“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”― Aldous Huxley
This is part-2 of the multi-part series on cognitive biases and how to get beyond them. Here is Part-1.
Here are the biases discussed so far:
1. Confirmation Bias
2. Hindsight Bias
3. Negativity Bias
Before we begin, a brief message: To all the LYG readers in Canada: Happy Belated Canada Day! And to all the LYG readers in the USA, Happy 4th of July Weekend!
Moving along to the cognitive biases in this post:
4. Impact Bias and The Inaccurate Simulator
“How desperately difficult it is to be honest with oneself. It is much easier to be honest with other people.”- Edward Frederic Benson
In Impact bias, we overestimate the duration and the intensity of our future emotions and our emotional states.
In a research article titled:
Immune Neglect: A Source of Durability Bias in Affective Forecasting, by Daniel Gilbert et al in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors describe this bias in detail.
The authors say:
“People are generally unaware of the operation of the system of cognitive mechanisms that ameliorate their experience of negative affect (the psychological immune system), and thus they tend to overestimate the duration of their affective reactions to negative events.”
The example that the authors give is the receiving of great news or bad news.
Assume that we receive the news that our department that we work for has been dissolved and we have been given the pink slip. What do you think our emotional life would be like?
Go on, make a prediction. Well, most assume the worst and forecast doom and gloom at the very thought of losing a job.
Events like these bear the mark of a catastrophe and most people would predict and expect that their lives and emotional states would be greatly affected.
The good news is that we are usually wrong about such affective forecasting.
The authors point out that these expectations are important and they can also be wrong.
The reason that they have importance is that we base our actions on the basis of such predictions of how we think our future emotional states will be.
We take action based on how we predict how deeply future events will have a lasting emotional consequence on our lives. Go figure and chew on that for a bit.
The question to ask yourself is if these predictions and forecasts are correct or are we representing a bias?
The authors argue:
“But are these forecasts correct? In some ways they undoubtedly are. For example, most people recognize that a weekend in Paris would be more enjoyable than gallbladder surgery, and few people fear chocolate or tingle in anticipation of next year’s telephone directory. But even if people can estimate with some accuracy the valence and intensity of the affect that future events will evoke, they may be less adept at estimating the duration of that affect, and it is often the prediction of duration that shapes an individual’s decisions.”
So while we are good at choosing what might bring emotional relief or what might not, we are often wrong about the lasting impact of that emotional relief to our future states.
In other words, the bad does not last as long as we predict and neither does the good.
And there is an amazing thing about this bias. The authors say that regardless of the event, good or bad, the general level of happiness returns to the baseline. This return to the baseline that individuals have happens in a relatively short period of time.
Research suggests that common events do not have an impact for more than a few months.
And even uncommon events, like losing a loved one or being diagnosed with cancer, may have a lesser impact on the levels of long-term happiness.
In fact, they have a smaller impact than we expect them to have on our futures and our lives.
There might be several reasons for this bias and the authors point out some of the major ones.
Some of the reasons are:
When we have to predict or expect how an event will unfold and have emotional consequences, it is often difficult to do so.
This is because we cannot imagine the precise sequence of events and the effects with great detail and with great accuracy.
Moreover, research suggests that the “at the moment visualization” of the forecast is only one of the ways among many that the event can unfold.
It may also be that when the event unfolds, the experience is quite different than what we imagined it to be.
2. Motivated Distortions
Sometimes, we have present fear, comfort issue or an inspiration to behave and act in a certain way. This happens because of a forecasted negative consequence.
We overestimate and inflate forecasts and scare the self with “what ifs” that dictate our present actions. This can happen with positive affective forecasts as well.
The authors say:
“So, for example, people may overestimate the duration of their affective responses to the positive events they anticipate (“After Joel and I get married, life will be wonderful” ) because the mere act of making that forecast induces positive affect (“Just thinking about the wedding makes me smile!”).”
They also mention that we also have a tendency to overestimate the length of negative responses as part of a defensive and pessimistic method. This prepares us to handle the severity of the negative event and makes us pleasantly surprised when the effects are mild.
The authors add:
“People may exaggerate the negative affective consequences of certain outcomes to motivate themselves to pursue one course of action over another (“If I flunk the algebra test tomorrow, I will be doomed to a life of poverty, disease, and despair. So I’d better skip the party and hit the library” ). In short, affective forecasts have immediate affective consequences, and thus it is only natural that they should sometimes be made in service of their immediate effects. The durability bias may be the result of that service.”
3. Inaccurate Theories
These are theories and bodies of knowledge that we are handed down culturally or socially.
These beliefs and theories can have a long lasting effect and impression on our behavior and our forecasting actions.
