Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We Are Not As Logical As We Think We Are

I have talked about this in various posts before, but it is one of those topics that I for one need to be reminded of on a regular basis. We do not think only logically. In fact, behavioral and cognitive scientists among others have discovered a whole slew of biases that regularly stump and stymie us. They are usually placed into four areas:

  • Social biases,
  • memory biases,
  • decision-making biases, and
  • possibility/belief biases.
Scribd. has posted a slide show that has information on these biases as taken from Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia:
A cognitive bias is the human tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. Such biases can result from information-processing shortcuts called heuristics. They include errors in statistical judgment, social attribution, and memory. Cognitive biases are a common outcome of human thought, and often drastically skew the reliability of anecdotal and legal evidence.
I have had two interesting examples of this recently. One was a personal experience. I was having a conversation with several people about some of the Academy Award-winning movies and we got around to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I commented that I really liked the film and it coincided with my clinical experience at a state mental hospital in Pennsylvania in 1974. The problem is, the movie wasn't released until 15 months after I had finished my clinical training. What I think has happened is that I read the book at around the time I was doing my work at the state hospital and my mind put the book, the movie, and the experience together.

The other experience was in another conversation when an acquaintance was remembering a very specific event in his life. He says it happened when he was 13 and the KC Chiefs had just won the Super Bowl. There were a number of problems with his memory:
  • The Chiefs were in the first Super Bowl in January, 1967. They lost (to the Packers).
  • They were next in the Super Bowl in January, 1970. They won (against the Vikings.)
  • My acquaintance was 13 in 1965.
He gave me a stunned look and just sat there.

These can be found in various forms among the 104 cognitive biases that regularly lead us astray. Does that mean we shouldn't trust our memory? Well, partly. But it does mean that we should be careful when we think we are so right that we can't in any way, shape, or form, be wrong. Chances are, I might very well be wrong and basing my life-or-death decisions on incorrect information.

Cognitive Biases - A Visual Study Guide                                                              

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