Archive for the ‘Cognitive Bias’ Category

You’re Actually Not Always Correct. I Know! Hard to Believe Right?

November 26th, 2019 3 comments

Us vs. Them


Think about the last time you immediately doubted someone’s actions or statements, you thought they were only doing it for their own self-interest. Maybe they stated a political opinion that opposes your own beliefs, or they agreed to complete a survey but only to be compensated with money, at least that’s why you think they did it. Let’s say you and a fellow classmate were talking about whether the new $200 million Colby College athletic complex is reasonable. You say no! The college could spend that money on so many other more beneficial things. However, your classmate says they are all for the new athletic center. You know they’re part of an athletic team so you think to yourself, “Yeah you’re in favor of it because you’re on a team and it would benefit you.” But did you actually take time to think about that person’s reasoning or did you just assume that they were biased and believe that you were the one being objective in the situation? We all may not be aware of it, but we usually expect others to have more personal bias and believe that we are able to judge situations objectively even though that may not be the case, and this is called naïve cynicism. Although this bias may seem really similar to naïve realism, they have some differences. The cognitive bias of naïve realism is the belief that a person can view the world objectively, and so can all the other people who agree with them and are “reasonable”, in their opinion. Instead, everyone else can’t help being subjective because they are all biased.

Naïve cynicism is a cognitive bias that helps explain why humans usually notice other people’s errors more easily than we notice them in ourselves. The term was first coined by Kruger and Gilovich (1999), the first researchers to study this phenomenon experimentally. They performed various studies that all aimed at examining how individuals have cynical expectations regarding how others take responsibility. In one of the studies, pairs of 2 participants played a video game together and then assessed how responsibility for the game outcome was divided between them. They reported their own responsibility for different elements of the game and also how they predicted the other player would divide it. The participants tended to believe that their teammate would take more accountability for elements of the game that contributed to winning over unwanted outcomes of the games such as “missed shots” or “lives lost”. It turns out that people expect others to take more responsibility for themselves in a selfish way, even though that may not be the reality (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999). This expectation that others will egotistically make judgments is a result of naïve cynicism. But, cognitively, how is this phenomenon explained?

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Rhymes and Reasons, why Poetry is Treason

November 26th, 2019 3 comments

Tale as old as time, why we believe rhymes. Does the truth reside or it is a lie? From childhood to adulthood,

Apples are good for you, but that doesn’t mean that you can avoid going to the doctor altogether! (

we are surrounded by rhymes of all kinds. First, they were nursery rhymes and now they take the forms of aphorisms and commercial slogans. Though we might not realize it, these rhymes have the ability to affect how we perceive the world. Given the choice between “woes unite foes” or “woes unite enemies,” participants generally found the former more accurate although the two phrases have similar meanings (McGlone & Tofighbakhsh, 2000). Why is that? The answer lies in a phenomenon called the Rhyme as Reason Effect, which means that we are more likely to believe something to be true if it rhymes. Think about it, how many times have you been told “i before e except after c” or “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and thought that they were sound advice? Though these phrases are not necessarily correct, they are often repeated and believed to be true.

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Face it, You are Not THAT Important: The Spotlight Effect

November 26th, 2019 4 comments

Have you ever eaten alone in your college dining hall?

Now picture this: You walk into the dining hall alone, and you realize that most of the seats are already occupied by those sports teams, girls’ squads, and study groups… Everyone seems to be around with a bunch of people, except for you. You walk into this situation as if you break the “harmony”, and you feel like that everyone is staring at you or even secretly laughing at you — “Oh, she/he eats alone? Pathetic!” “Poor thing.” … But in reality, no one is actually watching you. They may not even notice that someone just came in. This also occurs in other scenarios: when you answered a question wrong in your class, when you had a bad hair, or when you got a zit on your nose tip, etc. If you find these situations familiar, please don’t worry! You are not pathetic, and you do not look ugly (or at least not that ugly, for sure) — You’ve just run into the Spotlight Effect! Read more…

Glory Days and Faded Heartbreaks: How Assessments of our Past Shape and Reflect Psychological Well-being in the Present.

