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All-or-Nothing thinking in Research: Avoiding All or Nothing Thinking when Researching

Avoiding All or Nothing Thinking when Researching

                Avoiding All or Nothing Thinking when Researching

All-or-Nothing Thinking, also thought of as Black-and-White or Zero-Sum Thinking, comes from the idea that one "side" is right, or the winner, meaning the "other side" is wrong, or the loser.  This type of thinking also usually involves absolute thinking, such as never or always, and creates a difficulty to see any alternatives in a situation or the availability of various solutions.  The cognitive bias known as zero-sum bias teaches people that someone's win is directly related to someone else's loss; it creates a competition mindset and tends to blind people's thinking.  When writing a paper or giving a speech on a controversial topic you must be aware of the Zero-Sum or All-or-Nothing mindset and make sure you allow for a more thorough exploration of your topic.

Personal Insight

                Dyslexia black or white

When I was a child way back in the 70's I had issues with reading and spelling.  The school tested me and they found I struggled with Dyslexia, at the same time I tested with a high I.Q. making me eligible for the gifted and talented program.  The problem was the All or Nothing thinking of the school, I could not be both dumb and need remedial reading help AND smart enough for the gifted program.  They made my mom choose what program I would participate in.  Luckily my mother was an early childhood growth and development teacher and felt the Montessori type program offered in the gifted program would serve me best.  The gifted program taught me how to study and present myself in different ways, for example, I did not struggle to write a paper on the Trojan war I instead crafted a Trojan horse model and verbally explained the premise.  Studies now find that many people with Dyslexia are BOTH poor readers AND extremely smart.  This topic also looks at labeling people with "a disability" and is that a help or hindrance?  I carried my diagnosis around with me into college, I told my teachers upfront of my diagnosis and "warned them" of my disability.  One day I was in a general education class and I didn't talk to the teacher upfront.  I was amazed that I did great in the class without letting on I was "different" maybe I wasn't so different after all, was my own labling holding me back?

Vaccinations & Anti-Vaxxers

Opposing Viewpoints and Points of View Reference are both databases that can help you see other sides of arguments.  Both of these databases are not favored by professors because they rely on opinions and personal views.  If you find yourself unable to see other sides of an issue, that is what these databases are good for, not research but helping you to define various sides of a topic.

Zoo by LKaras Work

Like many polarizing topics, zoos have people who love them or hate them.  Usually, there are also those who like zoos and see their benefits when done well and dislike poorly run zoos.  Is there a difference between the Tiger King Joe Exotic and the San Diago Zoological Park? Finding this middle ground is often the best way to navigate through a topic to look past the all-or-nothing attitude.

Exploring & Finding Topics HeaderThis guide offers places to find topic ideas and start your research. There is a page dedicated to controversial topics

Child Labor

Bangladesh tannery worker

Topics surrounding issues such as child labor can trick you into an all-or-nothing trap if you blindly think "all child labor is bad".  When you find yourself thinking this way begin by breaking down elements of your topic... For example, how would you define  "child"? In our country usually, it's 18 to vote, or 21 to drink, and occasionally 16 to drive.  However around the world, those ages differ; in most of the world, you must be at least 18 to drive.  In Japan 13 is the age of consent, but a girl must be 20 to get married without her parents' permission.  In general, around the world, the minimum age to work is 13 but in Sri Lanka, it's 10.  So if your argument is NO CHILD LABOR! you must define an age, acknowledge the differences around the world and reconcile those elements in your paper.   


When writing about a controversial topic try to look at all the different things people are saying "They" do.  Immigration, for example, has many different elements and they are often in opposition to each other.  Look for research that addresses each side of the argument.  You may do a search for articles that discuss the idea that immigrants take jobs away from Americans and also find that studies show they tend to do work Americans will not do.  Some think they are all criminals while others feel they offer diversity and increase our living standards.

Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Assisted Dying

Right to die with digninaty map

Some topics use words that carry certain ingrained attitudes and beliefs.  Suicide, for example, has a negative religious and social stigma that surrounds it so using alternative language can help you to alter your discussion about a topic.  Choosing instead to use "right to die" or "dying with dignity" or even euthanasia as ways to describe assisted suicide are ways to steer your audience toward or away from your argument.  Often there are many shades of gray when looking at a topic and all of your arguments may be on the same side but vary by definition.  There are slight and legal differences between assisted suicide, assisted dying, and euthanasia and often it is in the definition of the topic where you can make your argument.