Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks

Climate. Scientist. Warming.

Those three words contain almost no information at all but probably caused a few of your neurons to fire. Be careful, in that small reaction of yours, your biases are showing.

Humans are not rational by definition. Emotion drives more of our decisions than logic and we all suffer from cognitive biases, systematic errors in thinking that distort our perception – our mind playing tricks! Psychologists have identified over 100 of these thinking biases that arise from various processes or limitations, from limits to brain capacity to the desire to be liked or included in a group. Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks
Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks

Even if cause of these biases is sometimes difficult to distinguish, what is certain is that they exist. We compare ourselves to others to evaluate our own opinions and abilities, we hold contradictory ideas, or take actions that conflict with our beliefs – a form of mental discomfort called cognitive dissonance – and many of these biases lead to poor decision-making, especially when it concerns something that is important to our self-image.

An understanding of our biases is essential to making good – or at least not bad – decisions. So, if you are worried that your brain be your own worst enemy, here are Tip-Shacks list of common cognitive biases to be aware of.

1.  Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to the idea that people pay more attention to ideas they previously held or agreed with. A great example is the belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people.

The creative left-hander bias is in fact quite recent, historically left-handers were assumed to be “tools of Satan;” the very word “left” comes from the old English word “Lyft” which means “weak, worthless”. There is no clear scientific evidence that left-handers are any more creative than their right-handed counterparts.

2. The overconfidence effect

The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which a person’s confidence in his or her ability or judgements is greater than the objective accuracy of those judgements, especially when confidence is relatively high. Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks The overconfidence effect
The overconfidence effect

People with low ability tend to overestimate their competence more than people with high ability, this is described by the Dunning–Kruger effect.

3. The Von Restorff Effect

An individual who learns a series of similar elements (word lists, etc.) will retain the element that stands out from the others more quickly.

For example in the following list of words – desk, chair, bed, table, chipmunk, dresser, stool, couch – chipmunk is most likely to be remembered as it stands out.

4.  The contrast effect

When we experience two similar things simultaneously, our perception of the second is influenced by that of the first. If you’re going out on a first-date, your future-boyfriend will seem much more handsome if you were looking at pictures of Quasimodo, rather than – say – Brad Pitt, just before meeting him.

Strangely, for the effect to work, objects being compared need to be similar to each other: a TV reporter can seem to shrink when interviewing a tall basketball player, but not when standing next to a tall building.

5. The paradox of choice

An abundance of information leads an individual to make less effective and less satisfactory decisions than would have been made with less information. Having too many approximately equally good options is mentally draining because each option must be weighed against alternatives to select the best one.

This one is why I feel so tired after 30 minutes in any shopping mall.

6. The cheerleader effect

If your Tinder profile is full of pouty selfies, maybe it’s time to think again. The cheerleader effect describes the phenomenon that people look more attractive in a group. That’s right, a group photo not only advertises that you are more sociable and friendly, it makes you appear more beautiful. Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks The cheerleader effect
The cheerleader effect

There is reliable data to prove that this effect works. Essentially as the brain has limited capacity rather than attend to individual characteristics, we focus on the group as a whole.

7. The scarcity effect

The scarcity effect is a cognitive bias that leads an individual to give more value to a scarce product than to a product that is available in abundance.

Ever looked for a room on Expedia or Tripadvisor, and seen “only 2 rooms left at this price?” Maybe its real, but marketers employ scarcity tactics all of the time. Marketers and psychologists have both long known that if you can make products more desirable by making them appear rare.

Scarcity is not just about products, Science Direct published a study whereby women were shown a photograph of their potential dream man. Half the women were told the guy was single, while the other half were told he was in a relationship. The study reported 59% would be interested in pursuing the single guy, but that number jumped to 90% when they thought he was taken.

See also:

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7. The immediacy effect

When an individual has the choice between two rewards, they will favor the reward they can receive the earliest (or even immediately) as our brains are wired to prefer the instant and immediate over the future.

If you are shopping online an express delivery option will motivate more people to make a purchase, even if we have to pay more for faster delivery. Our desire for immediacy is also having an impact in newspapers and fiction, an increasing amount of writing – even historic dramas – are being told in the present tense to bring great immediacy and intimacy to these works.

8. The reciprocity principle

The principle of reciprocity demonstrates the effectiveness of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”

Ever wondered about the economics of shops or restaurants giving out free samples or tasters? This little bit of attention is often just enough to convert otherwise uninterested passersbys into paying customers.

A downside of the reciprocity principle is that if can often end up leaving us feeling obligated, indebted or duty-bound. You’re planning a party and you send out an invite to someone you don’t particularly like, because he invited you to his party earlier in the year; sound familiar?

9. The decoy effect

The decoy effect is another bias whereby decide if they want to buy a product by comparing it to other options; it is often used extensively by marketers to ‘nudge’ you to choose their most profitable option.

Imagine a simple, but real scenario – say at your favorite coffee shop, where a small café latte costs $3.50, and the large is $5.50. You know that the large is better value for money, but only want a small so are unlikely to be nudged to upsize. But, the introduction of a medium-size drink for $4.50 – only $1 more than the small is likely to influence you to see as a half-way house and better value for money.

Often choose the medium option? Are you making the sensible choice, or are you being manipulated to spend more on a drink larger than you want?

10. Hobson’s choice

The term, Hobson’s choice, is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson, a 16th Century livery stable owner in Cambridge, England; Hobson had an extensive stable of 40 or so horses, but only offered customers the choice of taking the horse in his stall nearest to the door or taking none at all. Cognitive biases; how your mind plays tricks Hobsons choice
Hobson’s choice; no choice!

Hobson was perhaps not the greatest businessman of his time; individuals are more likely to decide on an option when they have a choice, rather than when it is a take-it-or-leave-it option.

11. The theory of self-efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy is an individual’s perception of his or her level of competence to perform a task, and the beliefs a person holds regarding their power to affect situations, particularly regarding health.

Low self-efficacy can lead people to believe tasks to be harder than they actually are, which often results in poor planning and increased stress – “I’m no good at math,” would be a common example. People with high self-efficacy tend to take a broader view and will actively be incentivized to learn and overcome obstacles encounter, but also likelier to blame external factors – rather than themselves – for failure.

Self-efficacy has several effects on thoughts and behaviors, both low and high-efficacy individuals can be blinded by their beliefs, but in general high-efficacy individuals have greater confidence in their ability and thus are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors.

Spot any that are familiar to you?

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