November 26th, 2019 No comments

Peaked in High School or remembering it better than it was?

Before I present you with a base level summary of our current understanding of the psychological phenomenon known as Fading Affect Bias (FAB) and its relation to the conceptual system of autobiographical memory–complete with the associated empirical support, of course–I would first like to overanalyze some Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Don’t worry; it will all make sense soon enough. Read more…

If You’re Reading This You’re Still Biased

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

But you might not be by the time you finish reading this blog post. As you probably know just from the existence of this blog, there has been a lot of talk lately about how biases affect us, and how we can educate ourselves to mitigate the effects of them. Across the internet, you can find countless articles about how to avoid biases in the workplaceclassrooms, job interviews, politics, and the mountains of information on biases continues to rise as more research is published and more psychology students write blog posts about them. Without a doubt, efforts to educate ourselves on biases is more than warranted given the effects they can have on us. The other race effect, for example, makes people less likely to remember faces belonging to people of a different race, and can have serious consequences when using eyewitness testimony to identify suspects of a crime. Further, the illusory truth effect causes us to view information that has been widely circulated and repeated as more truthful, and likely had a major influence when the rate of MMR vaccines to plummet when news outlets spewed out false information about a link between vaccines and autism. And if you want to know about other biases and how they affect behavior, just keep scrolling.

Before we can mitigate our biases, we need to acknowledge the bias blind spot and how it affects our cognitions.

Before you do that, though, I have some bad news. As research has shown, becoming aware of biases doesn’t actually make you any less susceptible to them. This phenomena is a result of the bias blind spot, which is our inclination towards identifying how biases affect others, while simultaneously maintaining an inability to recognize how our own judgement is affected by biases. In other words, educating ourselves about biases does not mean we can use this knowledge as a lens granting us unwavering vigilance for all the biases out there which may affect us. So, does this mean we’re all inevitably doomed to fall into the hands of biases no matter how hard we try to educate ourselves? In short, no. However, it takes more than just awareness of biases to reduce one’s susceptibility to the bias blind spot, and I firmly believe I can help you avoid it with this blog post so you can get the most out of the information in others’.

Before I can get there, though, we first need to understand a bit more about just what the bias blind spot is, how it was discovered, how it operates in the world, and what cognitive mechanisms it relies on. 

First of all, research on biases has been conducted for decades, but the bias blind spot wasn’t recognized until Emily Pronin and colleagues started researching it in 2002. Pronin’s first series of studies showed that after reading descriptions of numerous biases, people rated themselves as less susceptible to these biases than the average person, providing the basis of the bias blind spot. As a followup study, she had participants rate how they perceived their own positive and negative qualities, including consideration for others, objectivity, dependability, and snobbery, deceptiveness, and selfishness. Then, they read a description of the better-than-average effect – a cognitive bias whereby people always perceive themselves as ‘better than average’ in terms of their abilities and character traits, and they were told that 70-80% of people exhibit this bias. After, they rated how accurate they believed their initial ratings of themselves were. As expected, participants rated themselves as possessing more positive and less negative qualities than the average student – indicating that they had all just exhibited the better-than-average effect themselves. Interestingly, even after reading about this bias and being told about their susceptibility to it, 87% of participants claimed their initial ratings of themselves were either accurate, or that they had actually been too modest. Therefore, even after reading about a bias and being told about their susceptibility to it, people still exhibited the bias. 

More recently, a lot of work has been done to show just how pervasive and dangerous the blind spot can be, specifically regarding issues of criminal justice. Just this week, Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were released from prison after 36 years of jail time for a murder they did not commit. Experts on the case say this injustice was largely due eyewitnesses misidentifying them as suspects, which remains one of today’s top causes of wrongful convictions in the courts. As it turns out, a study from 2018 directly investigated the effects of the bias blind spot on memory for witnesses to crimes in a study titled: Objectivity is a Myth for You but Not for Me or Police: A Bias Blind Spot for Viewing and Remembering Criminal Events. 

