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Real World Examples of How Heuristics Have Been Used Against Us

Real World Examples of How Heuristics Have Been Used Against Us

How is it that we make up our minds to do something? How much thinking is there really involved in making a decision? Heuristics  provide a number of interesting explanations for how we avoid normal, rational thinking when we are confronted with information.
Most of us have probably wondered why certain contracts or legal documents are so very long and hard to read. Many assume that the lawyers authored these documents simply to confuse us mere mortals who cannot read legal texts, and while this may be true in some cases, there is another reason: they want to appeal to our heuristic decision making.

What is Heuristic Decision Making?

Heuristics is originally a Greek word that means to find. Heuristics are unconscious ways that we process information more quickly than if we were to think about it consciously.  The brain takes mental shortcuts to save time by thinking logically about things. There are many different ways (cognitive biases) that our brains have developed during the history of mankind to manage information in a faster way than rational thinking. The vast majority of our daily decisions are taken up by heuristic decision making.

Landing Pages

Just like the aforementioned legal contracts, sales pages are often very long and contain a variety of elements whose purpose is to convince us to buy the product by appealing to our heuristic decision making.

Length and Volume

The reason that sales pages are often very long and contain a lot of material–such as information in bullet form, pictures and lots of recommendations of satisfied customers–is in the hopes that you, as a consumer, will think:

Ah, if this much is written about the product, and if this many people (experts) recommend the product, then it must be good.”

landing page

    Of course this doesn’t work with all consumers, and there is no completely superior outline for how the optimal landing page should look, but it’s obvious that this longer version works well. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be used so frequently.

    Ultimately, length or volume are not indicators of the quality of the information, but it’s easy for us to get automatically tricked by our heuristic decision making to believe just that. It’s not that our brains are evil and are trying to fool us, but simply that they make this tradeoff of accuracy to save time.

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    Nazi Germany

    Heuristic decision making has always been an important part of politics and throughout history, there have been many tricks to convince the crowds. Various means of manipulating the media have existed for as long as civilization has existed.

    A less known part of the Nazi Party propaganda strategy was in the design of the vote ballots for the Austrian union with Germany in 1938. The circle to vote “YES” was considerably larger than the circle to vote “NO“.  Due to its size, we unconsciously attribute more importance to the bigger circle and are more drawn towards it.

    An overwhelming majority of the Austrian population voted for the reunification with Germany.

    Stimmzettel-Anschluss

      Today, this kind of trickery is banned in political contexts in most countries.

      Speeches and Presentations

      Just like the example with the landing pages, we are often influenced by the length of the speech or the reputation of the speaker. These things really have nothing to do with the content, yet through heuristic decision making, we think they do.

      Suppose you are sitting in a meeting and listening to a speaker who talks about a topic that you know nothing about.

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      Even if the speaker doesn’t really say anything particularly clever, after a while, you will start to have a certain amount of confidence in him given that you do not know anything about the subject.

      Just the fact that the speaker is able to talk about something in a certain amount of time (say 20 minutes) in a coherent manner gets your heuristic decision making to conclude that the speaker probably actually does know what he’s talking about, and that the content probably actually is clever, though perhaps you cannot understand its meaning. Furthermore, if the speech was really as bad as you suspected at first, wouldn’t you have just left?

      In both of the above cases you are post-rationalizing to find a reasonable explanation for what is happening right now.  Another way of putting it is that your brain is trying very hard to avoid cognitive dissonance. In the first case you rationalize the situation by thinking:

      “Well, if this guy who is speaking can go on for 20 minutes he probably knows what he is speaking about, even if I don’t.”

      And in the second case you are likely rationalize by means of wanting to keep your self-image intact:

      “I wouldn’t listen to bad speeches or waste my time with stupid people, that’s not who I am. Therefore the fact that I have sat here for a long amount of time has to mean that this speech is good. Otherwise I would have left–wouldn’t I?”

      In both of these cases, your brain is trying to piece together the reality of the current situation by means of explaining the past in a not so accurate manner.
      In this second case, maybe you even begin to perceive the speaker as an expert in his field, which brings us to the next example.

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      Authorities and Experts

      It is a well-known fact that we often rely on experts’ or authorities’ opinions instead of thinking for ourselves. It is not a coincidence that Nike sponsors Tiger Woods or that a stock plummets when its management and other insiders inexplicably sell their own shares.
      Nor is it a coincidence that people in the financial industry dress very nicely and talk in terms that are difficult for a lot of ordinary people to understand. This is done deliberately to be perceived as experts.

