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Archive for the ‘Decision Making’ Category

The Show Must Go On! The War on Terrorism and Other Escalations of Commitment

April 17th, 2017 3 comments

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We are in the 16th year of the War on Terrorism and less than a week ago, Donald Trump raised the stakes by bombing Syria and Afganistan. The Afganistan bombing was the largest non-nuclear bomb deployed in the history of the United States. When confronted about the decision, Trump referred to the dropping of the 30 ft, 11 ton MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast) on an Islamic State cave and tunnel complex as a, “very, very successful mission.” Successful by what means? Every decision by the past three presidents to further engage in this war has led to more US soldier and Middle Eastern civilian casualties and we have made no steps towards conflict resolution. If this sort of stubborn persistence seems familiar that’s because this kind of error has been repeated throughout history as seen in the Vietnam War, in economic bailouts, and in failed skyscraper building projects just to name a few. This behavioral error is a cognitive bias known as escalation of commitment, or the Sunk Cost Effect.

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Under Budget and Over Time: The Planning Fallacy is Why You’re Always Behind Schedule

April 17th, 2017 8 comments

You are a busy college student who has a lot to do after a long day of classes. So you decide to try to organize your life and make a detailed schedule for your evening. You set aside an hour to get that workout in, and then another generous hour for dinner with your friends. Then to the library, you give yourself 45 minutes to read a history article and an hour to finish your lab report, followed

Evening Schedule

by an hour and a half for that chapter of chemistry notes. If all goes as planned, you’ll be back in your room snuggled up with Netflix by 11pm. The problem is, halfway through that chemistry chapter, you glance at your phone and it reads 11:43pm. What happened? You planned out everything you had to do and thought you had given yourself enough time to do it. Unfortunately, you have fallen victim to the planning fallacy. Read more…

Reader, Do People Actually Know How You Feel? Welcome to Your Tape…

April 17th, 2017 6 comments

I recently got into this Netflix original called 13 Reasons Why. It’s an adaptation of a book with the same name that was probably on your summer “to read” booklist in middle school. It tells a story of a high school girl named Hannah who commits suicide and releases a set of cassette tapes to the people who were “instrumental” to her death. I put instrumental in quotation marks because we don’t really know what happened and we all know that memory could be untrustworthy; but that’s for another blog (This link will take you to another blog that talks about Confabulation). The question is why is this relevant in a blog about cognitive psychology?

Hannah from 13 Reasons Why

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Presidential election vs bilingualism: how does the framing effect impact our decision-making

April 17th, 2017 2 comments

Are you a logical thinker?

If you are a human being with a healthy dose of confidence, your answer is most likely “Sure, I use logic most of the time.” Or, if you identify with the virtue of modesty, you would probably say, “No guarantees, but I make my best effort.” If either of the above describes you, at one point or another the election of the 45th U.S. president was probably among the biggest mysteries for you. Hillary Clinton sure has had her fair share of scandals and hypocrisy, but so do many seasoned politicians; Donald Trump, on the other hand, had no political experience, more than a handful racist, sexist, and xenophobic statements, and multiple alleged sexual assaults. Furthermore, because of his background, Donald Trump is also under a lot of suspicion of abusing power for personal gains. How on earth did Donald Trump turn out so much more appealing in a presidential election?

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Why Have I Seen so Many Dogs Today… and Other Effects of the Attentional Bias

April 17th, 2017 3 comments

Have you ever experienced that feeling where you’re in a bad mood and everything seems to be going wrong that day? Maybe all of your friends seem mad at you, or maybe you do something embarrassing like trip, and you feel like everybody is making fun of you.  These are basic examples of the phenomenon that cognitive psychologists call the attentional bias.  This describes the tendency for you to focus on certain pictures, objects, facial expressions, or other stimuli in your environment based on what is dominating your thoughts.  This means that someone who is very interested in dogs and reads a lot of information about them, or looks at pictures of them online all the time, will tend to focus more on dogs in their environment.

Cute dogs

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Don’t mess with the flow, no, no! Stick to the status quo!

April 17th, 2017 4 comments

Have you been using the same brand of toothpaste for years? Do you tend to eat the same meal everyday? Do you stay on Facebook for hours simply because it was pulled up on your computer when you turned it on?

HSM “Stick to the status quo”

Each of these situations may be a result of your status quo bias. You’ve probably heard of the status quo, maybe that High School Musical song is floating around somewhere in your head. The status quo is exactly how Chad Danforth sang it- it’s the situation that you’re in at each moment in time. For you, right now, it is sitting (or laying or standing) at a computer (or mobile device!) and reading this awesome blog about the status quo bias (whoa your status quo is reading about the status quo!). Now the status quo bias deviates here from High School Musical. Where the Wildcats were singing for everyone to stick to the status quo because it was better or superior to any alternative, the status quo bias is basically sticking with the status quo because it’s the status quo. Read more…

What Do High School Musical and the 2016 Election Have in Common? Status Quo Bias.

