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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 July 8, 2020

        18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

        18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

        The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

        1. Understand Yourself Better

        Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

        Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

        2. Keep Track of Small Changes

        I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

        Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

        3. Become Aware of What Matters

        As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

        You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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        4. Boost Creativity

        The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

        When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

        You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

        5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

        A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

        Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

        6. Process Life Experiences

        When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

        Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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        7. Stress Relief

        In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

        Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

        8. Provide Direction

        Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

        One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

        9. Solve Problems

        Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

        Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

        When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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        10. Find Relief From Fighting

        Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

        Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

        11. Find Meaning in Life

        Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

        12. Allow Yourself to Focus

        Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

        13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

        When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

        14. Let the Past Go

        I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

        15. Allow Freedom

        Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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        16. Enhance Your Career

        Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

        Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

        17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

        All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

        18. Catalog Your Life for Others

        No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

        We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

        Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

        Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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