Archive for the ‘Decision Making’ Category

You Should Be Paying Attention(al) to this Bias 

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

Putting all of your attentional resources towards studying!

You rush into a library late on a rainy night, toting all your calculus notes with you. In just a few days, you have the biggest exam of the semester, and you know you have to do well to keep up your grades. As you walk in, you are greeted by an extensive number of stimuli, the warmth of the library, the smell of coffee floating through the air, the sound of pages rustling. You head to your favorite spot in the cubicle section of the library, pull your books out of your backpack, and get ready to start studying for your exam. Before you do though, you take a quick look at the people around you. You notice a person in a bright red rain jacket about 20 feet away from you, sitting on a chair reading a book. You also notice a group of students huddled around a table, and a man in a suit typing away on his laptop. But that’s enough of observing people, you are here to work on calculus! You really immerse yourself in the math, reading your textbook, reviewing notes, and solving problems in your notebook. You check the clock on the wall every once in a while and after a solid hour and a half of intense studying, you decide to take a break. You feel proud of what you’ve accomplished and decide to go to the next door cafe to get yourself a treat. As you stand up you scan the environment around you – to your surprise, you don’t see the group of students, the businessman, or the woman in the bright red raincoat. Instead there are new people around you that you don’t recognize – How did this happen? You weren’t asleep and you didn’t leave your spot in the library, yet you didn’t notice people leave or enter the space. This is an example of attentional bias, which causes people to pay attention to certain things while ignoring other stimuli. In this example, your attention was directed to the task at hand – so much so that attention was not paid to your surroundings.

Now, imagine you are in a classroom where a professor is going through a lecture with slides. You start to zone out, thinking about something completely unrelated to the class, while staring at the floor. You snap back to reality, look at the slides, and don’t recognize what your professor is talking about. Despite being in the closed classroom without distractions, you can’t remember what your professor was talking about, or what the past couple slides covered. This once again is attentional bias allowing you to ignore certain stimuli in your environment.

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Rhymes and Reasons, why Poetry is Treason

November 26th, 2019 1 comment

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,” people generally think the former is 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.


So how does the Rhyme as Reason Effect work and what makes rhyming so persuasive anyway? Well heuristics, mental shortcuts that can help us make quick decisions and judgments, plays a big role. When this phenomenon was first studied, McGlone and Tofighbakhsh found that participants perceived aphorisms that rhymed to be more accurate than the modified non-rhyming version (“Life is mostly strife” over “Life is mostly struggle”), which demonstrates that there is bias for the rhyming aesthetic in a sentence. They also found that rhymes enhanced the fluency of statement which increased the perception of truth. Fluency is how easily something is processed; this heuristic can explain the effect because the faster and smoother something is processed, the more likely it is for us to think highly of it whether the item was logical or not. Because heuristics makes it easy for us to go for the simple answer without second-guessing our decision, we fall victim to the effect without even realizing it.

Not only are rhyming aphorisms easily processed and memorable, but they are also often repeated and passed down from generation to generation (e.g. “birds of a feather flock together”). In order to understand this a little bit more, we can refer to the cognitive processes of memory to explain why familiarity and repetition are so important. Familiarity is an automatic process that occurs when we experience something repeatedly, so when we hear rhyming aphorisms, we also unconsciously believe the statement to be true because it is familiar to us (Begg, Anas, & Farinacci, 1992). Thus, repeated exposure with these statements increases familiarity and make that information more salient, or accessible in our minds. Furthermore, if something is repeated enough time, it is more likely to be seen as a true statement; this is also called the illusory truth effect.

It is even harder for us to realize when we are under the Rhyme as Reason Effect because we grew up listening and reading nursery rhymes. We are experts at detecting rhymes with all that practice! Now how exactly does “The Cat the Hat” affect our perceptions and how we learn, you may wonder. Well, as we read more rhymes, we begin to develop more associations between what words rhyme, which develop our expectations for phrases that rhyme. A study by Sheingold and Foundas found that children were able to put the story in order better if it rhymed because the rhyming words provided cues that helped with the retrieval (to access memory for what was read) process.

Because we are constantly exposed to rhymes growing up, familiarity with words and phrases that rhymes also increase, and the recognition of a phrase that rhyme is automatic. This makes us more vulnerable to catchy catchphrase and commercials that uses rhymes to their advantage. In an age of commerce and technology, we are constantly being bombarded with advertisements everywhere we go. A study on how the Rhyme as Reasons Effect is used in commercials found that rhyming statements were more popular and easier to remember than non-rhyming statements, but the quality of the rhymes were also important as better rhymes were considered more trustworthy (Filkuková & Klempe, 2013). This study demonstrates the application of this effect on a day-to-day basis, and further emphasize how prevalent “aesthetic” is in our life as well as its effects on our choice and perception.

