Archive for category Bias

Misunderstanding cognitive bias

It’s great to see the enthusiasm with which cognitive biases are discussed on social media. Occasionally, though, enthusiasm gets in the way of accuracy, and an explanation takes hold even though it isn’t quite right.

The latest example comes via the (normally excellent) I Fucking Hate Pseudoscience site and Facebook community. The post “Understanding Bias- What colour is this truck?” starts off well, pointing out that our judgement of the likelihood of getting attacked by a shark is biased by a number of factors: sensationalism in the media, the fact that the media are global rather than local, and the individual’s unconscious assumption that global information reflects local risks.

The sentence “The mental shortcut we use by making this assumption is an example of a heuristic.” is ambiguous, because the previous paragraph mentioned a bunch of processes, not all of which count as heuristics, but I’m happy to give the benefit of the doubt so far.

In the next paragraph, I start to question if the article is actually about heuristics and biases. This is where the picture of a truck comes in: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nice article from Cracked on biases

It’s not exactly known as an educational site, but Cracked.com often comes up with engaging and well-written articles on critical thinking and psychology, with pointers to the underlying scientific research. I was pleased to see this latest article on “5 logical fallacies that make you wrong more often than you think”.

The five “fallacies” they explain (really they mean biases rather than logical fallacies) are

  1. Confirmation bias
  2. Fundamental attribution error
  3. Neglect of probability
  4. The trust gap
  5. Argumentative theory of reasoning

The more I learn about critical thinking, the more I realise “logical fallacy” is a useless concept, and the concept of “bias” is the one that does the work, but more about that on another day.

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Elizabeth Loftus interview

I continue to be hugely impressed with the BBC Radio 4 series Mind Changers. They avoid “pop” psychology and go right into the science, interviewing outstanding researchers and explaining their pivotal experiments. The latest episode profiles Elizabeth Loftus, a major figure in the science of memory, whose work on the unreliability of memory was central to discrediting the Recovered Memory movement. Everyone should know about Loftus’ experiments, and this episode is a great introduction, interviewing colleagues as well as Loftus herself.

Lee Ross has featured in a couple of episodes and I hope he gets an episode to himself in future for his work on attribution theory and attitude polarisation.

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The plasticity of parental love

I’m looking at some sources on happiness and life events, partly so as to improve the relevant section on Wikipedia (if you’re going to tell the world something, why not tell it how to be happy?) Here I’ve come across an interesting overlap between happiness research and bias research. Read the rest of this entry »

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Want promotion? Don’t copy your boss.

An interesting round-up from BPS Research Digest describes a series of experiments that identify what is being called a social comparison bias. This seems to be a specific kind of self-serving bias, in which people choose to promote others whose strengths are different from their own. The researchers argue that this is a kind of defensive mechanism in which people try to preserve the importance of their individual strengths.

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Monkeys show loss aversion, too

Given a choice between a risky decision and a safe decision, people choose differently depending on whether the payoffs are described as a gain or losses. This is known as “loss aversion”. Laurie Santos and her colleagues worked out how to give monkeys a choice that could be presented either as a gain or loss. Their choice patterns matched the behaviour of humans, as she reveals in this TED talk which really gets going after about eight minutes. It turns out that “a monkey financial advisor is just as dumb as your human financial advisor.”

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Deliberate wrongness: a strategy to avoid confirmation bias

Continuing my coverage of the blogs that discuss confirmation bias, I’m pleased to see Scott H Young’s post “Why I’ve Decided to Be Wrong More Often”, in which he discusses what you can do to be less biased in life. He recommends deliberately seeking out contrary opinions.

I also leave myself open to being wrong, and seek out ideas that disagree with me. I try to read books from authors with whom I disagree with. I pay most attention to commenters who argue against an article I’ve written.

More central to his strategy is to accept that mistakes are inevitable, to prepare for them and to learn from them. This involves being open to the possibility of being wrong on quite fundamental things, including political or cultural beliefs that are tied up with personal identity. It also involves self-forgiveness: accept that you were wrong, learn and move on.

My goal is to be wrong about one big idea in my life, business or philosophy every month. I know if I’m not having big moments of wrongness at this frequency, it’s almost certainly because I’m ignoring other perspectives, not because I’m infallible.

There’s an analogy with being a venture capitalist: if all of the projects they back turn out to be viable, it suggests they would haven’t taken enough risk. Venture capitalists will aim to have a certain proportion of failures among the start-ups they back, though obviously at the time they don’t know which will succeed and which will fail.

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