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7 Stupid Thinking Errors You Probably Make

7 Stupid Thinking Errors You Probably Make
The brain isn’t a flawless piece of machinery. Although it is powerful and comes in an easy to carry container, it has it’s weaknesses. A field in psychology which studies these errors, known as biases. Although you can’t upgrade your mental hardware, noticing these biases can clue you into possible mistakes.

How Bias Hurts You

If you were in a canoe, you’d probably want to know about any holes in the boat before you start paddling. Biases can be holes in your reasoning abilities and they can impair your decision making.

Simply noticing these holes isn’t enough; a canoe will fill with water whether you are aware of a hole or not. But by being aware of the holes you can devise methods to patch them up. The entire domain of the scientific method has largely been an effort to overcome the natural inclination towards bias in reasoning.

Biases hurt you in a number of areas:

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  • Decision making. A number of biases can distort decision making. The confirmation bias can lead you to discount information that opposes existing theories. Anchoring can throw off negotiations by forcing you to sit around an arbitrary value.
  • Problem solving. Biases can impede your creativity when solving problems. A framing bias can cause you to look at a problem too narrowly. And the illusion of control can cause you to overestimate the amount your actions influence results.
  • Learning. Thinking errors also impact how you learn. The Von Restorff effect can cause you to overemphasize some information compared to the whole. Clustering illusions can also trick you into thinking you’ve learned more than you actually have.

Here are some common thinking errors:

1) Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias is a tendency to seek information to prove, rather than disprove our theories. The problem arises because often, one piece of false evidence can completely invalidate the otherwise supporting factors.

Consider a study conducted by Peter Cathcart Wason. In the study, Wason showed participants a triplet of numbers (2, 4, 6) and asked them to guess the rule for which the pattern followed. From that, participants could offer test triplets to see if their rule held.

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From this starting point, most participants picked specific rules such as “goes up by 2“ or “1x, 2x, 3x.” By only guessing triplets that fit their rule, they didn’t realize the actual rule was “any three ascending numbers.” A simple test triplet of “3, 15, 317“ would have invalidated their theories.

2) Hindsight Bias

Known more commonly under “hindsight is 20/20“ this bias causes people to see past results as appearing more probable than they did initially. This was demonstrated in a study by Paul Lazarsfeld in which he gave participants statements that seemed like common sense. In reality, the opposite of the statements was true.

3) Clustering Illusion

This is the tendency to see patterns where none actually exist. A study conducted by Thomas Gilovich, showed people were easily misled to think patterns existed in random sequences. Although this may be a necessary by product of our ability to detect patterns, it can create problems.

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The clustering illusion can result in superstitions and falling for pseudoscience when patterns seem to emerge from entirely random events.

4) Recency Effect

The recency effect is the tendency to give more weight to recent data. Studies have shown participants can more easily remember information at the end of a list than from the middle. The existence of this bias makes it important to gather enough long-term data, so daily up’s and down’s don’t lead to bad decisions.

5) Anchoring Bias

Anchoring is a well-known problem with negotiations. The first person to state a number will usually force the other person to give a new number based on the first. Anchoring happens even when the number is completely random. In one study, participants spun a wheel that either pointed to 15 or 65. They were then asked the number of countries in Africa that belonged to the UN. Even though the number was arbitrary, answers tended to cluster around either 15 or 65.

6) Overconfidence Effect

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And you were worried about having too little confidence? Studies have shown that people tend to grossly overestimate their abilities and characteristics from where they should. More than 80% of drivers place themselves in the top 30%.

One study asked participants to answer a difficult question with a range of values to which they were 95% certain the actual answer lay. Despite the fact there was no penalty for extreme uncertainty, less than half of the answers lay within the original margin.

7) Fundamental Attribution Error

Mistaking personality and character traits for differences caused by situations. A classic study demonstrating this had participants rate speakers who were speaking for or against Fidel Castro. Even if the participants were told the position of the speaker was determined by a coin toss, they rated the attitudes of the speaker as being closer to the side they were forced to speak on.

Studies have shown that it is difficult to out-think these cognitive biases. Even when participants in different studies were warned about bias beforehand, this had little impact on their ability to see past them.

What an understanding of biases can do is allow you to design decision making methods and procedures so that biases can be circumvented. Researchers use double-blind studies to prevent bias from contaminating results. Making adjustments to your decision making, problem solving and learning patterns you can try to reduce their effects.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

27 Ways to Instantly Feel Better When You’re Down

27 Ways to Instantly Feel Better When You’re Down

Who has never gone through some ups and downs in the life? But some people can feel better in a quicker way than others because they’ve found their own remedies to heal the bad feelings.

If you haven’t found yours, these ways will help you instantly feel better and ditch that negative self talk when you’re feeling bad about yourself:

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  1. Listen to the songs you loved when you were in high school or university, this will recall you of the old good times.
  2. Write something. Write down how you feel as a way to express your thoughts if you don’t feel like talking to anyone.
  3. Draw something. Draw anything you want because no one’s going to judge your drawing skills.
  4. Read the postcards or letters your friends or family sent you before, remind yourself there are people who always remember you.
  5. Silently think of a day or moment which you truly enjoyed and try to recapture that very first feeling. Was it the day of your graduation? The moment you traveled with your loved one?
  6. Take out your photo albums and go over your childhood photos.
  7. Cry when you feel like doing so. There’s nothing wrong with crying; cry out all your fear and stress and just face the truth after crying.
  8. Sing loudly like no one can hear you. Do you know that in Japan, people always sing karaoke to relieve stress?
  9. Cook a nice meal for yourself or for your family.
  10. Read your previous diary entries and look at your great memories.
  11. Dress up nicely to feel happier.
  12. Don’t stay in your bed! Get your laptop or a book and sit in a coffee place.
  13. Take a walk outside and feel the fresh air.
  14. Sweat yourself! Go jogging or play some sports.
  15. Pick up the musical instrument you used to play a lot and start to play it.
  16. Tidy up your desk or wardrobe, you’ll feel good that you’re being productive and actually doing something.
  17. Watch some funny videos, sure you can find a lot of them on Youtube.
  18. Eat something you like, be it a chocolate cake, or an ice-cream. Just please yourself with the flavour you like.
  19. Re-read your favorite book and write down the sentences or passages that you love.
  20. Watch a new movie, there must be a movie which you’ve always interested in but had no time to watch it.
  21. Do something nice that no one will notice, say picking up a rubbish in the street and throw it to a trash bin.
  22. Call your best friend and just talk whatever you want! Human beings are social animals after all, connecting with people close to you will make you feel better.
  23. Do voluntary work and help people in need, you’ll feel happy and satisfied.
  24. Get drunk with your close friends at home – a safe place for you to get drunk and get crazy. Let loose and have fun with your very close friends.
  25. Write an email or a note to a friend who you care about.
  26. Get out of your routine life and meet new friends. Get out of your comfort zone! Meeting new people can give you new inspirations in life.
  27. Look into the mirror and smile. Act like today’s already a wonderful day. How we act affects how we feel. It’s difficult to go on feeling sad if you’re trying to smile!

Remember:

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It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.  — Epictetus

If you want to feel better, change what you’re doing because obviously what you’re doing doesn’t make you happy!

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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