In this study, Kristyn Jones and colleagues presented participants with hypothetical crime scenarios (stabbings, robberies, or assault) where the eyewitness was either themselves, an average American, or a police officer standing 30 feet away from the crime when it happened. They were then asked to rate how susceptible the observer would be to biases in inferences based on what they saw (i.e. whether one can prevent their worldview from affecting the conclusions they draw based on their perception of the criminal event) and biases in memory for what they saw (i.e. whether one’s memory for the crime would be objective). The results showed that people believed they were less susceptible to biases in inference and memory than others, and people believed police were less susceptible to bias than the average American – especially when they identified more with police. Thus, although misidentification of suspects due to flaws in memory still occur to this day, people still believe their memories (and police’s memories) are objective because of the bias blind spot.

So, we now know that the bias blind spot is in fact a well documented phenomenon, and that it can have serious real world consequences, but just how does the bias blind spot work? And what features of our thinking make it so persistent? After her first series of studies in 2002, Pronin theorized that although we can heighten our consciousness of biases by reading about them and educating ourselves on how they operate, the fundamental shortcoming of these efforts is that biases still operate unconsciously. This means they are inaccessible to introspective thought, no matter how deeply we search within ourselves to identify our biases. This phenomenon is known as the introspection illusion. To test this theory, Pronin and colleagues conducted several more studies in 2007 to identify more of the cognitive mechanisms which help it operate.

In one study, Pronin examined the thoughts people have when demonstrating a bias. Similar to her 2002 study, she had Harvard students rate themselves on positive and negative characteristics relative to the average Princeton student. This time, they also had to write down all their thoughts about how they answered each question. As expected, the Harvard students did indeed exhibit the better-than-average effect, rating themselves more positively than the average Princeton student. When evaluating the thoughts participants had while rating themselves, they found that only one of the 32 participants demonstrated an awareness that their ratings may have been biased rather than objective. This student stated, “Hmm… I  wonder if I’m snobbier than I perceive.” As evidenced by others’ responses, participants’ introspections did not reveal a search for biases that may affect their judgement, and other sample responses included, “I don’t think I’m very deceptive at all. I’m a horrible liar and feel guilty even thinking about lying,” and, “I’m not very patient, but generally I get along w/ others pretty well.” 

So, what does this all mean? It means that even when we are thinking introspectively by evaluating our thoughts, motives, and feelings, the processes guiding this introspection still operates unconsciously. As was demonstrated in Pronin’s 2007 study, people’s thoughts were clearly influenced by the better-than-average effect, and even their introspective thoughts causing them to exhibit this bias were influenced by a self-enhancement bias, whereby people are unconsciously motivated to see themselves in a positive way to foster self-esteem.

Biases operate unconsciously and we cannot simply be ‘made aware’ of them.

More importantly, where does this leave us in terms of mitigating the bias blind spot? Many articles you’ll find online discussing how to avoid bias tout the importance of becoming “conscious of unconscious bias,” and look no further than the articles hyperlinked in the first paragraph of this post if you want more examples. However, as was just demonstrated, unconscious biases are inherently unavailable to introspection and subject to biases of their own. Luckily, Pronin and other researchers have investigated this further. 

In one study, Pronin had participants in the experimental condition read an article titled Unaware of Our Unawareness, which served to educate participants on the rigid limits of introspection by detailing the findings of numerous psychology studies documenting the effects of nonconscious influences on our cognitions. For example, one study referenced in the article had participants think about elderly people, and then unbeknownst to them, researchers recorded their walking speed after exiting the study. Relative to participants in the control condition, people who thought about the elderly actually walked slower! After reading the article, participants then read about several different biases and were asked to rate their susceptibility to them relative to the average person. At long last, participants who educated themselves on the limits of introspection rated themselves as equally susceptible to bias, thus mitigating the bias blind spot. Additionally, a 2016 study by Elena Bessarabova and colleagues investigated the effects of a specially designed video game on mitigating the bias blind spot. The video game, called MACBETH (Mitigating Analyst Cognitive Bias by Eliminating Task Heuristic). In the game, the player’s objective is to thwart terrorist threats by identifying possible attackers, weapons, and sites of possible attacks. In the process, the player must pass a training where they are instructed to resist tendencies towards impulsive decision making, take other characters’ opinions into account, and seek out information to disprove their own hunches. The results of this study demonstrated that participants who played this game exhibited reductions in their demonstrations of the bias blind spot when tested on the same measures used in Pronin’s original studies. 

