into common sense we need to be sociable and learn from each other but what happens when our social group doesn’t have the answer? In the western world compared to the eastern world a lot more of us live far from family, or are estranged from family, we have select groups of friends and the majority of us couldn’t tell you their neighbours names, so if we are in limited groups what happens when our “group” doesn’t have the knowledge/experience to help us make our decision? I think the concept of this programme is great, I am not normally an advocate of reality TV and obviously it’s not as straight forward as I have made out, it is for entertainment purposes after all BUT how great would it be if we all had a “support system” or panel of people we could go to when we don’t have the answer to a problem! We would have access to different cultures, different races, different perspectives, all of this would help broaden our knowledge and in turn could help us make common sense decisions and problem solve in different and more diverse ways! Seems great to me!!!

Teaching common sense


I think I have mentioned maybe once or twice how hard I am finding it to come up with common sense research!! Low and behold today I came across a study that I think may help me (Que WhooHooos!!! and a round of applause)

Again I think I mentioned that as of yet there is no way of measuring common sense, and as much as I have sat for countless hours trying to come up with a measurement scale ( mostly because my lecturer told me if I came up with one I would probably get an honorary PhD, and I was going for the easy route) I just cant come up with one. So instead I found a paper which I am going to use in reference and hypothetically use it to come up with ways you could measure common sense in this particular scenario. Wish me luck!!!

So I was thinking about common sense and thinking ‘who’ has to use it on a daily basis, what specific groups/community’s really need to posses it to survive? And I came up with police officers, everyday of their working lives they need to be able to use common sense reasoning in ambiguous situations. When a police officer gets up in the morning they don’t know what situations will arise but they need to be prepared for it anyway. How does one prepare for situations they cant anticipate? My guess would be, if you have a solid basis of common sense you can use your gathered knowledge to help you make the right decisions. When I began to research this there was very little relating to it but I came across one research paper called “Generating Common Sense Knowledge Among Police Officers” (jackpot!!!)

(I found it impossible to find the full PDF of this article without paying for it, so if you want to see the paper please let me know and I can email the PDF to you!) However the link to abstract is below..

I will outline the study and give you my interpretation of it.

The sociologist Elizabeth W McNulty looks at police officers to illustrate how ‘common sense knowledge is generated within the context of everyday life routines’ she says of her research ‘.At a broader level, this research challenges the idea that common sense knowledge is innate, spontaneously generated or simply transmitted from one generation to the next.’

In her research she follows a class of police students, she attends classes with them whilst at police academy and after they graduate she goes on a ‘ride-along’ with them individually to assess their understanding and implications of common sense knowledge.

In her article she explains how police culture places great value on common sense knowledge, considering it crucial for survival. She looks at how police academy instructors teach common sense knowledge, that in turn recruits translate into action on the street.

She found the biggest way off doing this is through “storytelling”. Police instructors recount stories and explain why they came to certain outcomes or what they could do to change certain outcomes. They give the recruits examples of scenarios and get them to come up with the common sense decision in dealing with it. This prepares cadets better for a career full of ambiguous situations.

She also found that regardless of how this is done whether in a formal classroom environment or out on ‘the beat’ discussions with colleague’s recounting their days to each other, all the stories accumulate to a store of common sense knowledge.

So according to her research common sense knowledge is something that you learn and continue to learn. There will however be plenty of people who will argue that the people she studied just “had common sense” to begin with. There would be no way of disproving that as she can’t prove they did or didn’t.

So this got me thinking what if she had devised a measurement scale (I know, I know hard as it is) to say how much common sense they had before going to the academy and how much they had after leaving or say after a year working on the streets. For this particular study she could have maybe asked all the candidates to rate on a scale of 1-10 how much common sense they think they had, she could then have had them do a ‘test’ where in she could have a series of scenarios that would be likely to come up in a police officers day to day. For example, you are called and are alone on your beat, to a breach of the peace in a parking lot between 2 drunk civilians. When you get there you notice both are males aged between 30 and 40 and both are dressed respectably in expensive looking suits as far as you can see neither have weapons. Which of the following hypothetical decisions do you take after a quick assessment of the situation?

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Obviously she would have had to have got the input of the instructors or notably learned officers in devising the questions. The one I give is very simple and is just off the top of my head.

