cognitive bias

Lost in a Challenge

"We're social animals, not rational animals. We emerge out of relationships, and we are deeply interpenetrated, one with another. And so when we see another person, we reenact in our own minds what we see in their minds. When we watch a car chase in a movie, it's almost as if we are subtly having a car chase. When we watch pornography, it's a little like having sex, though probably not as good. And we see this when lovers walk down the street, when a crowd in Egypt or Tunisia gets caught up in an emotional contagion, the deep interpenetration. And this revolution in who we are gives us a different way of seeing, I think, politics, a different way, most importantly, of seeing human capital...

...face-to-face groups are much smarter than groups that communicate electronically, because ninety  percent of our communication is non-verbal. And the effectiveness of a group is not determined by the IQ of the group; it's determined by how well they communicate, how often they take turns in conversation...

...The conscious mind hungers for success and prestige. The unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence, when the skull line disappears and we are lost in a challenge or a task -- when a craftsman feels lost in his craft, when a naturalist feels at one with nature, when a believer feels at one with God's love. That is what the unconscious mind hungers for. And many of us feel it in lovewhen lovers feel fused."

~ David Brooks, from "The Social Animal," TED Talks, March 2011

See also: Brooks, D. (2011). The social animal: The hidden sources of love, character, and achievement. New York: Random House. 

All about Stories

Stumbled upon this quote on the Scientific American's Oberservations blog (Jan. 8, 2012):

“There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book… [they are] all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse. So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias.

Often, people buy them as a kind of talisman, like 'I bought this book. I won't be Predictably Irrational.' It's like people want to hear the worst, so psychologically, they can prepare for it or defend against it. It's why there's such a market for pessimism. But to think that buying the book gets you somewhere, that's maybe the bigger fallacy. It's just like the evidence that shows the most dangerous people are those that have been taught some financial literacy. They're the ones who go out and make the worst mistakes. It's the people that realize, 'I don't know anything at all,' that end up doing pretty well.

...So if you think which set of stories you end up hearing, you end up hearing the glamour stories, the seductive stories, and again I'm telling you, don't trust them. They're people using your love of stories to manipulate you. Pull back and say, 'What are the messages, and what are the stories that no one has an incentive to tell?' and start telling yourself those, and see if any of your decisions change. That's one simple way -- you can never get out of the pattern of thinking in terms of stories, but you can improve the extent to which you think in stories and make some better decisions.”

~ Tyler Cowen, the Holbert C. Harris Chair of economics as a professor at George Mason University and co-author of the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution

See also: You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself

Seeing Patterns Everywhere

"When you desire meaning, when you want things to line up, you see patterns everywhere. Order makes it easier to be a person, to navigate this sloppy world. You're born looking for clusters where chance events have built up like sand into dunes. Picking out clusters of coincidence is a predictable malfunction of a normal human mind." ~ David McRaney, from You Are Not So Smart


Feeling Secure

“We respond to the feeling of security and not the reality. Most of the time that works…So it’s important for us, those of us who design security, who look at security policy, or even look at public policy in ways affect security [to realize that] it’s not just reality it’s feeling and reality. What’s important is that they be about the same. If our feelings match reality we make better security trade-offs.”

~ Bruce Schneier

Common cognitive biases related to risk perception:

  • We tend to exaggerate spectacular and rare risks and downplay common risks
  • The unknown is perceived to be riskier than the familiar
  • Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks
  • People underestimate risks in situations they do control and overestimate them in situations they don’t control
  • We estimate the probability of something by how easy it is to bring instances of it to mind [availability heuristic]
  • We respond to stories more than data

Books by Bruce Schneier: