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The science behind why we make bad decisions

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The science behind why we make bad decisions

Is a bad decision just an error or are there psychological tendencies that help us along the way? According to some researchers, the way our brains organise and process information can lead us to make bad decisions, especially upon retrieval of our stored knowledge….

1) The Dunning-Kruger effect

According to psychologist David Dunning there are people, especially those claiming to be ‘experts’ (and who blindly follow their beliefs without listening to alternative views) who get to a point where competence turns into complete incompetence. These people believe their own hype to the point where their flaws become blindingly obvious to others but not to the experts themselves. They won’t realise the gaps in their knowledge and this is one of the most dangerous types of self belief and ignorance.

2) The time-saving bias

When we are running late, it is easy to assume that if we speed up we will save time. Research has shown though that we persistently overestimate the amount of time we would save and that often, just keeping a steady pace will get you there in the same time or less compared to speeding up which overall doesn’t actually save much time at all.

3) The ‘Just World’ hypothesis

There is a lot of nastiness in the world and we have to reconcile this by telling ourselves that bad things happen to those who somehow deserve it. This helps us to cope with the awful things that happen in the world, especially those that seem unjust. This type of thinking can make us unempathic though and we may end up a nation of hard uncaring people – is that an easier thing to live with than to believe bad things can happen to good undeserving people?

4) The ambiguity effect

This effect states that we are more likely to make a choice where we have an idea of what the outcome might be even if the other choice might possibly be much more rewarding. When we think about how much in life is uncertain, this tendency shows how humans like to play it safe.

5) The Hot-cold empathy gap

“Cold states” are fairly neutral, but “hot states” denote urgent feelings like fear, pain, and hunger. We apparently aren’t very good at estimating how we will feel in the opposite state of the one we are currently in – that’s why we overshop. The hot-cold empathy gap occurs when we can’t see things from the perspective of someone who isn’t experiencing the same bodily state as we are.

The above cognitive errors shows that the knowledge we have to hand is always an interpretation of cold hard facts and that the way we process and retrieve information can lead to errors and explain why we make bad decisions.

Mandy X


Photo by pabak sarkar

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