She could put a measure to each example on which could be most likely to be a common sense answer.

This would maybe help to give her an understanding on how much common sense knowledge they have before completing the academy.

She would then have had to retest after they came out of the academy and maybe again after a year on the job. This may go some way to seeing if they had ‘learnt’ common sense in their time in the academy and subsequently on the job. Helping to lend weight to her theory that common sense is not innate and is a learned process. Would this work? In all honesty I don’t know, but I can’t see why it couldn’t be classed as a measurement scale of some kind. Obviously the results could only be generalized to a very specific group.

But when all is said and done you have to see from her research that there is a form of teaching common sense, whether it can be disputed is obviously up for argument but she has gone some way to lending weight to her theory that common sense knowledge is not innate. Hasn’t she?

In her article there was a funny recount of a civilian not using their common sense, most people would think this is a stupid thing to do. One officer recounted… “A man came up to my car and asked what a MDT (computer terminal) in the car was and how it worked. I explained the uses-checking warrants, prior history, vehicle registration etc. As an example, I ran him for warrants. He was wanted on a misdemeanor….I arrested him.” Now you have to wonder why anyone with a smidgen of common sense would not have thought “wait a minute I have an outstanding warrant” Maybe he should have gone to the police academy to learn some common sense!! Made me giggle thought you might like it.

Can EVERYONE learn common sense? HOW do we use it?

I mentioned in my second posting that the region of the brain that controls emotion works slightly faster than the region of the brain that controls decision-making. I think it would be a good time to look at this with a little bit more depth. To do this we need a very basic understanding of the brain. Look at the following image, you can see in its most crude explanation, the different regions in the brain that control emotion and decision-making. 


So as you can see they are both highlighted in blue and are both positioned within the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the biggest part of your brain as you can see from the diagram. There is also a part of the temporal lobe that controls emotion.

 Many psychologists and neuroscientists believe you cant make decisions without using ones emotion. So that would deduce that to use common sense/decision making you would need to access your emotional region’s as well. So to be able to make everyday common sense decisions, you need to be able to access your emotions? I suppose this means if you don’t have access to your emotions you may not be able to “learn” common sense, Which would in part disprove my theory that “anyone can learn common sense.”

Decision-making is a cognitive process where the outcome is a choice between alternatives. We often have different preferences as to our preferred approach, varying between thinking and feeling.

I am going to use the work of Antonio R Damasio, he is a Neuroscientistwho is working to help us understand the use of emotion in decision making. Most of the work he has done is in relation to brain damage, so he looks at damage (brain lesions) to the emotional region of the brain and determines if and how this effects our ability to make “good” decisions. He argues that because his work shows that damage to the emotional region of the brain restricts ones ability to make decisions that this would deduce that you need emotion to make decisions…(now its important to note that he has not proved this rather, by means of deduction he has come up with a hypothesis)


An interesting piece of his work entitled “Emotion, Decision making and the Orbitofrontal Cortex” explains how people with damage to the emotional region of the brain cant make seemingly rational decisions about simple everyday tasks, they are completely competent and intellectual but cant seem to make decisions that would ordinarily need an emotional involvement. For example, when out in a restaurant they cant decide what to eat, they know they need to eat they know they are hungry they know what is good and bad for them but they cant make the actual decision on what to eat.


The following is a link to the full artical by Antonio R Damasio et al that I used for reference.

(this is peer reviewed)


You can go to any reputable neurological site on-line and get evidence to back up Damsio’s theory he is not the first and wont (I’m sure) be the last scientist to hypothesis that you need emotion to be able to be effective in decision-making.


I have put this in very simple terms and there is obviously a lot of other factors involved but for the purpose of this blog we don’t need to go into them in detail, but if you wish too some of the following links may help.


Yes I have gone slightly off track, but I wanted to get an understanding of how we make decisions, I think what the above attempts to explain is that when we make decisions whether its logical decisions or common sense decision’s we put in place not just the part of the brain associated with decision making but also emotional regions, this can go in some part to explaining why some people don’t make the “right” common sense decisions all the time. Humans all have different levels of emotional capacity. We all know some people are more emotional than others we don’t need a psychologist or doctor to tell us that we are different when it comes to how we emotionally react to something. If the above is correct and scientists have it right, this means that know 2 people are going to react to a situation in the same way, or the may react the same way but use different paths, deductions, emotions, experiences to get there.