So to sum this all up, we all care deeply about the biases affecting us – or I assume you do if you’re here reading the posts on this blog. However, research on the bias blind spot shows us that if we want to actually resist the biases we read about, simply reading about them isn’t enough. The thing that’s tricky about biases is that they operate unconsciously, so we can’t just ‘become conscious’ of what is inherently restricted from our conscious thoughts. However, as Pronin and Bessarabova’s studies show, we can overcome the bias blind spot by educating ourselves on the limits of our introspection and actively seeking out information to disprove ourselves. Now that you’ve finished reading this, are you less biased? Are you more or less susceptible to any of the other biases you’ve read about on this site than the average person? Don’t forget to check your blind spot!



Bessarabova, E., Piercy, C., King, S., Vincent, C., Dunbar, N., Burgoon, J., Miller, C., Jensen, M., Elkins, A., Wilson, D., & Lee, Y.H. (2016).  Mitigating bias blind spot via a serious video game. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 452-466.

Jones, K., Crozier, W., & Strange, D. (2018). Objectivity is a myth for you but not for me or police: A bias blind spot for viewing and remembering criminal events. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 24(2), 259-270.

Pronin, E. & Kugler, M. (2007). Valuing thoughts, ignoring behavior: The introspection illusion as a source of the bias blind spot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 565–578.

Pronin, E., Lin, D. Y., & Ross, L. (2002). The bias blind spot: Perceptions of bias in self versus others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(3), 369–381.

The Real Reason Why Freshmen are Always Early and Seniors are Always Late to School

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

The First Day of Freshman Year

Imagine it is the morning before the first day of your freshman year of high school. You have only visited your new school once before for orientation so the drive there is unfamiliar.  After getting dressed and eating your breakfast, you determine that you need to leave by 7:20am to get to school by 7:50am.  As planned, you get in the car at 7:20am and drive to school. The drive seems to take forever but somehow you manage to get to school ten minutes earlier than you had originally planned.  Embarrassed by how early you are, you ask your Mom if she can wait in the parking lot until it is socially acceptable to arrive at school.  She agrees and finds a spot to park.  You recline your seat all the way hoping that no one will see you through the car window.  While you wait, you wonder why you got to school so early.

Fast forward to the morning before the first day of your senior year of high school.  Now that you are a senior, you drive yourself to school.  The route to school is no longer new and unfamiliar.  Sometimes you wonder if you could drive there with your eyes closed.  After getting dressed and eating breakfast, you determine you need to leave by 7:35am to get to school by 7:50am.  The drive seems to fly by but somehow you manage to pull in to the parking lot at 7:55 am.  With only five minutes to spare instead of ten minutes, you sprint from the parking lot to class. As you slide into your seat just as the bell rings, you wonder why you got to school so late.

The First Day of Senior Year

The real reason you find yourself waiting in the parking lot on the first day of freshman year and racing to class on the first day of senior year is because of the well-travelled road effect. The well-travelled road  effect makes traveling unfamiliar routes seem longer and traveling familiar routes seem shorter.  The drive to school on the first day of your freshman year felt longer because it was unfamiliar while the drive to school on the first day of school of your senior year felt shorter because it was familiar.  This difference in perceived duration is caused by how your attention is allocated (Avni-Babad & Ritov, 2003). Read more…

Did you really know it all along??

November 26th, 2019 No comments

Your sibling’s face…

“I KNEW IT!!!!!” your sibling gleefully exclaims after the clock hits 0:00 and your favorite team has just lost to your least favorite team. You start thinking, how could they possibly know that team was going to win? The teams had similar records with equally talented players and you are left glumly wishing you hadn’t bet $10 on the game. This kind of scenario happens all the time and is pretty hard to avoid.  For instance, you may be amazed that your friend who walks carelessly across the ice is surprised when she falls. Of course she was going to fall! The key pattern in these instances is that the feelings of frustration or foreknowledge occur after the event. Often times, we believe that we knew something would happen because we assess the situation after it occurs and reflect upon it with information we did not previously have. This common phenomenon is known as the hindsight bias. Read more…

Read this a FEW times… I Promise You’ll like it: The Mere Exposure Effect At Work

November 26th, 2019 1 comment

Why do you really like your favorite song?