We believe and know that certain events should affect us in certain ways. But what if they do not? The most common example is that if we get wealthy, we will be happier with a positive correlation between the two.
However, science shows that this is only partly true with a 60 to 65k a year resulting in the flat-lining of happiness beyond which a lot of wealth does not increase happiness.
The authors say about these:
“Because some of one’s acquired wisdom about the emotional consequences of common events is undoubtedly wrong (“Getting rich is the key to permanent happiness” ), the affective forecasts that this wisdom generates ( “If I win the lottery, I’ll live happily ever after”) will undoubtedly be wrong too.”
This happens in the bias when we focus only on the event. We predict an overestimated effect of the emotional impact of the event because we ignore other events that influence our well-being, happiness, and emotional state.
In the present, we are biased towards focusing exclusively on the event at hand and it seems like it will have a bigger impact in the future. But with the passage of time, other influences may not make that so.
We are more prone to base our estimate and predicting of future emotional states on the current state that we are experiencing. We anchor or cement that state and then have to adjust that prediction to reflect what we think will change. But that correction is not usually accurate since there is no way to tell how states will impact us.
6. Immune Neglect
We have many processes that allow us to get beyond the actual future longevity of an unfavorable and negative event. Some of these include defenses and rationalizations are in-built to protect us from excess negative states.
The authors say:
“In science, literature, and folklore, people are famous for making the best of bad situations, remembering their successes and overlooking their excesses, trumpeting their triumphs and excusing their mistakes, milking their glories and rationalizing their failures–all of which allows them to remain relatively pleased with themselves despite all good evidence to the contrary.”
According to the authors and previous research, Some of these mechanisms include:
- Ego defense
- Dissonance reduction
- Motivated reasoning
- Positive illusions,
- Self-serving attribution
- Self-affirmation, and self-justification
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” ― Stephen R. Covey
1. Become aware of your immune defense mechanisms including rationalizations.
2. Realize that you might be overestimating the intensity and the duration of the negative effect of an event in the current moment.
3. Realize that when you are tunnel visioned with limited facts in the current, making simulations about the future is difficult and unpredictable because of other factors that you are not taking into account.
4. When you take an action, take into consideration the impact bias before you leap into action based on the forecasting.
5. The False Consensus Bias or “most people are like me bias”
“We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.”― Frank Clark
The false consensus bias is in full force when we overestimate how our beliefs and opinions match and are similar to those of others.
In this bias, we make the basic assumption that our habits and preferences and opinions are typical and normal and others think more similarly to us. We underestimate the differences and overestimate the similarities.
This creates a cloud of perception that others will agree or there will be consensus between them and us.
In reality, beliefs and opinions can vary widely and we get taken aback when we face resistance or no consensus from others.
This bias usually shows itself in social perception.
In a research paper titled The Truly False Consensus Effect: An Ineradicable and Egocentric Bias in Social Perception by Joachim Krueger and Russell W. Clement in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors say:
“Consensus bias is the overuse of self-related knowledge in estimating the prevalence of attributes in a population.”
The authors argue that experiments show the consensus bias as true regardless of additional information and input.
For example, debiasing by feedback or other information did not lessen the bias and points to the egocentrism hypothesis. They propose that egocentrism might play a role in the bias because it involves valuing the self above everything and developing a rigidity of judgment to support that.
1. Realize that others can be very different from us.
2. Are you expecting and hoping for a consensus based on self-confidence and self-image of a certain way?
3. Allow for the opposite of the false consensus bias to grace your ideas and consciousness. This is valuable because different types of opinions and ideals add different value to the situation.
6. Attention Bias And The Tunnel Visioning Effect
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
Attention bias forces us to focus on one or two choices and effectively shuts off or tunnel visions our attention. When we engage all our limited attention to a narrow focus and reject or do not see the other choices and outcomes, we have the attention bias.
Why this bias happens is quite interesting and obvious. Research has shown that humans can only focus on 50 to 100 bits of information any given moment.
When there is information and choice flying in at you from all directions, we may selectively shut off to everything but the first or the favorite choice.
“Choice of sources can shield extreme bias behind a façade of objectivity.” ― Noam Chomsky
1. Ask yourself if you are tunnel visioning your choices in favor of on or two dominant ones.
2. Make an assessment of what takes and keeps your attention: Look at Thoughts, emotions, projects, people, and situations. Is that where you want to place some or all your limited attention?
3. Become aware of “attention vampires” that suck the present moment and use it to leverage and capitalize it to their own ends. Politely Ask if you can leave the conversation or situation.
4. Become good at deep focus and also diffuse focus. Looking at both the forest and the trees is essential for continued success.
Now over to you. Let me know in the comments below if these biases sound familiar and how you get beyond them.