Humans are amazing. We are able to process huge amounts of information, deal with complex situations and make snap decisions.
It is a skill set that has helped humanity succeed, but there is a limit to its effectiveness and, without some awareness of it, we could switch from a world based on credible evidence to one based only on belief.
This is not an attempt to discredit our mental shortcuts, or belief systems, but simply to better understand when they may help and when they may hinder us.
The 4 categories
It appears the many cognitive biases can be grouped into four based on the mental shortcut used to process the available information.
- Too much information
An ever growing volume of information is available with just a few clicks on your phone and it can be overwhelming.
- Not enough meaning
Despite the access to all the information; in a raw form it may be meaningless to you and for many of us even the reports and condensed versions are still too complex.
- A need to act quickly
We rarely seek information for some distant time in the future; we are responding to a need or desire now and so we push for a quick answer.
- The limits of memory
Even if we did take the time to fully research something the likelihood that we could recall everything is doubtful and so we still end up making decisions with limited knowledge.
Buster Benson's helpful guide to cognitive bias.
These broad categories cover about 200 specific effects. From Murphy's Law to the Google Effect; the more you know about them the less likely you are to be affected negatively by them.
Businesses can sometimes convince themselves that an issue is not serious enough to address until it is so serious it is all they address.— A potential role cognitive bias could play in business
The key thing is not to feel defeated at how ill-equipped we actually are to make informed choices, but to acknowledge the limitation and take the time to find reliable and credible sources that will assist your own mental process.
You will still get it wrong some of the time, and you will still have many biases, but you will be able to deal with the uncertainty and improve the means to build your sense of the world on something more solid than the hope someone was telling the truth.
When you are expressly prohibited from doing something you are more likely to want to do it. This is reactance and it is best noticed when children are expressly told to not do something.— Cognitive bias on personal relationships
Take a listen below to see how it impacts our personal lives, the business world and politics.
GQ's Keith Olbermann believes the press should stop taking statements live from politicians that routinely include false information. Instead they should only report on what was true or make it clear which statements are false as part of their bulletin rather than try correct it afterwards.