Rising above cognitive bias

Cognitive biases

A cognitive bias, wikipedia tells us ia “a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment”. Over the last decade or so there is an ever increasing list of cognitive biases added to from social psychology, behavioural economics and cognitive science.

Some evolutionary psychologists suggest that these ‘limited’ and hasty ways of thinking have served the species well and that they are in essence adaptive. Cognitive biases enable faster decisions to be made, when time is more critical than accuracy. These biases, the evolutionary psychologists  might say, are not ‘designed’ to give us dependable decisions with all things considered, they are ‘designed’ to give us good enough outcomes for immediate purposes. The brain has developed a series of shortcuts that can serve us well in complex situations where we have incomplete information and which involve some component of risk.


The problem is that many of these biases only do their job well in specific contexts and yet our worldview, opinions and beliefs can be coloured by them all the time.  Thus it is vitally important that we understand that these biases exist and that they exercise a deep influence on our thinking.

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy – care of David McRaney

The bottom line here is that despite the fact we may consider ourselves to be rational and objective, we actually think in hugely irrational ways. We just need to accept this and learn to adjust our thinking accordingly. Please view the presentation for more information and links.

As Dan Ariely says in his TED talk above …….

“When it comes to building the physical world, we kind of understand our limitations. We build steps. And we build these things that not everybody can use, obviously. We understand our limitations, and we build around them. But for some reason, when it comes to the mental world, when we design things like healthcare and retirement and stock markets, we somehow forget the idea that we are limited. I think that if we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way we understand our physical limitations, even though they don’t stare us in the face the same way, we could design a better world, and that, I think, is the hope of this thing.”

Some useful follow up viewing and reading ….

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