The Unintended Consequences of Checklists

Elise A. StaveMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Paul J. MuentenerMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Laura E. SchulzMassachusetts Institute of Technology


Research suggests that checklists reduce errors in fields ranging from aviation to medicine. Checklists are effective in part because their content is not randomly selected from available information but strongly sampled from information experts believe is critical. This sampling process supports the inference that unlisted information is unlikely to be important. However, this predicts that checklists might leave learners selectively vulnerable to unlisted sources of error. In Experiment 1, we show that adults in an aviation class detect fewer unlisted sources of error given a checklist than at baseline. In Experiment 2, we show that this inductive bias does not require previous experience with checklists: given a checklist for organizing a room, children (mean: 62 months) selectively overlooked unlisted items relative to baseline, and did so even when told the list might be incomplete.


The Unintended Consequences of Checklists (0.9 MB)

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