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Cognitive Biases

A cheat sheet to help you remember 200+ biases via 4 conundrums.

The 4 conundrums we must face.

Information

There's too much information to process, and we have limited attention to give, so we filter lots of things out.

Noise becomes signal.

The downside: we don’t see everything. Some of the information we filter out is actually useful and important..

Meaning

Lack of meaning is confusing, and we have limited capacity to understand how things fit together, so we create stories to make sense of everything.

Signal becomes a story.

The downside: our search for meaning can conjure illusions. We sometimes imagine details that were filled in by our assumptions, and construct meaning and stories that aren’t really there.

Time

We never have enough time, resources, or attention at our disposal to get everything that needs doing done, so we jump to conclusions with what we have and move ahead.

Stories become decisions.

The downside: quick decisions can be seriously flawed. Some of the quick reactions and decisions we jump to are unfair, self-serving, and counter-productive.

Memory

There's way too much to remember, given our limited capacity to keep track of things, so we save take-aways that seem the most important.

Decisions get recorded.

The downside: our memory reinforces errors. Some of the stuff we remember for later just makes all of the above systems more biased, and more damaging to our thought processes.

The 20 shortcuts we've picked up to compensate.

Filter information

  • 1. We tend to only consider things that are right in front of us.
  • 2. Bizarre, funny, and visually-striking things stick out more than other things.
  • 3. We notice when things change.
  • 4. We are much more likely to see information that confirms our existing beliefs.
  • 5. We notice flaws in others more than flaws in ourselves.

Confabulate stories

  • 6. We find stories and patterns even in sparse data.
  • 7. We fill in characteristics from stereotypes, generalities, and past experiences whenever there are gaps in new instances.
  • 8. We imagine things and people we are familiar with or fond of as intrinsically better than things or people we aren't familiar with or fond of.
  • 9. We simplify probabilities and numbers to make them easier to think about.
  • 10. We think we know what others are thinking.
  • 11. We project our current worldview and mindset onto the past and the future.

Jump to conclusions

  • 12. In order to act, we need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to feel like what we do is important.
  • 13. In order to stay focused, we favor the immediate, relatable thing in front of us to the delayed or future possibility.
  • 14. In order to get anything done, we're motivated to complete things that we've already invested time and energy into.
  • 15. In order to avoid risk, we're motivated to preserve our autonomy and status in a group and to avoid irreversible decisions.
  • 16. We favor options that appear simple or that have complete information over more complex or ambiguous options.

Save take-aways

  • 17. We continuously edit and refine memories after the fact.
  • 18. We discard messy specifics in favor of clean generalities.
  • 19. We reduce events and lists to one or two key examples.
  • 20. We store memories differently based on how they were experienced.

All 200+ biases are both blessings and curses.

People who have influenced my thinking

My current beliefs

  • Every single person, including myself, has many implicit associations that lead to bias that they can't fully eradicate in themselves. It's more effective to accept that fact, and account for it by being transparent about it, than to try to hide it.
  • We're susceptible to many cognitive biases and logical fallacies, because our brains require them to get any thinking done within our constraints of time and energy.

Links

A rational person's 1-minute guide to why rational thinking often fails to persuade people

Read this if you think learning about biases will make you more persuasive.

Cognitive bias cheat sheet, simplified

Follow-up on the original, trying to boil it down some more.

Strangers to Ourselves

I read this book in my mid-20s and it might be, alongside Fooled by Randomness, one of the first books that got me obsessed with cognitive biases.

Cognitive bias cheat sheet

Original full analysis of 200+ cognitive biases.

Three cognitive biases walk into a bar...

Sometimes they can cancel each other out.

Our filters

The only way we see things.