Psychological Biases (Part 2)

Psychological Biases (Part 2)

Part 1 

It is an acknowledged fact that we perceive errors in the work of others more readily than in our own. - Leonardo da Vinci


1. The clustering illusion

The clustering illusion is a cognitive bias that refers to the tendency to perceive patterns and clusters where none actually exist. This can occur because the human mind is naturally wired to look for patterns and structure in information.

You might notice patters in coin flips, or previous wins on a roulette wheel and think you can predict the next flip/number based on them.  As we all know a coin flip is 50/50 regardless of the 5 heads that came before it.


2. Illusory Correlation

Illusory correlation refers to the perception of a relationship or association between two variables where none actually exists. This cognitive bias occurs when people mistakenly believe that two events are related simply because they happen to occur together, even though there is no causal relationship between them.


Look at the graph below.  Ice cream sales and shark attacks rise and fall in a similar manner.  Does this mean we should stop selling Ice Cream in order to reduce shark attacks?  Of course not.  One doesn’t cause the other, instead they are both affected my the sun.  People swim in the sea and eat ice cream more in the summer and less in the winter.



3. Pareidolia

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which people perceive patterns or connections in random or ambiguous stimuli. This can cause people to see faces, objects, or other familiar shapes in things like clouds, random arrangements of objects, or even random noises or signals.

It’s this bias that leads to people seeing Jesus in toast, Ghosts in photos and UFOs in the sky.  It leads people to believing that the devil is speaking when songs are played backwards.  Being aware of pareidolia can stop you from falling for such beliefs.


4. Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics, emotions, or behaviours to non-human entities, such as animals, objects, or natural phenomena. This way of thinking can be seen in art, literature, and popular culture, as well as in everyday language and beliefs.

Do teddy bears feel pain when they’re flung across the room?  Are the gods sad when the rain pours down on us?  Do our pets really love us?  Does the door learn its lesson after we punch it for getting in our way?  If you’ve answered yes to any of these you’re experiencing anthropomorphism.


5. Attentional Bias

Attentional bias refers to the phenomenon where a person's perception, memory, and interpretation of information is affected by their initial focus of attention. It occurs when our attention is selectively drawn towards certain stimuli, and away from others, based on our prior experiences, beliefs, expectations, and goals.

Watch or read the news and notice the words they use when telling the story - ‘Delusional’ ‘heroic’ ‘selfish’ ect.  These words shift our attention and as a result change how we think and feel about the people involved.


6. Frequency Illusion

The frequency illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, is a cognitive bias in which a person perceives an increased frequency of a specific stimulus after they have recently become aware of it. This can occur with words, names, events, or any other type of stimulus that has gained their attention.

How often have you bought something ‘No-one has’ only to see it more often after its bought?  Has it become more popular?  Probably not.  Now that you’ve tuned your focus towards it you begin to see what you where once blind to.


7. Implicit Association

The implicit association test (IAT) is a measure of implicit biases, which are unconscious attitudes, beliefs, or stereotypes that people hold about social groups. The IAT measures the strength of the automatic association between mental representations of objects (e.g., words, faces) and evaluative concepts (e.g., good/bad, friendly/unfriendly). The test works by measuring the reaction time of participants as they categorise various stimuli.


Character designers know this.  We associate down pointing triangles with evil and cunning characters.  The hero is drawn with the strong and courageous square.  Long thin rectangles are associated with the smart and weak characters.  Circles are for the cute and lovable characters.  If we can draw so much from shapes imagine what we draw from more complicated metrics.


Try the test yourself -


8. Salience Bias

Salience bias refers to the tendency for people to give disproportionate weight to information that is more noticeable or striking. In other words, salience bias refers to the phenomenon where individuals focus their attention on information that is more prominent or salient, rather than information that is more relevant or important. This bias can lead to errors in perception and decision-making, as individuals may over-emphasise the importance of noticeable information and overlook or ignore other relevant information.

Are school shootings a gun problem?  You’d think so, but it’s actually a mental problem.  Are these shooters always evil or did they turn evil due to their way of thinking?  A focus should be in helping people think better and to deal with problems before they get so big that murder seems the only way out.  Or maybe after all my focus on thinking better I’ve fallen for Salience Bias.  It happens to the best of us.


9. Survivorship Bias

Survivorship bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when people focus only on the successful outcomes or individuals, and ignore the failures or individuals who did not survive. This bias can occur in various settings, such as in investing, where people focus on the success stories of successful companies and ignore the many failures, or in military planning, where people focus on the successful strategies and ignore the ones that failed.

Imagine you’re in an air hanger during ww2.  Surrounding you are tons of planes that have successfully returned, full of bullet holes.  The holes are mostly on the wings and tale.  You’ve been tasked with to decide where extra armour should go.  If you said ‘the wings and tale, obviously’ you fell for the Survivorship Bias.  These are the planes that made it back.  The shots here weren’t fatal, but the shots elsewhere, they where deadly.  


10. Well-Traveled Road Effect

The well-traveled road effect refers to a phenomenon in which people tend to prefer solutions or paths that have been used and validated before, rather than considering novel or untested solutions. This bias arises from the human tendency to rely on past experiences and established norms, and to be wary of change and uncertainty.

During the covid pandemic almost everyone fell for this bias.  We all copied China, regardless of other options.  Total lockdown, social distance and masks.  Those with alternative methods where shut down with labels such as ‘granny killers.’  You’ve probably noticed this at work as well.  How hard is it to do something unconventional that yields better results?

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