So we are starting to see that common sense is not just 1 thing….its an accumulations of various skills we have access to.

Earlier we talked about how environment/culture can effect your ability to use common sense, Jezzo is it just me or should we be hailed as geniuses for being able to make a simple common sense decision with all the aspect involved in it?


So I suppose with this one post I have disproved my own theory…No not everyone can learn common sense!!!!…so the new question is….Can people with ‘normal’ functioning brains learn common sense?

3 Aspects of Common Sense

One of the biggest problems we face with common sense is that we cant “measure” it. We have all taken IQ test in school or can easily go online and fill out a sheet of questions that will tell us if we are intelligent or not. Theses IQ tests are a universal agreement on a measurement scale for intelligence. But as of yet we don’t have a measurement scale for common sense. We have no way of measuring or telling who has it, who doesn’t and how much or little they have. This makes it very difficult to be able to be able to research it.


Common sense can be referred to in different terms one of which is “practical knowledge” I think we are all agreed that common sense is a build up of knowledge. We can think of common sense as a “store of knowledge” within our brains. The unfortunate thing is we have very little understanding of how and why people store this knowledge. What we do have is an agreed division of common sense, into 3 aspects,(Garth,J,O,Fletcher 1984) which I will give you a brief run down of.


Common Sense as a “Set of Shared Fundamental Assumptions”


It is a belief or assumption that is believed by many for example, Common sense (CS) tells us, we are the same person from day to day, that humans are self aware creatures capable of self control (philosophers may argue this but that’s a whole different Blog) oppose to things like innate objects, rocks etc.

Assumptions that are virtually unanimous in western society and common beliefs in most cultures. They may also have a scientific backing to them.


Common Sense as a “ Set of Cultural Maxims and Shared Beliefs


Commonly known as Fables or Folk Tale for example, a stitch in time saves 9, birds of a feather stick together,look before you leap etc. Or things like Severe punishment deters criminals. These beliefs can change within different society’s and cultures and may often be incorrect or contradictory for example as mentioned above “birds of a feather stick together” but then you have “opposites attract” now they cant both be right. Which is why we research to determine what is right and what is wrong.


Common Sense as a “Shared Way of Thinking”


When we gather knowledge tacitly. *Tacit Knowledge is something that we just know and more often than not cant explain as its just “common sense” a certain environment/culture/society has taught you without you even being aware of it. Its a store of knowledge that is just natural and that you have never made the concious effort to learn.

It is not easily shared or explained and can often consist of habits.

With tacit knowledge, people are not often awareof the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others. Tacit knowledge is considered more valuable because it provides context for people, places, ideas, and experiences. Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact and trust.


So if we are agreed that common sense is an accumulation of knowledge, we now need to look at whether knowledge can be acquired by everyone.


*The concept of Tacit knowing came from Michael Polanyi (Scientist and philosopher)



Garth J. O. Fletcher, 1984,American Psychologist. (obtained through Ebsco) (peer reviewed)

Can “common sense” be taught? Or are you born with it?

I am sure the majority of us have heard someone say “she/he was born with no common sense”

As psychology students we have been set the task of constructing our own Blog and looking at a subject which interests us. We have to research and come up
with evidence to support our theory. I have chosen “common sense.”

The aim to this Blog is to look at common sense and see if it is something we are born with or something we can learn. I plan to argue the hypothesis “that humans, against what we are told aren’t born with common sense that we learn it and can learn it at any age.” I will gather information and post it in the hope that it will support my theory.

To be able to do this we will first have to look at common sense and try to define it, most people have heard of it and know if they have it or not, but do we all really know what it is? If one is to type common sense into Google you can be overwhelmed with the amount off responses, different sights will tell you different things but as this is my personal Blog I will give you what I think best describes common sense.

