Thursday, November 01, 2012

Cognitive Biases: Political Ads Feed Them BIG TIME!

One of the hardest things to do is challenge your preconceived notions about any topic. Science, religion, economics...anything, especially politics this time of year.

Our brains are wired a certain way and when facts get in the way of that wiring, it tries to convince itself it isn’t wrong, even when it is. We want to be right; our brain tries to convince us that we are right. We feel conflicted.  We hate randomness. We want order. We rebel. We get emotional. We react impulsively.  All hope for rational thinking fades fast.

Mark Dow's excellent blog post lists 4 of these cognitive biases. How many of these have you succumbed to recently when talking about yourself, science, climate change, politics, foreign policy, the economy, etc?

1.       We overestimate our abilities, our uniqueness, and our objectivity, even more so when under emotional strain. We have all seen the studies: 90% of people say they are above average drivers. Rarely do people think those around them work harder or better than they do. And so on…

2.       We systematically understate the role of ‘random’. We crave order, and we are willing to torture the facts to get there. But sometime things just happen, and sometimes problems don’t have solutions. No fundamental cause, no guilty party, no concrete answers. Moreover, on the up side, when random does break our way it’s appropriated as skill.

3.       People will find a way to believe what they are intended to believe. As the saying goes, “The most dangerous place to stand is in between someone and what they want to believe”. In my experience, it’s hard to overestimate the power of this statement. Starting with the conclusion and reverse-engineering the supporting arguments is central to the human condition and, surprisingly, serves and important role in our evolution.

4.       When presented with points 1, 2, and 3, almost everyone recognizes their validity, but believes at some level that he/she is exempt. The typical reaction is “Yeah, for sure, of course that’s how [other] people act”. It is always easier to see others’ mistakes than one’s own. And this is one of the reasons we have a very hard time changing our cognitive biases. All of us.

All of the political advertisements are geared toward a specific group by catering to that group's cognitiv bias!

What do politicians say ALL OF THE TIME? Mark Dow explains....

1.       I feel your pain. Politicians need to connect, to empathize convincingly. Or, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, they need to be able to fake sincerity.

2.       You deserve more than you are getting, and it is not your fault.

3.       I’m gonna get the bastards who are keeping you down.

Just some interesting thoughts as I read articles on the topics of the day this morning...

What biases do you have? Are they strong? Have you challenged you biases as much as it might not feel right?

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