RSSCategory: cognitive biases

One dozen cognitive biases

January 9, 2013 | By | Reply More

The article title (“The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational“) suggests that there are only one dozen cognitive biases, but there are many others. But these are 12 cognitive biases worth noting.

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Intelligent, Clever, or Stupid

September 25, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Intelligent, Clever, or Stupid

Everyone misspeaks in public from time to time. It really is unfair to pick on politicians for the occasional gaffe. But it is fair to ask at what point such gaffes are valid signs of a fundamental problem. I think Dan Quayle simply needed to stick to the prepared statements—he did not “wing it” very well, but he kept trying, and slipped repeatedly on his inherent inability to compose cogent remarks on the fly.

But Romney is beginning to show some serious problems. Never mind his 47% statement, he was arguably playing to his crowd. But his recent remarks about being unable to open the windows in an airliner are very troubling.

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Onion: Elder offers terrible advice

June 21, 2012 | By | Reply More
Onion:  Elder offers terrible advice

The Onion “reports” on this grandfather’s terrible advice.

This resonated with me. How often do you hear someone claiming that, “Of course I know what I’m doing. I’ve been doing it for 45 years.” Really? You should be deemed proficient because you’ve been hacking away at it for a long time? It’s certainly true that a lot of people who are excellent at an activity have been doing it for a long time. This is not the same thing as claiming that one is excellent because they’ve been doing it for a long time.

This sort of claim violates basic rules of logic. Just because this is true: “If it rains on me, I’ll get wet”, it does not follow that “If I’m getting wet, it is raining on me.” You could be in the shower or at a swimming pool.

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The real risk of an American dying in a terrorist attack

June 20, 2012 | By | 6 Replies More
The real risk of an American dying in a terrorist attack

Comedy Central’s Indecision presents some rather unsurprising statistics that need to be read by every member of Congress. What is an American’s likelihood of dying from a terrorist attack?

According to government statistics, roughly as many Americans are killed annually by unstable furniture and falling televisions as are killed in terrorist attacks.

What else is more dangerous than a terrorist attack?

16 oz. sodas, inconvenience of going through TSA security at an airport (which discourages many people from flying, causing them to die on the highways), use of your bathroom, texting, autoerotic asphyxia, alcohol and tobacco, weather, suicide, hospital infections and doctor errors and stress.

One more thing: What is the risk of an American dying in a terrorist attack? Ronald Bailey of Reason suggests a very liberal estimate (an estimate assuming death to be more likely) would be 1 in 1.7 million, and he offers these additional statistics:

Taking these figures into account, a rough calculation suggests that in the last five years, your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 20 million. This compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000. In other words, in the last five years you were four times more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist.

This same article indicates that the U.S. spends $400 million dollars per life saved in antiterrorism security measures (cost$1 Trillion since 2001), but this number doesn’t include military expenses by the United States. It’s also important to keep in mind that the U.S. spends more on maintaining a military than the rest of the world combined.

Perhaps if Americans weren’t so afflicted with innumeracy, we could accept the true (miniscule) risk of dying from a terrorist act, and focus on preventing much more likely forms of death. Perhaps we could spend a significant chunk of that “anti-terrorism” money to combat innumeracy.

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But do they even know what evolution is?

May 31, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More
But do they even know what evolution is?

15 Miss USA contestants demonstrate that they don’t know enough to know that they don’t know enough. In other words, these beautiful contestants are beautifully demonstrating the Dunning-Kruger cognitive effect:

The proper answer from each of these contestants should have been “I can’t answer that question, because I don’t understand the scientific theory of evolution. Maybe I should go read a few good books, on evolution. Then I’ll let you know whether I am competent to answer that question.” To answer like this, though, is not the American way. When you are prepared with make-up and the cameras come on, you tend to wing it in such a way to please the majority of your audience. This is what beauty contestants and politicians have in common.

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The science of how to get along

May 23, 2012 | By | Reply More
The science of how to get along

Civilpolitics.org has a mission to use rigorous science to help others, including politicians, to get along. The mission is “to help you find academic scholarship that illuminates the causes and consequences of political civility and incivility.”

