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All the Biases: Too Much Information part 2, the Weird Stuff July 4, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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Continuing on with my analysis of the biases listed in this graphic.  The next section has the awkwardly long name of “Bizarre, funny, visually-striking or anthropomorphic things stick out more than non-bizarre/unfunny things.”  Well, I can improve on that.  I’d rather call it “We don’t notice the boring stuff.”

Here’s their list under this sub-heading:

  • Bizarreness Effect
  • Humor Effect
  • Von Restorff Effect
  • Picture Superiority Effect
  • Self-relevance Effect
  • Negativity Bias

Let’s take a look!

  • Bizarreness Effect

Pretty obvious.  Supposedly we remember weird stuff better than ordinary stuff.  Apparently this one is somewhat disputed; there is apparently conflicting evidence about whether this is real.  I guess if something is so bizarre as to incomprehensible, we might not really take it in well enough to remember it.

  • Humor Effect

We remember funny stuff better than ordinary stuff.   Again, pretty obvious.  Example:  There are college classes I took where I don’t remember any specific things we learned.  I sure can’t do quantum mechanics calculations anymore.  But the one course where the professor kept us in helpless laughter the whole class, with stories of his childhood and his rotten little brother, I remember much more of that class material.  (There was a waitlist to get into that class, it was so popular!)

Another example of this, back when my spouse was an estate planning attorney, he first needed to educate his clients about some basics on estates and trusts.  Rather than boring them with a lot of rules and regulations, he told stories to get his points across, and making them funny helped.  So later, when a client asked why they needed to include something in their plan, he could just remind them about “your wife’s next husband, Biff the personal trainer” or “Bill Gates in the IRS Grocery store”.  This also relates to how people remember stories better than lists of things, which I hope will also show up somewhere in this list of biases.

  • Von Restorff Effect

When looking at a group of mostly similar things, the one that is most different will be more easily remembered.  This especially goes for visual groups, and marketers use this on us all the time.  They will make sure that the choice they want us to make is highlighted in some way.  But it also applies to written lists.  For example, look at this list: “desk, chair, bed, table, chipmunk, dresser, stool, couch”.  If you try to recall the items later, the one that you will most easily recall would probably be “chipmunk” because it was the one that was different.

But if each thing on the list has something eye-catchingly unique about it, then the effect no longer works. When everything is special, then nothing is special.  For instance, in this this picture, an argument can be made for any of the four images, as to why it’s the one that’s unique.  As a result, none of them may stand out as more memorable than the others.

  • Picture Superiority Effect

We remember images better than we remember text.  Which is one reason why I almost always include some kind of image in each of my blog posts.

  • Self-relevance Effect

As I look this up, I find a lot more entries under the name “self-reference effect” which as far as I can tell is the same thing.  We remember things better when they involve us personally.

Thinking about advertising, and given all of these effects above, it would make sense that the best, most attention grabbing ad campaign of all time would encompass all of them.  It would be strange, funny, significantly different from any other ad of the time, personally relevant to the viewer, and include memorable images.  And my candidate for the most memorable ad campaign of all time checks all of those boxes.

The man your man could smell like

(If you aren’t of the right age to remember this commercial, you can see the original here.)

  • Negativity Bias

When making an evaluation, we pay more attention to negative traits than we do to positive ones.  Example:  Say we are thinking about a generally honest person and a generally dishonest person.  If the honest person does something dishonest, we will change our opinion of them and consider them now to be dishonest.  But if a dishonest person does something honest, that doesn’t make us now consider them to be an honest person, it was just a dishonest person doing one thing out of character.

I think that this one might belong under another section, since it’s not really about noticing a non-boring thing.  For now I’m going to move it to the “we notice flaws in others” section, and when I examine that section I’ll see if I decide to leave it there.

This subsection was all pretty obvious, although I didn’t know the name “Von Restorff Effect” before.  (Honestly, that one hardly seems to need a name, it’s just more like “Noticeable things are noticeable”.  Duh.)  As always, does anyone have any good examples of these effects?

←Back to the Beginning of this series.

All the Biases: Too Much Information part 1 July 2, 2022

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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I’m going to start a new occasional series, based on this graphic, which takes Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases and sorts them into groupings:

I realize that you can’t possibly read that, so you can see the full version here.  Original source story where I found this graphic is here.