     When Party in the USA comes at a party, there is nothing stopping me. I know every word, every beat, and every guitar strum to that song. The energy in the room is wild, and I can confidently say that everyone is enjoying themselves, maybe not as much as I am, but nonetheless, enjoying themselves. I mean, what else can you expect from a 2009 banger that has been played on repeat since its debiew on Disney Channel? But what happens when the kid on AUX, switches to one of his soundcloud mystery raps that no one knows? I find myself enjoying the time much less, and everyone seemingly starts to mingle instead of dance. Why would Party in the USA have better success at a party over a new soundcloud rap? Cognitive psychology and the mere exposure effect can explain this.

     The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to like and prefer things better that they are exposed to more often (Pieter Van Dessel, Gaëtan Mertens, Colin Tucker Smith, & Jan De Houwer). People are more likely to be in favor of certain things that they have repeated exposure to and are more familiar with, even if they are unaware of it. This can explain why Party in the USA is such a hit at parties compared to the soundcloud rap. It is simply because the song has been heard so many times and everyone is so familiar with it. The mere exposure effect is used by artists having their songs played over and over again on the radio for people to like it better, by brands in their constant advertising to make you want to buy a product more, and can even explain why you like the person that sits next to you in two classes every day over somebody else. Reflecting on this phenomenon, it is easy to see why this can be true. In general, we do not like to go to unfamiliar places, spend time with unfamiliar people or put ourselves in unfamiliar situations. The comfort of familiarity drives us to be in the same places, same type of situations and hang out with the same people, and the more often we do it, the more we prefer it. Investigating the mere exposure effect can tell us why familiarity is so important to how we judge something and make us realize how influential it can really be in our lives. So how does it really work?  Read more…

“I totally nailed it and I am pretty sure I did better than most people”- The Pitfall of Overconfidence

November 26th, 2019 1 comment

Have you ever been disappointed by your exam score when you thought you actually did pretty well on it? Or have you ever overestimated how sufficiently you have prepared for a test and panicked as you read through the actual exam and find questions more difficult than expected? If you have had these experiences, you have been a victim of overconfidence effect.

Although we hardly realize such errors or often feel reluctant to admit them, we are all familiar with the mismatch between self-evaluation and actual outcomes. This phenomenon is called the overconfidence effect, a cognitive bias that occurs when people inaccurately evaluate their own performance as above average or higher in accuracy or quality than it actually is.

Overestimation of Capacity                    []

People have faith in their erroneous self-evaluation about a variety of targets, including but not limited to application of factual knowledge, as in a college exam scenario. Psychologists have found that people tend to position themselves above others when assessing their own capacity. Overplacement is explicit not only in self-estimation about skills like safe driving but also in self-positioning within a community when participants see themselves as more popular and sociable than their friends (Svenson, 1981; Zuckerman & Jost, 2001).     Read more…

Don’t worry, you can Google this blog after you’ve read it

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

Do you know the capital of Indonesia? Or who the 11th President of the United States was? Perhaps, instead, you could tell me what arachibutyrophobia is?

pretend edward cullen GIF

Don’t know something? Well…

No? Well, that’s okay. I mean, what’s the point of knowing stuff like geography or US history when you have all that information at the tips of your fingers? Maybe you won’t place first in your school’s trivia contest or apply to be on Jeopardy, but who cares, you can just Google it!

A long, long time ago, searching for information wasn’t so easy. People had to look through encyclopedias, dictionaries, and maps (ugh, can you imagine?) to figure out information that these days, we can find within seconds. Thanks to the previous work of dozens of brilliant scientists, the world was forever changed with Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web. What is fascinating is that in just the short amount of time that the Internet has been available, the human mind has already begun to develop and work in synergy with this technology. One of the most prevalent ways in which we see this is the Google effect. That’s right, an important cognitive bias was actually named after the world’s most popular search engine – and for good reason!

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