And here’s more, from the “Moral Psychology” page:

At CivilPolitics, most (but not all) of us believe that direct appeals to people to behave civilly will have very limited effects. We take a more social-psychological approach to the problem of intergroup conflict. We are more interested in legal, systemic, and policy changes that will, for example, change the ways that the “teams” are drawn up (e.g., in elections), and supported (e.g., financially). We want to change the playing field and the rules of the game, in the hopes that players in the future (citizens as well as politicians) will be less likely to demonize each other, mischaracterize each others’ motives, and refuse (on moral grounds) to engage in negotiations, interactions, and cooperative enterprises that would serve the nation’s interests.

Check out the “Social Psychology” page, which contains this advice (with lots of explanatory links).

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Of course I knew how things would turn out back then: The Illusion of Inevitability

May 20, 2012 | By | Reply More
Of course I knew how things would turn out back then:  The Illusion of Inevitability

In his new book, Thinking: Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman notes that human beings constantly claim that they understood the past much better than they actually did at the time. Referring to Nissam Taleb’s concept of “narrative fallacy,” Kahneman details how we employ flawed stories from the past to shape our current views of the world. This is not a good thing (though it often feels good while we engage in over-confident reasoning, as pointed out by Robert Burton); the narrative fallacy is a pernicious problem often a dangerous one.

Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories of people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on countless events that failed to happen. Any recent civilian event is a candidate to become the kernel of a causal narrative. Taleb suggests that we humans constantly fool ourselves by constructing flimsy accounts of the past and believing that they are true.

[Page 199]. Human beings strive to create and embrace simple stories that give simple causal accounts based upon general propensities and personality traits. The “halo effect” contributes to this coherence–we tend to assign a generalized valence to other humans, and to assume that those people always act in accordance with our generalized positive or negative characterization of them. In this world, handsome people are also smart, moral and athletic. The halo effect keeps our narratives simple and it leaves little room for true statements such as the following shocker: “Hitler loved dogs and little children.” Our simplistic stories don’t leave room for outlier qualities. We resist the fact that obtuse people are sometimes correct and that the people we admire sometimes act foolishly.

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Voter preparation manual

February 20, 2012 | By | Reply More
Voter preparation manual

I had posted on this Psyblog list before: “Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies.” I re-read it this morning. It would seem to be a good article for all people to read before voting. It’s important for each of us to know how our brains work before assuming that we are voting with “free will.” We often act on the basis of invisible social pressures. It’s not a good idea to simply declare that we are “rational” without examining these (and many other) vulnerabilities and biases. Here are the studies summarized in the Psyblog article:

  1. The Halo Effect: When Your Own Mind is a Mystery
  2. How and Why We Lie to Ourselves: Cognitive Dissonance
  3. War, Peace and the Role of Power in Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment
  4. Our Dark Hearts: The Stanford Prison Experiment
  5. Just Following Orders? Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment
  6. Why We All Stink as Intuitive Psychologists: The False Consensus Bias
  7. Why Groups and Prejudices Form So Easily: Social Identity Theory
  8. How to Avoid a Bad Bargain: Don’t Threaten
  9. Why We Don’t Help Others: Bystander Apathy
  10. I Can’t Believe My Eyes: Conforming to the Norm
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Bill Moyers discusses America’s cultural divide with Jonathan Haidt

February 5, 2012 | By | 9 Replies More
Bill Moyers discusses America’s cultural divide with Jonathan Haidt

From Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers discusses our contentious culture with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

Here is my summary of the excellent conversation, in which Haidt offers a roadmap for those of us weary from years of unproductive cultural clashes:

Groupish tribalism is generally good because it ramps up cooperation among those in the ingroup while animosity toward outsiders is usually minimal. But tribalism evolved for purposes of “war,” so that when a certain intensity is reached, “a switch is flipped, the other side is evil. They are not just our opponents. They are evil. And once you think they are evil, the ends justify the means and you can break laws and you can do anything because it is in service of fighting evil.” (min 4:30). Haidt argues that though “morality” often makes us do things we think of as good, it also makes us do things we think of as bad. In the end, we are all born to be hypocrites. Our minds didn’t evolve simply to allow to know the truth. In social settings, our minds are not designed to really let us know who did what to whom. “They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances and reputation. And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation; we are so good at it that we believe the nonsense we say to other people.”

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