Now, cognitive biases are one of my favorite subjects.  Understanding how our own brains mess up and lead us astray can really help us when we are striving for clearer thinking. So I thought I’d start working through this chart one group at a time, as a good chance to review individual cognitive biases, learn about some new ones, and see if I agree with the groupings in the graphic. (more…)

That one weird thing that didn’t happen July 7, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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This morning, just before I woke up, I was having some long complicated dream about marble racing.  (That’s not completely out of the blue; I’ve been waching “Let’s Plays” of Myst III Exile, and it has a whole section of rolling ball puzzles.) As part of the dream, however, one of the things that came up was that Dan Barker had just died.  (Dan is a co-founder of FFRF, if you don’t recognize the name.)

After I got up, I checked the internet, and as far as I can tell, he’s fine.  Not dead.  This was a total non-event.

This kind of thing happens to people all the time.  Someone or something pops into our minds and for a moment it seems significant.  And then it turns out that it isn’t significant, and we FORGET.  All those old songs you thought about, but didn’t then hear on the radio.  All those old friends you were just thinking of that didn’t call you.  That famous person you were reminded of, and who didn’t have any big news that day.  This is normal, boring, and we just have no reason to remember these things, or how often they happen.

So the few times when, by coincidence, you DO happen to hear that old song, or get a call from that old friend, it seems completely amazing!  Hey everybody, I must be psychic!  I was just thinking about that person, and here’s a news story about them!  What are the odds?

The odds are, that since so many people are thinking about so many things, that once in awhile that coincidence should happen.   What would be weird would be if those coincidences never happened.

As an example, how many people do you think are listening to a Michael Jackson song right now?  Probably quite a lot.  How many people were listening to one, or had just listened to one, when the news broke that Michael Jackson had died?  Probably a similar number.  And a lot of of those people probably told everyone they knew about their amazing coincidence, and how it meant something.

But all it meant was that human brains are very susceptible to confirmation bias.  We remember the hits, and forget all the misses.  We forget all the boring stuff and remember only what was interesting and different.  The price of keeping our brains free of everyday clutter is that it messes with our understanding of coincidences.

You won’t believe the BEST reason for being an atheist! February 5, 2018

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Responses.
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A while back Jim posed a question on his blog, The Common Atheist.

His request was “If each of you would share right here one of your best arguments for atheism…”

And I replied with one of my best reasons, but since it was in a comment thread I tried to keep my answer brief.  However, I think the point I was making deserves a more careful discussion.  So here’s a full post about it. (more…)

Amazing Graphic – All the Biases October 4, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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My spouse put me on to this image:

This is a chart of ALL the known cognitive biases, grouped into rough categories.  This is one of my favorite subjects to learn about, because it really helps me understand why people do inexplicable things.

What are cognitive biases?  (I also like to call them “brain glitches.”)  They are the ways humans mess up when thinking, making consistent sorts of mistakes and being illogical in predictable ways.

In a way, it makes sense that we have some of these glitches. We simply do not have enough brain capacity and brain power and speed to completely think through everything in our lives.  We can sit down and ponder through a few things logically, but that’s tiring and often too slow.  Most of the time we function on “rules of thumb” and mental shortcuts, and for most of human history those worked well enough, usually.  But maybe not so well in our complicated modern world.

But some of these just seem to be idiosyncrasies of the way our brain is wired.  And we are all subject to them, to some extent.  But understanding these has certainly been helpful for me, both in catching myself thinking sloppily, or understanding why other people behave the way they do.

To see a full size image that you can actually read, please go here.

(And once I finish with sporking the Mormon guidebook, I think I might start a blog series based off this graphic, looking at sets of biases in the way they are grouped together in the chart.)

Business Turkey! August 21, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Humor.
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A story, and a look at the ways each of our brains are working differently, even when we think we are talking about the same thing.

A little while back my spouse, UbiDubiKid#1 and UbiDubiKid#2 were meeting me at my office, and then we were going to go somewhere for lunch.  I got a call on my office phone from my spouse: “Hi, we’re here. Do you want to meet us outside at the car?”  But then there was a voice in the background on the phone, one of the UbiDubiKids calling out “BUSINESS TURKEY!!!!”  And then my spouse said “Oh, wait, never mind, we’ll come in.”


Once they came in, I got the explanation.  They had stopped at Costco on the way to my office, and had bought a 3-pack of sliced turkey.  They needed to leave it in the fridge at my office while we were at lunch, instead of leaving it in the hot car.  How to remember to do this?  UbiDubiKid#1 had suggested imagining a “business turkey” as a mnemonic, to help remember to do this.

