The Mistakes You Make Can Be Cognitive Skew

The culprit for the mistakes you make can be cognitive skew

We make a lot of decisions during the day.  Most of them in the blink of an eye and almost without thinking. Rarely do we ponder the consequences of each possible option, but the solution is chosen almost blindly. Cognitive skew controls your thinking.

At other times, especially when it comes to an important decision, we weigh all the relevant information to make the best possible decision. Be that as it may, there is something behind decision-making and the solutions we choose that we don’t usually pay attention to. It is a cognitive skew. It can be fatal as it can lead to unrealistic and bad decisions.

However, cognitive and heuristic distortions are not in themselves dangerous. They are, in fact, like shortcuts to the mind. A shortcut that can certainly put us in trouble, but a shortcut nonetheless. We describe them as shortcuts because we use them to save the energy of the mind (cognitive resources).

Let’s take the example of you going to a bar and thinking for half an hour what drink you would order. You think about the value of each drink separately and you really take the time to think about the best option.

After wasting such mental energy, you will get tired. You wasted time you could have spent on other things. Heuristic and cognitive skew accelerate the thought process. They save resources for other, more important tasks.

cognitive distortion

Two ways of thinking

According to Daniel Kahneman, there are two ways of thinking. He calls them “quick thinking” and “slow thinking”. In the former model of quick thinking, a person thinks with automatic control, usually at the subconscious level.  Emotions play an important role in such a thought process. As a result, stereotypes often affect our thoughts.

The task of slow thinking is to guide our intuition.  Sometimes it helps, but sometimes it can deceive us. This thoughtful way of thinking is less common and requires more effort.

This kind of thinking happens consciously, logically, and thoughtfully — quite the opposite of quick thinking. Its main purpose is to make final decisions. One might think that it is responsible for observing and controlling the intuition produced by quick thinking.

The former mindset is more dominant than the latter. On the other hand, slow thinking tends to be lazy. Usually, we allow quick thinking to guide us, and as you can imagine, it has consequences.

We draw quick conclusions and overestimate the importance of first impressions. We make mistakes in random relationships and rely too much on what we already know. When we succumb to quick thinking, we tend to ignore other available information.

Heuristic thinking

Heuristic thinking is defined as a shortcut to active mental processes.  As such, it is an activity that conserves or regulates the resources of the mind. Assuming that our cognitive (mental) capacity is limited, resources must be shared. Most are devoted to the most demanding things like worries, actions, people, etc.

It’s easy to go ahead without paying any attention to things. However, if we face difficulties and the possibility of failure, then we will deploy more of our cognitive resources. We pay attention and move our gaze forward.

General heuristics

  • Availability Heuristics:  We use this to estimate the probability of an event occurring. In this case, our estimate is based on the information we already have. For example, there is a lot of violence on TV, which is why hard-working TV viewers typically consider the amount of violence to be higher than they watch less often.
  • Simulation Heuristics:  This means the tendency to estimate the probability of an event based on how easy it is to imagine. The easier it is to imagine, the more likely it is that something will happen. For example, in the event of a terrorist attack, it is easy to imagine that jihadists were involved. It is easier to believe than that another group would have been responsible. Either because other groups attack less frequently, or because they tend to have different behaviors.
  • Anchoring Heuristics:  We use this to clarify doubts. There is some fixed point, an anchor, that we adapt to form a conclusion. Take, for example, an imaginary situation where my team won the championship last year. This year, I think a new win is even more likely, even though we’ve only won once.
  • Heuristics of representativeness:  The reasoning that the probability of a stimulus (human, action, event) falls into a certain category. Let’s say, for example, that you know someone who was really good at science at school. Years later, you see him in a white coat. You assume that the person you encounter is a scientist, not a butcher. In reality, however, you have no chance of knowing it.
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Cognitive skew

Cognitive biases are psychological phenomena that distort our thinking.  Like heuristics, skewers act as savers of cognitive resources. These biases can lead to quite serious mistakes. However, in certain contexts, they can be helpful in helping us make decisions faster and more efficiently.

Conventional examples of cognitive skew

  • Reinforcement  Bias : The tendency to examine or interpret information in a way that reinforces our pre-existing beliefs. If you invest in stocks, you’ll be looking for articles and blogs to reinforce your investment ideas. At the same time, you are likely to ignore comments that differ from your own opinion. Likewise, with car shopping, you are looking for opinions that emphasize the good features of the car. This way, you will receive confirmation of your decision.
  • Misconception:  Tendency to believe that one’s own opinions, beliefs, values, and customs are more common among the rest of the population than they really are. If I am against the death penalty, I believe that most people in the same country think the same way with me.
  • Central Bias:  Also known as equivalence bias. This means a tendency to overemphasize personality-based explanations in the behavior of others. If your classmate fails an exam that you did yourself in the same circumstances, you probably think the reason was laziness and not just a bad day.
  • Misconception: Tendency to see past events as preventable. For example, if a friend is laid off from work, you might say you knew it was coming because the deal isn’t going on. However, you could not have predicted the event before the dismissal.

Now that you are familiar with cognitive and heuristic biases, you can work more effectively in your decision-making in the future. While they are difficult to avoid (sometimes even impossible), you can reduce the bias of your thoughts through deeper awareness and the knowledge you have just learned from them.

Evaluating alternatives and looking for information that contradicts your opinions also reduces their power. As a bonus, avoiding cognitive delusions allows for more creative thinking.

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