On a broader scale, the Rhyme as Reason Effect can also shift the scales of justice. One of the most well-known examples of this phenomenon occurred during the O.J Simpson murder trial in 1995 when Johnnie Cochran (O. J’s lawyer) said, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Cochran was referring to the bloodied glove found at the crime scene that was believed to belong to the murderer. Although the gloves were too small for O.J’s hand, this famous line helped his case as it may have swayed the jury’s judgment to simply focus on the gloves as evidence of innocence.

To conclude, the Rhyme as Reason Effect is a cognitive bias where we evaluate how true a statement is based on its aesthetic quality, and how easily it is processed by the brain. Often time, this effect occurs automatically because rhymes are easily remembered and repeated, thus allow us to recognize and expect it. However, just because something sounds catchy doesn’t mean that it is true.


Begg, I. M., Anas, A., & Farinacci, S. (1992). Dissociation of processes in belief: Source recollection, statement familiarity, and the illusion of truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General121(4), 446.

Filkuková, P., & Klempe, S. H. (2013). Rhyme as reason in commercial and social advertising. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology54(5), 423–431.

Sheingold, K., & Foundas, A. (1978). Rhymes for some reasons: Effect of Rhyme on Children’s Memory for Detail and Sequence in Simple Narratives. Psychological Reports43(3_suppl), 1231–1234.

Unkelbach, C. (2007). Reversing the truth effect: Learning the interpretation of processing fluency in judgments of truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(1), 219-230.

McGlone, M. S., & Tofighbakhsh, J. (2000). Birds of a feather flock conjointly (?): Rhyme as Reason in Aphorisms. Psychological Science11(5), 424–428.


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…

Rhyming for a Reason: Why Rhyming Slogans are More Effective in Communicating Big Ideas

November 26th, 2019 2 comments

If you’ve been to a college, or interacted with a college student, you know how demanding the academic requirements are. Would you believe me if I said, “C’s get diplomas”? Sure. That makes sense, after a minute of thinking… But what if I had said, “C’s get degrees”? Boom. Got it. You’ve probably heard that one before, and there’s a reason why. The second statement comes across as more true than the first even though both convey the same message. This experience is called the Rhyme as Reason effect.

The Rhyme as Reason Effect (also called the Eaton-Rosen Effect) is the phenomenon that occurs

“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” — Jean-Jaques Rousseau

when a person believes that a saying is more accurate when it rhymes. By contrast, a saying that means the same thing but does not rhyme is judged as less accurate. For example, the saying “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals” is judged as more accurate than “What sobriety hides, alcohol reveals” or “What sobriety conceals, alcohol shows.” So now you may be asking, why does this happen? Is it just because rhyming phrases are more fun to say, or is something else going on? Let’s think about this.


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This is the best blog post, this is the best blog post, this is the best blog post…

November 26th, 2019 1 comment


Read it and weep, Wakefield

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield caused quite a stir in the public health realm after he published a dubious study in a renowned medical journal that suggested the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to the development of autism (Rao and Andrade, 2011). This study terrified parents and, consequently, led to a sharp decline in MMR vaccination rates among children. Shortly after Wakefield’s article was published, numerous scientific studies were conducted that refuted and disproved Wakefield’s fictitious claims. However, it took 12 whole years for the medical journal, the Lancet, to issue a formal retraction of Wakefield’s article on the grounds of deliberate fraud (Rao and Andrade, 2011). In the meantime, as a result of decreased vaccination rates, the measles came back in full force during 2008 and 2009 plaguing the UK, United States, and Canada (Rao and Andrade, 2011). How could such an unfounded claim inspire so much mistrust in vaccinations even after people became aware of the copious refutation studies, the formal retraction, and the fact that Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license over his erroneous declaration? Good question. The culprit in perpetuating the belief in this false claim was repetition.

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I TOTALLY needed that $99 pair of light-up, pizza-alien sneakers…

November 25th, 2019 No comments

The $99 pair of light-up pizza, alien shoes that we all TOTALLY need (source)

Amazon Prime one-click ordering is dangerous territory. Bacon-patterned duct-tape? A ten-pound bag of gummy bears? A pool floaty shaped like a dinosaur? The only thing standing between you and these extremely valuable purchases is 1-click (and free 2-day delivery, of course). But you needed that $99 pair of light-up pizza-alien sneakers– your purchase was entirely justified. Even though you already have 5 other pairs of sneakers, your life would not be complete without this specific pair. Let’s be real, every person (including you) has impulsively bought something and then spent the rest of the day validating or rationalizing your decision. Well, that urge to justify your purchase is a real psychological phenomenon named Post-Purchase Rationalization, or the idea that people tend to justify and defend the purchases they make even if the purchase was impulsive, misguided, inadequate or so on. 

