Cognitive Biases Trick Us

2017-03-10

I’ve lately read couple interesting articles about our minds and how they fail us in many different ways. First one is Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet, which is based on Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases. Biases can be organized into four categories, based on where they arise from (with few examples):

Too much information

  • We notice things that are already primed in memory or repeated often.
  • We are drawn to details that confirm our own existing beliefs.
  • We notice flaws in others more easily than flaws in ourselves.

Not enough meaning

  • We find stories and patterns even in sparse data
  • We fill in characteristics from stereotypes, generalities, and prior histories whenever there are new specific instances or gaps in information
  • We think we know what others are thinking

Need to act fast

  • In order to stay focused, we favor the immediate, relatable thing in front of us over the delayed and distant
  • In order to get anything done, we’re motivated to complete things that we’ve already invested time and energy in
  • We favor options that appear simple or that have more complete information over more complex, ambiguous options

What should we remember?

  • We discard specifics to form generalities
  • We store memories differently based on how they were experienced
  • We edit and reinforce some memories after the fact

These problems in our minds won’t go away. But it helps to recognize that we have these kind of challenges with our cognitive abilities.

Other article I read, was The New Yorker’s Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, which goes through how these different biases have affected to decision making in studies by researchers. There’s one particular concept I wanted to raise from the article – that being illusion of explanatory depth. It can be summarized as:

“Most people feel they understand the world with far greater detail, coherence, and depth than they really do.”

You might feel that you understand how toilet or freezer works, but what if you would had to write down detailed explanation of how they work? You would most likely notice that you don’t understand them as deeply as you thought.

Similar applies to our work. We talk about many concepts daily. Like testing, Agile, Scrum, daily standup, product owner, scrum master, value, programming, etc. Could you easily write their definition and purpose in your own words?


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