As we were headed to lunch, over much laughter, we talked about what just happened.  As we talked, we realized that each of us had a different conception in their heads of what a “business turkey” was.  UbiDubiKid#1 had imagined a live turkey wearing a business suit.  UbiDubiKid#2 had envisioned a dead frozen turkey, wearing the suit.  I had also imagined a dead turkey, but roasted and stuffed and ready to eat, in a business suit.  And my spouse had imagined the package of sliced turkey itself  in the suit.

Now this made the whole thing even funnier, and it’s been a running joke in the family ever since.  We can say the same thing, but the thoughts going on behind it are totally different.  Brains are weird.

Not So Smart Cookies July 4, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Brain Glitches, Humor.
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I may have mentioned that one of my favorite podcasts is called “You Are Not So Smart”.  It’s a wonderful “celebration” of the human capacity for self-delusion.  It started out as a blog, and then shifted over to a podcast.  Each episode focuses on some particular way our brains don’t work, usually with one or more guests that are experts in the field.  It’s pretty much the podcast I would make if I were going to do a podcast, except I don’t have to because it already exists.

At the end of most episodes, the host, David McRaney, samples and comments on cookies baked from a cookie recipe sent in by a listener. A few months back I had sent in a recipe for one of our favorites,  Caramel Apple Cider Cookies, but then hadn’t given it any further thought.  I had gotten a little behind on listening, so I was very surprised when my spouse called me to say that this book had shown up on our doorstep…

 which is the thank you gift if he uses your recipe on the show!  Yay!  His review is at the end of this episode.

Thank you David, and I promise to get caught up on the latest episodes as soon as I finish getting caught up on Oh No Ross and Carrie.  (They are doing a summer devoted to UFO craziness.  Can’t miss that.)

Inner Demons January 19, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Books, Brain Glitches, Responses.
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Still reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature.  I’ve just finished the chapter on what it is about human brains that leads us into violence that ought to be avoidable.  Again, this chapter really could be a whole book on its own.

He sums up at the end of this chapter by re-listing five “inner demons” and I think his list is a good summary.  He didn’t number the list, but I’m going to here:

  1. People, especially men, are overconfident in their prospects for success; when they fight each other, the outcome is likely to be bloodier than any of them thought.
  2. People, especially men, strive for dominance for themselves and their groups; when contests of dominance are joined, they are unlikely to sort the parties by merit and are likely to be a net loss for everyone.
  3. People seek revenge by an accounting that exaggerates their innocence and their adversaries’ malice; when two sides seek perfect justice, they condemn themselves and their heirs to strife.
  4. People can not only overcome their revulsion to hands-on violence but acquire a taste for it; if they indulge it in private, or in cahoots with their peers, they can become sadists.
  5. And people can avow a belief they don’t hold because they think everyone else avows it; such beliefs can sweep through a closed society and bring it under the spell of a collective delusion. (pg 570)

The chapter has a really detailed examination of each of these points.  This is a really interesting book, and I wish it was required reading for every politician before they were allowed to take office.

Self-delusion January 14, 2017

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches, Questions, Responses.
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I’m reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.  It’s an enormous and thorough work on the decline of violence.  Each chapter could really be a book on it’s own, and it’s taking me a really long time to work through it.

A day or so ago, though, this sentence jumped out at me.  It’s in a section where he’s discussing why humans tend to think they are more competent, smarter, and luckier than they actually are:

“… Positive illusions are a bargaining tactic, a credible bluff.  In recruiting an ally to support you in a risky venture, in bargaining for the best deal, or in intimidating an adversary into backing down, you stand to gain if you credibly exaggerate your strengths.  Believing your own exaggerations is better than cynically lying about it, because the arms race between lying and lie detection has equipped your audience with the means of seeing through barefaced lies.” (pg 512)

Hmm.  I’ve been looking for reasons why humans tend to be so good at self-delusion, and this idea could factor into the explanation.  But its validity would hinge on humans being reasonably good at detecting lies.  I’m not convinced that they are, especially given recent politics.

What do you think?

Wealth Inequality – the real picture October 15, 2016

Posted by Ubi Dubium in Brain Glitches.
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This video was posted by Nan over at Nan’s Notebook, and I thought it was important enough that I should post it also.  Regardless of what you think the solution to wealth inequality is in our country, it’s important that everybody have a good understanding of what the problem actually looks like:

(Nan reports that the source of this information is Michael I. Norton, the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. The information was originally published in the Harvard Magazine in 2011.)