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Brain Glitches

“Brain Glitches” is my easier version of “Cognitive Biases”.  Some years back I decided that I needed to figure out what it is about human brains that makes them so succeptible to superstition, religion, and all other forms of belief in “woo”.  All the reading I did in search of an answer led me to discover cognitive biases, all the wonderful and fascinating ways our brains don’t work.

I’ll be collecting short definitions of some of my favorites here, for easy reference when I refer to them in a post.

Confirmation Bias:  (The most important brain glitch to know about for understanding human thought. ) We pay attention to and remember those things that agree with what we already think.  We tune out those things that we disagree with.  We also remember the unusual and disregard and forget the usual.  “LA LA LA, I can’t hear you” is a normal state of affairs.

Patternicity: We are pattern-seeking creatures.  We constantly look for patterns, and see them even where none exist.

Pareidolia: a subset of patternicity.  Our brains look not only for patterns, but for familiar patterns.  Especially faces.  That’s why people think they see the virgin Mary on a grilled-cheese sandwich.

Agenticity: we tend to attribute events with unknown causes to some sort of intentional agent by default.  That’s why we assume a rustle in the shrubbery is a potential attacker, and why people once thought that thunderstorms were the wrath of the gods.

Anchoring Bias: When we need to make a numerical estimate, our brains tend to start with a number that is already handy and work from there.  Even if that number has nothing to do with what we are estimating.

Backfire Effect:  When we have become set in a belief, hearing information that goes against that belief, rather than changing our minds, tends to make us dig in and support that belief all the more.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect:  People with less expertise often vastly overestimate their competence, true experts are more likely to underestimate theirs.

Reification:  People confuse an abstract concept with an actual physical thing.  (For instance “Mother Nature” isn’t actually a person, and “evil” isn’t a thing that exists in it’s own right, it’s a descriptor of other things.)  This also happens when people get their mental model of a thing confused with the thing itself.


1. Ellen Hawley - May 8, 2015

Nice post. I just tweeted it. I haven’t a clue if that accomplishes anything but maybe someone’s reading….

Liked by 1 person

ubi dubium - May 8, 2015

Thanks! This page is probably overdue for an update anyway, so I may add to it in the next few days.

Liked by 2 people


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