      If the average person knew that most financial advisors are actually glorified salespeople that rarely beat the index and usually just place your money in an index fund and takes a percentage cut for it, they would not choose to invest their money with them.

      experts and authorities

        From a logical perspective, it is not surprising that we trust the experts in a particular area given that they have probably thought a lot more about the subject than we have. The experts have most likely evaluated the different options better than we could do with our limited knowledge on the subject.
        For us, it’s about saving time or to avoid doing something we think is boring. We simply do not have the time or inclination to think about everything ourselves.
        Relying on experts or authority figures need not be a bad thing at all, but it’s important for us to be aware of how much we rely on others and in which situations we are inclined to do so. Ultimately, by relying on experts or authorities we are hitchhiking by means of their intelligence, and we become very susceptible to influence.

        Computer Programs and the Internet

        How often do you actually review the terms of a downloaded computer program, a phone app, or some Internet service?

        Probably not very often.

        You just want the program to work immediately and you feel that you cannot be bothered reading through the fine print: whether the program gets access to your personal information or is allowed to monitor your web behavior only plays a minor role in your decision–you don’t have time or energy to think about that.
        Maybe you’ve checked one of those boxes where you, without thinking about it, have relinquished ownership of your soul to the creator of the computer program.

        Conclusion

        We are getting bombarded with more information, choices, and offers than ever before in history, and it’s unlikely that this trend is going to slow down in the future.

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        At the same time we are becoming increasingly specialized, and specialization comes at a price–we have to spend our time and energy on only a few areas of knowledge. This forces us to trust in specialists of other areas instead of learning these things for ourselves.

        This is a good thing viewed from a global market perspective, but it is very harmful to the single individual because he will not be bothered to make fully informed decisions.

        We don’t have the time to evaluate all alternative in today’s information society.  This means that we are less likely to increasingly rely on heuristic decision making to save time.

        What role do you think that heuristic decision making will play in the future of mankind?

        Will its use increase or decrease?

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        Last Updated on January 17, 2019

        8 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Bring Peace and Happiness to Your Life

        8 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Bring Peace and Happiness to Your Life

        In life, we all need to be conscientious of what we are doing. You don’t need to live a life of stress if you don’t want to. You can achieve peace and happiness in life by carefully building mindfulness exercises into your life’s routine.

        Exercising mindfulness isn’t rocket science and as importantly, you can do it. It will, however, take a few tries to get into the groove of things but once you get it, it is like riding a bike, you will never lose it.

        Trust me. It’s in your best interest to learn and put these mindfulness exercises into practice. In this article, I will share with you 8 mindfulness exercises that will help you to boost your energy, vitality and live a more peaceful and happier life.

        Why Is It Hard to Live A Peaceful And Happy Life?

        Our Habitat Has Become Too Technological

        The world has accepted the idea that technology is often the cure for all evil. We have accepted, as a society, that everything technological will make us live a better life without fully investigating the many side effects that modernity brings.

        There are a number of technological side effects that have a tremendous impact on your life that the media rarely tells you about.[1] Some of them include self-harm, economic inequality, having less sex, and even suicide. The global community is becoming less happy because of technology.

        How can anybody live a peaceful and happy life when they are depressed? Technology advancements, ladies and gents, is a major reason for why we are living a poor life because it has infiltrated our lives too much.

        According to my research, Americans spend an average of 8 hours a day looking at the computer screen — The average screen time spent on smartphones alone is about 20 hours per week. That’s a lot! No wonder why living a happy and peaceful life is so difficult these days.

        Too Many People Don’t Want to Unplug

        Americans check their phones an average of 80 times during vacation.[2] Some admit to checking their smartphones 300 times every single day. In countries like Brazil, India and China, the situation is no different.

        The reality is that people are constantly plugged into technological devices and this behavior is literally making people all over the globe fight an inner war with themselves, which consequently makes them very sad. As we know, war is the enemy of peace which won’t make anybody happy.

        Listen carefully:

        We have a global anxiety epidemic because people don’t want to unplug from their smartphones and most people aren’t doing anything to fix it. It is a sad state of affairs but very real. This obsession with technology is turning us into perishable robots who live terrible lives.

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        The era of anxiety is here to stay. There is little doubt about it. We can, however, fight back with the best remedy of all — We call it mindfulness!

        Thank God there is an antidote to this whole technological madness. Without further ado, let’s go straight to the mindful exercises.

        8 Mindfulness Exercises to Start Practicing

        There are tons of mindfulness exercises available for you to engage with out there.[3] In the paragraphs below, I will include the best ones I’ve personally tried or have seen my close friends and family members try.

        Are you ready for it? Let’s go!

        1. Pray Daily

        You should pray on a daily basis. Why is that you may ask — Well, because science has told us to do so.

        When people pray, they feel peaceful, almost eliminating anxiety. Worries become secondary, and often gives people energy and hope to cope with the difficulties of life.