For me the best definition is the Merriam -Webster definition “common sense is sound and prudent judgement based on a simple perception of the situation or facts” So there you have it, common sense is simple, right? We should all be able to look at something and know if its right or wrong, clever or smart! The problem is that we don’t. Really common sense is such a simple tool for humans to have, considering we can do exceptional things, like put a man on the moon, build planes etc. Something as silly as crossing the road shouldn’t leave us with a problem. Yet time and time again humans do the most stupidest of things not having thought the problem or situation through. They say common sense is paying attention to the obvious, well if something is obvious why can it seem so far out of grasp? And why time and time again do we repeat our mistakes?

Common sense against popular belief is not something you are born with, it is something you learn as you grow up (according to most scientific research,some of which we will look at in the coming weeks) it can come down to a nature nurture situation e.g. if your not taught something you cant possibly know its wrong or right, You wouldn’t put your hand in a fire, common sense tells us that would hurt and would be a stupid thing to do, but if nobody had ever told you that fire can hurt or if you hadn’t done it once and experienced the pain how can you possibly know?

It can come down to situational/social differences as well, again common sense tells us we shouldn’t walk out on a motorway full of speeding cars without looking left/right to check its clear but if your from a remote rural area you would never have had a need to learn such things and therefore may step out on the road without having thought twice about it. It doesn’t make you stupid, you just never learnt that particular bit of knowledge. On the flip side a born and bred city person may not know that you don’t walk up to a bull in a field to pet it, Where as most country people would see this as pure common sense. So common sense is not a set form of rules or understanding, what is common sense to one may not be common sense to another. So it comes down to knowledge, the more knowledge one has the more common sense one has. Added to this it would make sense that the more sociable you are, so as to say the more social interactions one has the more knowledge one can gather, and the more knowledge one has the more decisions become a matter of pure common sense. So the question I suppose changes slightly to whether everyone has the capacity to learn/gather knowledge and therefore obtain common sense?

But having said all of the above and despite what we think of common sense and how we define it. Science hasn’t been able to really define or explain common sense and its development. In the past, however, scientists observed that patients who underwent prefrontal lobotomies were able to return home and resume their normal lives, except that they lacked proper judgement. This could indicate that the prefrontal region of the brain is somewhat connected to our decision-making process and common sense response. [According to the geographical channel website] So does this mean that maybe we are born with it? If common sense comes down to brain development are we still able to learn it?

Then there is the emotional aspect, its common to hear “oh she is emotional, no common sense at all” is this true? Well studies suggest it could be. The region of the brain that controls ones emotions does in-fact work slightly faster than the region of the brain that controls decision making so therefore could explain why some people make rash and seemingly stupid judgements.

I am sure I have come up with more questions than I have answered and over the next few weeks I hope to answer the majority of them and convince you that common sense is not something we are born with, it is something we learn and can continue to learn throughout our lives, which I would hope therefore means anyone, theoretically could learn it at ANY stage in their life. I will look at the statements I have made above and try to find various forms of research to suggest they may be right.

I will leave you with a joke that always makes me laugh, and is a prime example of someone who didn’t think to use their common sense.

A man is driving down a road that passes a mental hospital. He hears a loud noise, and his car lurches. He realizes that he’s had a blow-out. He pulls over to the side of the road, and sure enough, he has a flat tire. He gets the spare out of the trunk and begins to change the tire. He jacks up the car, removes the wheel with the flat tire, and to prevent the lug nuts from getting lost, he carefully places them in the hubcap. So far, so good. But, as he is installing the spare, he bumps his foot against the hubcap, which sends the lug nuts rolling. Oh, no: all four of the lug nuts fall through the grate of a storm sewer. The man curses out loud, and hollers

“What am I gonna do now?”

A soft voice comes from the other side of a nearby fence. The voice says

“You can take one lug nut off each of your other 3 wheels, and put them on the spare. That will give you three on each wheel, which will hold your wheels on well enough for you to get to the service station down the road.”

The driver walks over to the fence, sees the sign that says “State Mental Hospital,” and says to the guy on the other side of the fence:

“Hey, that’s very smart thinking. So how come you’re in a place like this?”

The mental patient smiles, shrugs, and says “Sir, I’m in here ‘cuz I’m crazy, not ‘cuz I’m stupid.”

Everyone has something to say on common sense!!




“Common sense is not so common” – Voltaire

“Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have.” – Rene Descartes

“Common sense is that which judges the things given to it by other senses” – Leonardo da Vinci