Cognitive biases

February 25, 2014

An earlier post featured three TED lectures by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely, each of which revealed some of the predictable ways in which the human mind falls short of the ideal of perfect rationality. Ariely is just one of a large and growing number of researchers interested in human irrationality. These researchers come from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, behavioural economics, behavioural ethics, and experimental philosophy. And just as the research in this area is increasing, so too are the findings concerning the full extent of human irrationality. The following extensive list from Wikipedia summarizes some of the biases that researchers have found in experimental conditions. Among the most important or most common cognitive biases on the list are the following:

  • Availability cascade: A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or “repeat something long enough and it will become true”).
  • Backfire effect: When people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.
  • Fundamental attribution error: The tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.
  • Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  • Bandwagon effect: The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.
  • Belief bias: An effect where someone’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.
  • Bias blind spot: The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.
  • Hyperbolic discounting: The tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, where the tendency increases the closer to the present both payoffs are.
  • Impact bias: The tendency to overestimate the length or the intensity of the impact of future feeling states.

While the Wikipedia list is helpful in bringing together many cognitive biases in one list, it is also unnecessarily long due to the high degree of overlap among some of these biases.The following books provide more organized and informative summaries of at least some of the cognitive biases:

  1. The Art of Thinking Clearly (Rolf Dobelli)
  2. The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (Scott Plous).
  3. Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them (Belsky & Gilovich)
  4. How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Every Day Life (Gilovich)
  5. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (Ariely)
  6. The Upside of Irrationality (Ariely)
  7. Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman)

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