Cognitive bias: A systematic pattern of deviation from rationality in judgment to create one’s own “subjective reality” from their perception of the input. An individual’s construction of reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior.

We like to think we are rational thinkers and we judge things objectively without bias. Others may be gullible to flummery, but not us. We are smart; we can see through any humbug.

As the Firesign Theater says: Everything you know if wrong.

Alas, Babylon! We are quite swayed by unconscious emotions towards thinking irrationally. This is based on our wiring to go along with the group and not be risk rejection for having maverick beliefs.

I thought it would be instructional and amusing to write about some common biases. Here are eight lovelies. Knowing them may enlighten you to become more conscious, thus improving your decision-making.

After all, us Jungians hold onto the Don Quixote-like dream Self-awareness and Self-development are still worthwhile pursuits. 🙂

The confirmation bias: you favor things that confirm your existing beliefs. Someone works with a person who refuses to get the covid19 vaccine. She read online the vaccine caused side effects in six women in England and some folks caught covid19, despite having been vaccinated. This proves her views the vaccine is not good to get. It is probably the other way around. She wanted (consciously or unconsciously) to find data to support her baseline belief and she dismissed any and all data that doesn’t support her belief. Alas, data that threatens belief is often so upsetting it is seen as a threat to one’s existence, often reacting violently.

Solution: painful as it may be, to get the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of any matter, including the arguments from the opposing side, prior to coming to a conclusion. When researching something, keep in mind the question ‘Am I merely looking for things to support something I want to believe is true?

The negativity bias: negative things disproportionately influence your thinking and decision-making. Yesterday I had a patient with plans to sell some property that was given him headaches, his wife is about the retire, and they are thinking of moving from the ardent heat of Arizona to a cooler state to be near their children/grandchildren. Not once did he convey anything positive about any of this. He listed only negatives: the hassles and money it would take to fix the place prior to sale and put the house on the market, the hassles of moving/finding a new place. Would he be burden to his children and how will and his wife get along cooped up in a smaller place? As he talked he almost managed talking himself out of doing all of this although to keep the status quo was conveyed as equally negative. I pointed out in everything there is also some positives: the benefits to be rid of two houses, the hot weather, and to be near family. I advised him to look at the positives of all his proposals. Like many people, he thought this means pretending there are no negatives. Not so.

Solution: after you have understandable negative ‘worse-case’ reactions to something, pause to find the positive elements to make a better-balanced decision what to do and think. If there is no positive, then look at the potential lesson/growth that can be learned from this negative experience.

The in-group bias: you favor (unfairly) those who belong to your group. One sees this all the time. Somebody does a shenanigan and it is condemned if the person is ‘not one of us’ or it is dismissed or even praised if done by a fellow group member. One of the few times I watched Fox News they were outraged Obama had reached out to North Korea ‘how dare he do that!”, only years later to praise Trump for doing the exact same thing.

Solution: Before forming an opinion, stop and consider how much you decide to believe/say/do is influenced by vanity viz. what will others in the ‘group’ feel if I don’t go along party lines? When you decide to go or not go with the group, you have done so consciously, not as a mindless myrmidon.

The spotlight effect: you overestimate how much people notice how you look and act. We walk into a party and we sense ‘everyone is looking at us” and is judging our so-called impediments, when in fact no one is looking at us, other than to see if we are recognizable or a danger. I recall a study in which the researchers made a group of social-anxiety-ridden people attend an event wearing bright yellow Barry Manilow fan T-shirts* . After the event, people at the party were interviewed: do you remember seeing a person wearing a yellow T-shirt? Most didn’t remember seeing anyone wearing such a shirt. A few remembered with prompting “Oh, yes, I remember now” but they could not remember anything other than the T-shirt was yellow, and less remembered the Barry Manilow photo.

Solution: Be assured no one is staring and judging you at a function – unless you are wearing a red MAGA hat and you want the spotlight on you.

Fundamental attribution error: you judge yourself on the situation while you judge others on their character. You lose your temper in the store; you attribute it to your headache, or having being under slept or ‘just having a bad day”. Others losing their temper in the store < they are assholes.

Solution: be more charitable when confronting awful behavior as perhaps it coming from someone in pain and not because they are jerks. This isn’t much, but it gives one a slim chance of maybe walking away less harmed for the process.

The sunk cost fallacy: the irrational clinging onto something that has already cost you dearly. Have you ever eaten a meal ordered in a restaurant although after the first bite you didn’t like it? Have you sat through a movie you realized 15 minutes into it, it was a bomb? Do you stay in a lousy job on the grounds you spent so much time and training to get here? These are examples of sunk cost fallacy. I recently counseled a patient who worked all his life to become an attorney only to realize he doesn’t like the law. He’s aching to get out, but dammit I spent all these years to become one. The sunk cost fallacy explains endless government endeavors like the Concord and the Vietnam War that ‘kept going’ despite all logic not to.

Solution: Face the sad fact a lot of time/energy/money has not translated into success, and it is better to cut losses than to go stubbornly on, hoping things will turn around or you will get used to it.

The curse of knowledge effect: once you understand something you presume it is obvious to everyone. Have you ever called ‘customer service’ for help with a form or computer matter and feel like the person is judging you how stupid you are for not understanding something so simple (to them)? My nephew, fresh out of engineering school, finds it amazing how is his uncles don’t know maneuver around a computer when it is so obvious – to him. At work I have to keep this bias always in my mind to always explain ‘the obvious’ to patients who may not have gone to medical school with thirty years of training to what is depression or a neuron or even how to eat well.

Solution: Put yourself in the shoes of the other. Try imagining they don’t know anything about your baby, but they can be taught, with patience without patronizing. If this keeps happening, consider your obvious-to-you matter ain’t so obvious to others. Can it be made more ‘user-friendly’.

The halo effect: how much you like someone or how attractive they are to you influences your judgment of them. Let’s face it. If we find someone attractive we tend to believe what they say and do as truthful, even when they are spewing rubbish. A lot of so-called influencers use their looks and charm to promote all sorts of bogus beliefs. Conversely, if we deem someone unattractive we don’t listen to them and judge their opinions more harshly.

Solution: Be mindful of your emotional reactions to the person in front of you. If you find them attractive, this will influence you to more readily believe what they say, and if you find them unattractive, you will be at risk for not taking their points as valid.

Spo-fans: if you found this worthwhile, I will do some more. I have heaps.

Pay attention to me I am very attractive.

*As Anna Russell says: “I’m not making this up you know”