Can you trust your own brain?
Our decisions are not always our own thanks to the unconscious biases buried in our brains
When we are being logical (cold), we don’t understand how our decisions would differ if we were emotional (hot). Conversely, when we are emotional we don’t realise how much our decisions are being influenced by emotion.
Have you noticed that when you learn a new word you start seeing it everywhere? Our brains have a habit of trying to see patterns, so we notice things more if they are interesting to us – like a new word.
Humans often (metaphorically) bury their head in the sand. We choose to ignore the bad things that are happening, like not checking our bank accounts, rather than tackle the problem.
Some people may be overconfident in their abilities because of this bias and as a result take greater risks in decision-making, which may end positively or negatively.
Our brains are not very good at understanding scale. If we hear a disaster has impacted 200, 2,000 or 200,000 people, we react the same because we can’t comprehend the larger numbers.
People follow the crowd, meaning you might be more likely to vote for someone because they have more supporters even if they don’t align with your views.
We make our decisions from the first piece of information that we learn about a subject. This is why we are more inclined to buy something when we see the original price placed next to the reduced price.
Fundamental attribution error
This is when we attribute the behaviour of someone to a character flaw rather than just an uncharacteristic moment. Someone who snapped at you once is probably not an angry person, but we think they are.
Our attention is a limited resource, and we have to direct it on things specifically for it to work. Our brains filter information in our environment to focus on what is useful and ignores the rest.
Have you ever heard someone say, ‘There’s nothing that will change my mind’? That is conservatism bias. We have a tendency to not update our views when faced with new evidence.
When you make a choice, it is probable you will look back on it positively to rationalise your decision, even if you see afterwards that there were better options.
We prefer the elimination of all risk over a greater reduction in a larger risk (overall), like choosing to clean up a small oil spill completely, rather than using the same money to clean up a giant oil spill significantly.
When you believe something to be true, you see evidence that supports it, like when you think someone doesn’t like you, you are more likely to notice when they’re ‘off’ with you.
Status quo bias
The status quo bias is our preference for things to stay the same. You might revisit the same restaurant or purchase the same brands just because that’s what you have done in the past.
You see so many books every day, you might think it is easy to publish. This is an example of survivorship bias, as you have not seen the many more that didn’t make it to the publishing stage.
Negativity bias is when our minds react more strongly to negative experiences rather than positive ones. It makes us more likely to turn down opportunities because we can see the threats within the choice rather than the advantages.
We overestimate our ability to resist temptation. This means we think we won’t eat a slice of cake at a party when we’re trying to eat healthily, but many of us will have overestimated our own willpower.
This describes the power of self-expectation. If you believe you will succeed you are more likely to be successful, compared to if you believe you can’t do something.
We tend to accept short-term reward rather than wait for a better reward. We know our coursework will be more worth it in the long run, but we are still tempted by the funny cat videos.
If we are forbidden to do something, we may have the desire to do that exact thing in order to prove our freedom of choice, like being asked not to walk on the grass or touch a piece of art.
Our brains all function differently, meaning people lean more into some biases than others