Cognitive biases and other fun tricks
April 6, 2005 6:13 PM   Subscribe

You are very bad at making decisions. Welcome to the world of cognitive biases. They are why it is so easy to see conspiracies in the death of microbiologists, to be unaware of how incompetent we are, to regret our bids on eBay, and to be superstitious rationalists. Perhaps you should learn to use them before you are taken in. Finally, cognitive biases are why you will remember the end of this po
posted by blahblahblah (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that's an amazing post, blahblahblah. Thanks!

(and hey, at least I KNOW I'm incompetent. :) )
posted by Malor at 6:28 PM on April 6, 2005


See also Project Implicit - not accusing you of dupe-ing, because there's lots of good links here, just more interesting stuff in this general category.

Project Implicit was FPP'd before but when I google it, the only reference I get is to the cover of beta.metafilter.com. Wassupwidat?
posted by rkent at 6:32 PM on April 6, 2005


"Unskilled and Unaware" is one of my favorite studies. I like to use it as a way of looking at myself periodically. Nice set of links.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:36 PM on April 6, 2005


Funnily enough, I posted the project implicit FPP, without thinking it would overlap here. And I meant to include in my FPP above, but forgot, the reason intelligence reform will fail and the CIA's facinating 1999 manual on the Psychology of Intelligence Analysis.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:37 PM on April 6, 2005


You're wrong. No, you're wrong.
posted by elpapacito at 6:54 PM on April 6, 2005


Great post. Thanks.
posted by interrobang at 6:58 PM on April 6, 2005


Nice post.

Martin Seligman's book Learned Optimism also goes into this. Optimists believe that they have far more control over what happens than they actually do. Pessimists are more realistic. However, Optimists do better than Pessimists in life. There is an online test that gauges your relative optimism and pessimism for those interested.
posted by sien at 6:58 PM on April 6, 2005


On a related note, behavioral finance.
posted by trharlan at 6:58 PM on April 6, 2005


thank you for a great set of links
posted by protea at 7:04 PM on April 6, 2005


An passenger jet DID NOT hit the Pentagon.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:10 PM on April 6, 2005


Ah the refreshing smell of cognitive dissonance !
posted by elpapacito at 7:15 PM on April 6, 2005


Neat-o post!
posted by yodelingisfun at 7:34 PM on April 6, 2005


From the first article:
But increasingly, attention is being paid to decision-making in the corporate realm. Because of their training and experience, managers might be presumed to be less likely to use mental shortcuts, and less vulnerable to cognitive biases.

Ha, this author has a sly sense of humor! That's laugh out loud funny.

OK, Dilbert aside, this is an interesting article.
posted by teece at 7:43 PM on April 6, 2005


Another article on incompetence. I'm always in awe of how many stupid people are doing so much better than I am, now I know why. Confidence can do some amazing things.
posted by cali at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2005


Ha, this author has a sly sense of humor! That's laugh out loud funny.

Laugh out loud funny coz it's so true?

Because of their training, it should be presumed that managers are less likely to use mental shortcuts, and less vulnerable to cognitive biases.

But I guess they weren't paying attention!

IMHO, at least 90% of corporate "stuffups" are by morons or egomaniacs who break simple rules that you get taught in Management 100, first semester of first year of a Commerce degree.

Same with Information Technology. Most of the business I've worked at since graduating would be poster boys for a "how not to run Information Systems in a business" example in a first year IS unit.

Does my head in, how many lazy and/or emotional people who are involved in professional organizations.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:09 PM on April 6, 2005


A UK paper called unconscious incompetence the "David Brent Syndrome" after the boss on The Office.

Incidentally, there's a learning theory that goes: unconscious incompetence --> conscious incompetence (you start taking classes) --> conscious competence --> unconscious competence (the student has become the master).

Zeigarnik's story reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell (I know, I know...), who wrote Blink after his long hair earned him speeding tickets and suspicious looks. Next time something minor pisses me off, I hope I can write a book.
posted by NickDouglas at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2005


So which of the Wikipedia citations, and there are probably a number, account for the voting behavior of Americans in the last US general election. Yes I know this is sort of a troll but I also believe that the Republicans have successfully tapped into a deep well of this stuff.
posted by Danf at 8:37 PM on April 6, 2005


Danf your totally right. The Learned Optimism book has quite a bit about politics. In particular it shows that politicians who make positive statements do much bettter.

In the last election, Kerry had to say 'Iraq is a disaster' and 'the twin deficits are a problem' which is a very negative message whereas Bush went around talking about how bringing Democracy to the Middle East was succeeding and was a good idea.
posted by sien at 8:51 PM on April 6, 2005


Danf your totally right. The Learned Optimism book has quite a bit about politics. In particular it shows that politicians who make positive statements do much bettter.

Which is probably why we are often so quick to cry "chicken little!" when someone presents us with a bad news prediction.

We don't want to believe bad shit is coming our way. Sadly, sometimes that really is a freight train, not the light at the end of the tunnel.

Probably plays an effect in things like Enron, too, where legions of accountants and analysts were all saying "this company is the future!" while the voices raising concern were rare and not welcome. (Although that is not all that is at play there, there's a big helping of criminal fraud in multiple industries, too.)
posted by teece at 9:28 PM on April 6, 2005


We don't want to believe bad shit is coming our way. Sadly, sometimes that really is a freight train, not the light at the end of the tunnel. Probably plays an effect in things like Enron, too, where legions of accountants and analysts were all saying "this company is the future!" while the voices raising concern were rare and not welcome.

The confirmation bias is the cognitive bias that I think you are talking about. Also relevant are decision fiascos and groupthink. There are lots of interesting reasons for screwing up, especially in groups.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:50 PM on April 6, 2005


Optimists believe that they have far more control over what happens than they actually do. Pessimists are more realistic. However, Optimists do better than Pessimists in life.

But how much of that is optimists being lucky? Couldn't it be luck > getting more of what you want > belief that this is under your control > optimism, instead of optimism > belief > doing well?

There is, of course an element of convincing people of your bullshit because you believe it so thoroughly, but I'm not convinced. Of course, I didn't RTFA because it's late, so forgive me if the doubts are thoroughly laid to rest somewhere.
posted by dame at 10:30 PM on April 6, 2005


Lalalalalalala -- I'm not listening.

Please don't ruin that microbiologists conspiracy theory for me, it was (*is*, dammit!) one of the best out there.
posted by krisjohn at 10:40 PM on April 6, 2005


So you're all saying that my omnipresent pessimism is a *good* thing?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:40 PM on April 6, 2005


The confirmation bias is the cognitive bias that I think you are talking about.

So many biases, so little time ...
posted by teece at 10:42 PM on April 6, 2005


This essay from Quackwatch seems germain to this thread. Granted, Steven Barrett has had his detractors and I agree with posters to that MeFi thread that he overreaches when he complains about alternatives to White Man's Medicine® but in my job, and in my life as a flaming moderate, it's been a good resource.
posted by Danf at 7:43 AM on April 7, 2005


Nice set of links. Thanks.

Oh, and I do make bad decisions.
posted by OmieWise at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2005


Thanks.
posted by Eideteker at 7:37 PM on April 14, 2005


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