Cognitive Bias

Wade‘s put together a nice list of 26 common cognitive biases.

  1. Bandwagon effect – the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink, herd behaviour, and manias. Carl Jung pioneered the idea of the collective unconscious which is considered by Jungian psychologists to be responsible for this cognitive bias.
  2. Bias blind spot – the tendency not to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases.
  3. Choice-supportive bias – the tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they actually were.
  4. Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  5. Congruence bias – the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing.
  6. Contrast effect – the enhancement or diminishment of a weight or other measurement when compared with recently observed contrasting object.
  7. Déformation professionnelle – the tendency to look at things according to the conventions of one’s own profession, forgetting any broader point of view.
  8. Disconfirmation bias – the tendency for people to extend critical scrutiny to information which contradicts their prior beliefs and uncritically accept information that is congruent with their prior beliefs.
  9. Endowment effect – the tendency for people to value something more as soon as they own it.
  10. Focusing effect – prediction bias occurring when people place too much importance on one aspect of an event; causes error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome.
  11. Hyperbolic discounting – the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, the closer to the present both payoffs are.
  12. Illusion of control – the tendency for human beings to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes which they clearly cannot.
  13. Impact bias – the tendency for people to overestimate the length or the intensity of the impact of future feeling states.
  14. Information bias – the tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action.
  15. Loss aversion – the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains (see also sunk cost effects)
  16. Neglect of probability – the tendency to completely disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty.
  17. Mere exposure effect – the tendency for people to express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.
  18. Omission bias – The tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions).
  19. Outcome bias – the tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.
  20. Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times.
  21. Post-purchase rationalization – the tendency to persuade oneself through rational argument that a purchase was a good value.
  22. Pseudocertainty effect – the tendency to make risk-averse choices if the expected outcome is positive, but make risk-seeking choices to avoid negative outcomes.
  23. Selective perception – the tendency for expectations to affect perception.
  24. Status quo bias – the tendency for people to like things to stay relatively the same.
  25. Von Restorff effect – the tendency for an item that “stands out like a sore thumb” to be more likely to be remembered than other items.
  26. Zero-risk bias – preference for reducing a small risk to zero over a greater reduction in a larger risk.

The truth “out there” is different

A couple of curiosities have come up recently concerning national identity and how it distorts (rightly or wrongly) one’s view of things.

First was a map of national stereotypes based on Google searches for e.g. “what the English are known for“. [via Mike]

Not sure what “aristocratic kitchens” are – kitchens that the owners never enter? – and I really didn’t know the Swedes still carve Viking longboats at the weekend. Anyway, thought it was interesting as an emergent view of national stereotypes, and how easy it is to recognize rather than agree with them.

Second (and loosely connected) was a letter to the Times published last Friday title “Truth Exchange”. Commenting on an initiative between Agincourt and an English school, one Dr Kerry Bluglass of Warwick wrote

Not long ago, a charming French acquaintance of mine asked me, in all seriousness, about the British habit of naming landmarks after French victories.

“Which ones?”, I inquired.

“Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Station,” he replied. I was completely unable to convince him of the true outcome of these battles, and I later discovered that this view is not unusual in France.”

Popular history, it would seem, might not written by the victors (be they French or British). It could be written by the group you’re in. And that’s a little terrifying.

Fear and prejudice

Funny thing happened on the tube this morning. An Arabic looking bloke carrying a rucksack hopped on at Earl’s Court, and you could feel the whole carriage tense up. This unease and the awkward glances stayed for a couple of stops, until someone he knew spotted him, and the two started chatting. At that point, people visibly relaxed. Much to my shame, myself included.

It’s a horrible feeling, prejudice, however short-lived.

The Sting in the Tail

A couple of interesting discussions have caught my eye recently. One is about unkind communities and the other is about alternatives to the “mainstream”. It’s how closely these are related that has got me thinking, because it seems that as soon as you “dare to know” what is going outside the mainstream and start rooting around in a network’s tail, you can expect, at least initially, to get stung.

Unkind Crowds
Anil Dash has picked up on the poor treatment of David Hailey and says how there are

more and more examples of people just getting browbeaten by the blogosphere

Later on, in Anil talks about the value of perspective and notes that

Being too “in the trenches” on a topic seems to lead people into saying polarizing things, or into demeaning or dismissing those who disagree with them.

He’s spot on. I’m slightly suspicious of the way people invoke “the Wisdom of Crowds” in some of these sorts of conversations. (It seems increasingly to be in danger of being an “exception proves the rule”, blind faith type of comment. If you sit down and think about it, of course a rule’s being broken doesn’t prove it. Quite the opposite. And if you sit down and think about it, of course not all crowds are wise. Witch trials, apartheid, lemmings … and so on.) Anyway Surowiecki was at pains to point out that crowds seem only able to be wise when they are indepedent, decentralised, and diverse.

But what if the further you delve into the tail, the less likely you are to find ‘wise’ communities, communities that have these three features?

Continue reading The Sting in the Tail