        Prayer can make you more confident and focused. Prayer also helps you with self-control, helps to control pain, and can protect you against illnesses and disorders like cancer and high blood pressure. At least, this is what researchers from Harvard Medical School have said.[4]

        Pray. You won’t regret it.[5]

        2. Pay Attention to Your Inner Thoughts

        A lot of people allow themselves to be influenced by their negative thoughts. Be different and resist believing in them. It is a bad habit that can lead to unhappiness.

        By the way, if you do feel this way, chances are high that somebody other than you put these thoughts into your head.

        Here is my secret to combat this cancer — look at things objectively. I bet that if you look at things as they are, you will realize that most if not all of your negative thoughts are only inside of your head.

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        If you pay close attention, you will quickly realize that these voices aren’t worth your time. Believe me — Ignoring them and looking at things with objectivity is often the best course of action.

        This article can guide you to beat negative thoughts:

        How to Stop Automatic Negative Thoughts When You’re Overwhelmed

        3. Smile Often

        Smiling will slow down your heart. It will also relax your body because when you smile, your body releases endorphins which in itself has a number of positive benefits for you as a person.

        Smile often! You may want to smile early in the morning, during the day, and late in the evening. It is amazing what happens to you when you decide to smile instead of being grumpy.

        Surrender your problems to a nice smile. You will notice two things. First, most people just don’t which makes them live a miserable life. Second, if you decide to smile often, you will eventually smile unconsciously which is the ideal.

        The moment that you smile unconsciously, you then know that you are truly happy.

        4. Organize Your Working Desk

        A messy desk will make you less productive and can agitate and overstimulate you. You don’t want that.

        When you clear your desk, you engage in deep inner-thinking and your systematic decision making ends up becoming therapeutic.

        Most people realize that they are most creative when their creative space is clean and organized. The former often makes people more aware of what they are doing which lends to less stress and more productivity.

        Organizing your desk will also make you more energetic and focused because order often decreases chaos which is a condition that often slows down daily progress.

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        5. Celebrate Your Friend’s Victories

        I love this mindful exercise. One of the best ways to live a happy and peaceful life is to celebrate the victories of others. When you do that, you automatically make your friends in a better mood which makes you in a better mood, as well.

        Happiness is contagious! We might as well celebrate others as much as we can. If you find out that your peer has won an award, celebrate with him! If your friend is the recipient of a local charity award, celebrate with her!

        What is also awesome is that when you celebrate with others, they often celebrate with you in return. This, ladies and gentleman, will make you feel fantastic. You can’t go wrong with this one, period.

        6. Listen to Your Spouse/Partner

        God put someone in your life for a reason. You might as well listen to him or her.

        I listen to my wife everyday. In fact, I often ask the following question to her, “Amanda, what are your thoughts about…” or “What am I missing about…” It is shocking what I hear back from her. Without her having much context and perspective, by the art of observation in my own nonverbal behavior and the behavior of others, she accurately gives me incredible insights which helps me out with living my life to the fullest.

        I’m a firm believer that spouses are supposed to engage in interpersonal communication every day. I most definitely do and will continue doing it. You should do the same.

        7. Give Yourself a Break from Technology

        You can’t be in total equilibrium if your computerized devices control your life. You must get away from technology on a daily basis.[6]

        How do you do that? This is my formula:

        First, take this smartphone control test. It is only ten questions but this test will place you somewhere in the human robot cycle continuum.

        If your score is between 25-30, take a break from the computer (or smartphone, pad, laptop/desktop) every twenty minutes and stop being on a computerized device after 8:00pm.

        If you score between 30-35, still take a break every 20 minutes but stop being on these devices at 5:00pm.

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        If you score more than 35, you need to take action immediately.

        Limit computer use as much as possible throughout the day. Give yourself as many breaks from the computer as possible. Are you ready for the challenge?

        8. Go Exercise

        Go exercise at least three times a week. I don’t care if you need to workout early in the morning, late in the evening, on the weekends or during work days. Working out is absolutely imperative for you to live happy and peaceful life.

        The stresses of the modern world are too much for you to neglect this important mindfulness exercise. When you go to the gym, you burn calories, focus on activities one step at a time, your mind relaxes, anxiety decreases, you sweat and often think about topics unrelated to your work place among many other benefits.

        You must exercise at least three hours each week for optimum results. Why? Just take a look at all the benefits of regular exercising:

        12 Benefits of Regular Exercise You Should Know

        The Bottom Line

        It’s in your best interest to learn and put these mindfulness exercises into practice. Now that our habitat has become too technological and many people just don’t want to unplug, engaging in daily prayer, celebrate your friends’ victories, and listening to your spouse are among the best ways to be mindful about what you are doing and how you are living.

        It is possible to live a happy and peaceful life. It only depends on you.

        Go exercise! Take a break from technology and invest in you! Life is too short for distractions.

        More Resources About Mindfulness

        Featured photo credit: Lesly Juarez via unsplash.com

        Reference

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