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Unfolding Case Studies: Dynamic Mental Models in a Public Health Context

Using Cases to Adapt Our Mental Models in Light of New Evidence

Dr. Jo Azzarello, University of Oklahoma, USA

Mental model’ is a term used to describe a person’s interpretation of a presenting problem situation. The model might be simple (such as ‘the car is speeding’) or it might be very complex and involve a great deal of scientific or theoretical information. But the important thing about a mental model is that humans rely on them to determine what they believe and how they will act (Senge, 1990). Dr. Azzarello focuses this lesson on training the ability to adapt one’s mental model as one becomes more knowledgeable about the problem situation. Without this ability, one is likely to be working on a suboptimal or inaccurate framing of the problem and arriving at a suboptimal or even incorrect resolution. Adapting one’s mental model in the like of new evidence is the result of analysis, inference and explanation and also captures the habit of mind we have identified as the critical thinking disposition of ‘cognitive maturity.’ This ability is vital to competent clinical reasoning. These are components of problem framing (getting the problem right), a first necessary if subsequent intervention are to be relevant. To supplement the material in this chapter, we also recommend Dr. Azzarello’s 2006 paper in Nurse Educator (cited below).

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