April 17th, 2017 3 comments

In 2006, the cast of High School Musical sang and danced wildly in a school cafeteria, preaching the benefits of “sticking to the status quo.” All the students in the school, jocks, academics, musicians, protested the changing school-climate, one becoming increasingly accepting and diverse. In the context of the movie, this song serves to characterize high schools across the nation as afraid of change and difference. To the audience’s later astonishment, the students are able to overcome this bias against change, celebrating the ultimate destruction of the rigid high school social borders! This heroic defeat of the high school caste system is certainly enjoyable for a generation of millennials, despite the 56% rotten tomatoes rating. Yet, in reality, change concerning social systems is far more difficult to achieve. In fact, the fear of change itself has its roots in cognitive and social psychology with what is called the status quo bias.

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Simply put, the status quo bias is known as people’s general preference for the existing and enduring states of the world and one’s own self (Eidelman & Crandall, 2012). Most people would sooner their life stay static than to welcome a new change, big or small. This phenomenon is what often prevents people from people making life changes, such as moving to a new home, trying a new diet, or even changing their preferred route home from work. Because stasis provides feelings of comfort and security, most people tend to avoid the threats of a new change or lifestyle. In High School Musical, super basketball stud Troy Bolton fears that his newfound interest in musical theatre will threaten the social safety in his athletic passions. Similarly, Gabriella is scared that the spotlight of a career in theatre will bring unwanted attention to her quiet, scholarly ways. Both protagonists show a preference for their current social group out of worry that they might be thought less of by other students if they joined another one- a prime example of sticking to the status quo! Read more…

Handwashing, Heliocentrism, and Global Warming: To Reject or Accept?

April 17th, 2017 4 comments

How often do you wash your hands? The Center for Disease Control recommends hand washing in numerous scenarios, such as before, during, and after preparing food, before and after tending to someone who is sick, before and after treating a wound, after going to the bathroom, after touching animals, and the list goes on. Now I know it might seem a little ridiculous to wash your hands as often as it is recommended, but I am crossing my fingers that you at least understand why it is necessary. One of the first things we teach our children is to always wash their hands, and how to do so effectively (such as washing for the duration of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”… twice). If you don’t believe me when I say hand washing is deep-seated in our modern society, just look at the 3.1 billion dollar market for hand soaps (Nielsen 2016). I, for one, certainly get overwhelmed when I walk down the aisle at my local Target and have to choose between the exhaustive collection of soaps with which I can lather up. And if I don’t find any soap I like then I can make my way over to the various types of hand sanitizers nearby. We can credit Ignaz Semmelweis and his microbial discoveries for the normalization of hand washing in our culture, but can you imagine a world where we didn’t wash our hands? And even stranger – can you imagine rejecting the science behind it? 
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Sure, I can afford it: The cognitive principles behind mental accounting

April 17th, 2017 3 comments

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I could really go for a burger and milkshake right now.  It’s the end of the month; rent has been paid, my student loan contribution is accounted for, and I’ve maxed out my self-imposed monthly restaurant allowance. It looks like I’m out of luck.  But, after some quick mental math, I realize that I spent $10 less than expected on groceries this month.  Score!  It’s burger time. We’ve all done this: designating money for specific purposes, guesstimating how much we’ve spent, and mentally moving money around when convenient.  These behaviors, among others, are what psychologist Richard Thaler (1985) calls “mental accounting.”  Mental accounting is the process of creating mental representations (meaningful mental images) of money based on its form, how it was acquired, and how you intend to use it.  Indeed, there was nothing concrete about my monthly restaurant allowance or grocery budget.  They were simply my personal mental accounts.  In other words, mental accounting helps us organize our spending behaviors.  It’s not just about budgeting, though.  Categorizing money for one purpose or another can help us restrict our purchases, or, like my decision to buy the burger and milkshake demonstrated, justify moving money around our mental accounts.

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Don’t get too personal when it’s the all about the situation: Fundamental Attribution Error

April 17th, 2017 2 comments

Fundamental attribution error (FAE) happens when people explain a behavior of another by drawing inferences about that person’s personalities, dispositions or other internal factors, but underestimate the effect of external factors such as the situation the person is in (Gilbert & Malone, 1995). People often make FAE without realizing it. What are some examples of FAE, why does it happen so often outside our consciousness, and how can we avoid it?

Let’s starts with some examples of FAE. Imagine you are traveling in a foreign country and want to buy souvenirs for your friends. After careful selection, you decide to buy seventeen homemade chocolate bars; each is thirteen dollars. Before checking out, you want to know how much do they cost but you are having a hard time calculating the exact number. Then, the little boy next to you says immediately: “Hey, that’s 221 dollars.”

So you take out the cell phone to check the total; you find out that the boy is correct. What would be your first reaction? Read more…