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The Real Reason We Like Subpar Art (and other self-creations)

November 23rd, 2019 No comments

I want you to think of the furniture in your house. There is the bedroom furniture set or the kitchen chairs or the family room couch or even the framed photos in the hallway. But, you know that self-constructed bookshelf, the one that is a little lopsided but “has character”? Or what about the barely-functional pinch pots you made in summer camp? If you are anything like me, you have held these items in your grips for years and can’t just throw them away. You built those things! Your blood, sweat, and tears (ok maybe that’s a stretch…) went into creating something and you like them. You like them maybe even more than store bought things. You are willing to pay more for something handmade. But should you? This trap you are falling into is so quirkily named the IKEA effect (yes after the Swedish furniture brand). This concept describes the tendency for people to overvalue products that they themselves created, even more than machine manufactured products. So yes, that handmade ornament by little cousin Johnny WILL remain on the Christmas tree for years to come, despite the poor craftsmanship!

What is valued does not always hold the highest value!

This effect was originally coined in the field of Consumer Psychology to describe cognitive processes that underlie consumer behavior. A study that first proposed the term described the tendency for people to overvalue their own creations. This effect does not just rely on objective value of the products either; IKEA boxes of the same caliber are rated as worth more money if they are self-assembled (Norton, Mochon, & Ariely, 2012) and so are origami structures and LEGO buildings (Norton, Mochon, & Ariely, 2012). Products themselves clearly hold intrinsic value to those beholding them, but other subjective factors are contributing to filling the gap between objective value and customer value. This is crazy! It seems like we are not consciously in control of our judgments on objects! Yikes!

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Is there truth to the Hot-Hand Fallacy?

April 27th, 2018 2 comments

Have you ever been playing a game of basketball with friends and then you make a shot, and then you make the next one? Did your confidence suddenly go up, despite the fact that the chances of you making the shot again are exactly the same as they were before? You, my friend, have just fallen victim to the hot hand fallacy.  The hot hand fallacy is the belief that because a person has had a successful experience with one event they will be able to reproduce the same event with success again or vice versa where if they miss they are more likely to miss again. The hot hand fallacy has been accepted by the psychology community as a cognitive illusion. A mistake in processing and in pattern recognition, but what if the hot-hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all?

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Its Official: Mind Reading is a Joke!

April 26th, 2018 No comments

Photo by Dorothy Thomas (

Imagine you are visiting your friend at another college for an event. Because you got into a lot of traffic, you have to go to directly there and meet your friend. All you know is that it is some sort of celebration towards success, and, thinking it’s semi-casual,  you go with your skirt, t-shirt and sneaker look. Once you get there, you realize everybody is dressed up in formal dresses and blazers. You feel embarrassed about your look and feel that everybody is aware of that. You feel that everyone can see how awkward and uncomfortable you feel. In your case you have just experienced the Illusion of Transparency effect: the tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which their inner thoughts, feelings, and attitudes ‘leak out’ and are seen by others. You thought everybody was reading your mind, but in reality they probably never even noticed you were there.
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Keep it simple, silly. Design and the framing effect.

April 26th, 2018 No comments

Cognitive psychology, the study of the human mental processes, is an area of study that influences many fields beyond just psychology. One specific interdisciplinary field that heavily benefits from cognitive psychology research is user experience design. User experience design is a field that focuses on improving the accessibility (usable by a wide variety of people) , usability (easiness to use and learnability), and satisfaction of using a product. Whether creating an e-commerce website or an artificial home assistant, a well-designed positive user experience is at the forefront of success. However, there are many different ways in which great product, website, and interface designs can be viewed in a negative light by a user. One of the ways that user experience design can be negatively affected is by framing. Imagine that you have an online apparel business and a potential customer encounters two different scenarios:

  • Purchase the item at the full retail price of $100
  • Purchase the item at a 50% discount of a retail price of $200

While both options end up costing the same, customers would more likely purchase the item under the second scenario. Why is this the case? The first scenario frames the purchase of the item as a loss of $100. Conversely, the second scenario is framed so that the customer has the illusion that they are saving $100 by making the purchase. They are more likely to purchase the item because it is framed as a gain. This human bias is known as the framing effect.

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