The Quirks of Thinking

“The first principle is you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool”. Richard P. Feynman.

Over many decades Psychologists have shown through a large number of experiments that we have weaknesses in our thinking that bias our view of the reality of any given situation and that also effect our ability to make optimal judgements and decisions. These weaknesses are often termed human‘quirks of thinking’ and are briefly described below:
  • Seeing patterns in data that are not there
  • Drawing unsupported conclusion from incomplete and inconclusive data
  • Seeing what we expect to see when data is actually ambiguous or inconsistent
  • Basic Attribution errors
    • Self serving bias
      • Tendency to take credit for success and blame external factors for failure.
    • Self-centred bias
      • Tendency for an individual contributor to take a disproportionate amount of credit for the outcome of a group effort.
    • Egocentricity bias
      • Tendency to exaggerate the importance of one’s role in past events.
    • False consensus effect
      • Tendency to believe the most people share one’s opinions and values.
    • Assumption of uniqueness
      • Tendency to overestimate one’s uniqueness. Illusion of control. Tendency to exaggerate the degree of one’s control over external events.
    • Hindsight bias
      • Tendency to retrospectively overestimate the probability of past events occurring.
    • Self-righteous bias
      • Tendency to regard oneself as having higher moral standards or moral consistency than others.
    • In group/out group bias
      • Tendency to view members of the group to which one belongs in a more positive light than those outside of the group.
    • Base rate fallacy
      • Tendency to neglect population characteristics and prior probabilities when making probabilistic inferences.
    • Conjugation fallacy
      • Tendency to regard the conjugation of two events as more probable than either of them occurring singly.
There are also physiological aspects of the brains function that limit the depth and duration of our thought processes.
  • The neuroscience. Our brain only thinks about things that it needs to and to a depth that is limited by the capacity of our working (short term) memory, our experience stored in long term memory and potentially by the amount of energy required for deeper thought.
  • Cues of perception. We tend to use very few cues out of many that are available to make a decision or a judgement.
The first stage in improving our objectivity of reality is to be aware of these quirks. We all have them and one has to ignore the fact that the ‘assumption of uniqueness’ may work against us and make us believe that we are unique amongst all others and have no such quirks. This is a fallacy. We will take a look at these quirks in more detail andlook at some strategies we can apply to limit their effect upon our views of reality.

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