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  • It can be hard to make rational sense of the world.

  • But is your brain your own worst enemy?

  • Here are four of the many ways your brain's processing shortcuts

  • are playing tricks on you.

  • Welcome to cognitive bias.

  • Understanding a bit about it could change the way you see the world.

  • So here goes.

  • A recent peer-reviewed scientific study found caffeine consumption

  • is strongly linked with developing cancer.

  • On this scale,

  • to what extent do you agree or disagree

  • with the findings of this study?

  • Relax,

  • this study is fake.

  • However, your answer will be directly influenced

  • by the amount of caffeine you drink.

  • Cognitive bias number one...

  • Self-serving bias is your brain's

  • strong natural tendency to interpret information in such a way as

  • to unduly favour itself.

  • In this experiment,

  • caffeine drinkers rated the study's validity consistently lower

  • than non-caffeine drinkers.

  • Subjects with a negative personal stake in the outcome of research

  • were less convinced by the data.

  • How irrational.

  • Your brain will reject perfectly viable information

  • simply because it has negative implications

  • for your personal beliefs and behaviours.

  • Likewise, it will tend to eagerly accept information

  • with positive implications,

  • even if that information is flawed or inconclusive.

  • So why does your brain do this?

  • Self-serving bias protects one's fragile ego from threat and injury.

  • That last group presentation you gave was either a success,

  • thanks to your brilliant work.

  • Or was a failure, thanks to everyone else.

  • You gotta look after that ego.

  • OK, a new thought experiment.

  • Look at this parking.

  • What do you think of the red car's driver?

  • If you thought poorly of the driver's character,

  • you have performed cognitive bias number two.

  • This is your brain's attempt to explain behaviour

  • by placing undue emphasis on internal characteristics of the person,

  • rather than external factors.

  • Consider that just moments ago,

  • these cars were parked in a way

  • that left the red car's driver with little option.

  • Does that change your opinion?

  • Fundamental attribution error is often performed when driving.

  • I'm speeding because I'm in a rush,

  • whereas, they're speeding because they're an inconsiderate maniac.

  • Your brain has limited capacity to interpret the world.

  • It can observe the badly parked car

  • and understand that someone put it there,

  • but that's it.

  • To theorise about the historical arrangement of the cars,

  • or the situational needs of the driver

  • is a complex and potentially unending use

  • of finite cognitive resources.

  • On to the next one.

  • Here's a famous experiment by Peter Wason.

  • Play along at home.

  • Subjects were given a three number sequence,

  • told that it follows a simple rule, and asked to figure out the rule.

  • They were allowed to suggest their own number sequences

  • and told to continue until they were confident

  • that they had cracked the rule.

  • Were you thinking of a sequence like this?

  • This follows the rule.

  • And another, something like this?

  • This also follows the rule.

  • So, what is the rule?

  • It's to multiply by two, right?

  • Well...no.

  • Your brain just performed another cognitive bias,

  • The actual rules is any sequence of numbers in ascending order.

  • So what went wrong?

  • Your brain landed on its first hypothesis, multiply by two,

  • from there, every suggested number sequence was used

  • to confirm that initial hypothesis rather than actually test it.

  • A rational approach would be to attempt to disprove this hypothesis

  • by suggesting other number sequences that didn't follow it.

  • But, your brain isn't rational.

  • It has a tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall

  • information that confirms its pre-existing beliefs,

  • numbers or otherwise.

  • Confirmation bias is based on limitations

  • in the brain's ability to handle complex tasks,

  • and the shortcuts that it uses as a result.

  • The brain finds it really difficult

  • to test alternative hypotheses in parallel.

  • It's good, but it's not that good.

  • OK,

  • so you've learnt a few cognitive biases,

  • you're now prepared to combat them in your own brain.

  • After all, knowing is half the battle, right?

  • Well, not exactly.

  • That's cognitive bias number four.

  • The action figure and TV character, G.I. Joe,

  • famously said, "Knowing is half the battle."

  • When it comes to cognitive bias, he was well out.

  • Knowing is one thing,

  • but habits, situations and other processes still rule the roost.

  • Self-awareness wont beat it.

  • You may know a badly parked car does not make a bad person,

  • but you'll still feel negatively towards them.

  • You may know your brain will take shortcuts to confirm the hypotheses

  • it already holds,

  • but it will still take those shortcuts.

  • You may know that your brain will protect your ego at every turn,

  • but the ego security will still be out in force.

  • So knowing about cognitive biases is way less than half the battle.

  • Even knowing the G.I. Joe fallacy about knowing about cognitive biases,

  • is still way less than half the battle.

  • Funny how your brain can pontificate about its own limitations

  • but do almost nothing about them.

  • But, in the true spirit of cognitive bias

  • you will be able to point it out in others.

It can be hard to make rational sense of the world.

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B1 UK cognitive brain bias rule knowing ego

Four ways your brain is playing tricks on you | BBC Ideas

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    Tracy Wang posted on 2020/02/19
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