Archive for category Psychology
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
- Confirmation bias
- Fundamental attribution error
- Neglect of probability
- The trust gap
- 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.
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.
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 »
The essay is aimed at other editors. It’s “behind the scenes”, not part of the encyclopedia itself. So it can be more informal – dare I say humourous? – than the articles themselves. My hope is that it will act as a guideline for other editors and may encourage people who are just starting to contribute, or just thinking of contributing, to the psychology articles.
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.
Though lots has been written about Bayes, I wanted to convey to a lay audience what he achieved and why it’s so important now. Here is an attempt at a set of “footnotes” for anyone who wants to follow up: Read the rest of this entry »
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.”
I’ve been following with interest the discussion of confirmation bias on Twitter, blogs and Wikipedia discussion. My favourite of the blog posts is one by Rogue Medic which expands on and talks through the Francis Bacon quote which appears in the Wikipedia article. It highlights another area where confirmation bias can lead to disaster.
A year ago, the Wikipedia article on Confirmation bias was in a poor state. Whoever had written it was well-intentioned but they’d been working from a small number of sources and perhaps hadn’t seen the big picture. I started a substantial rewrite. The community gave me a lot of help to make the text accessible, and a couple of weeks ago it reached the highest quality standard on Wikipedia: Featured Article. (“Confirmation bias” as it was on 10th August 2009 vs “Confirmation bias” now).
This week I learned it has been chosen as “Today’s Featured Article” for tomorrow (Friday 23rd July). A one-paragraph summary will appear on the front page, where it can be seen by around four million users. Around sixty thousand will click through to the article itself. It will also be seen through the dozen or so sites that mirror Wikipedia. With this new prominence, it is more likely the article will be translated into other languages (extracts have already been translated into Spanish and Catalan). The are also other delivery platforms: I’m already planning a spoken version of the article, but won’t have time to do it before tomorrow. Being naturally the first Google hit for “confirmation bias”, the article has a high prominence (getting nearly a thousand hits per day) and it is regularly recommended and discussed on blogs, online communities such as Reddit.
So, it’s fascinating to watch the ripple effect of this article to which I’ve contributed. Confirmation bias is something you’d definitely hear about if you do certain courses within a psychology degree, but it’s not exactly the sort of topic that you would expect to see stories about in the newspaper or the evening news. Hence it’s significant that perhaps millions of people will hear about it through this article. To be honest, this provokes mixed feelings. Read the rest of this entry »
Dan Pink’s talk (previously featured) and some wonderful, witty animation combine to make a short film about the psychology of motivation. This illustrates why the economic concept of incentive is problematic: it’s just not the case that more monetary incentive means that work will be done more enthusiastically. Pink comments on the success of projects such as Wikipedia which are dependent on free labour.
The above is an extract from a forty-minute talk that you can see in full without the illustration.