Cognitive biases

One-sided bet: People commonly assume implicitly that their actions may only have good outcomes. For example, increasing the minimum wage in a country may only benefit the poor. Taking a lottery ticket only has the upside of possibly winning a lot of money. Believing in God can only have benefits. And so forth. In truth, most actions are two-sided. They have good and bad effects.

Politician’s syllogism: We must do something, this is something so we must do it. “We must fight climate change, we can tax oil, so we must tax oil.” If there is a problem, it is important to assess the actions we could take and not believe that because they are actions in response to a real problem, they are intrinsically good.

Confirmation bias: “I believe that there are extraterrestrials, I have collected 1000 reports confirming their presence” (but I am blind to all of the negative evidence). People tend to make up their mind first and then to seek to rationalize their opinion whereas they should do the opposite.

Historical pessimism bias: “Human life was so much better 2 centuries ago!” Yet by almost any measure, human beings have better lives today.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

8 thoughts on “Cognitive biases”

  1. Eh! Il y a quand même des raisons de croire qu’il y a eu des périodes plus favorables que d’autres, ce n’est pas pour rien qu’en France l’intervalle entre la guerre de 70 et la guerre de 14 a été nommée “la Belle Epoque” (pour certains du moins).

  2. People were better off in France in 1930 than they were in 1910 by a wide margin. It is true that things took a turn for the worse in 1914-1918, but if you look at the numbers… mortality, GDP per capita… it is really more of a dent in the curve than anything else.

    1. Yes. I have not re-read Nassim in quite some time… so I do not quite remember exactly how he stated it.

      It is certainly true that, some of the time, we dismiss biases as bad because we misunderstand what function they serve. That’s a bit like someone watching a Chess game and counting the pieces. It may seem irrational to trade a Queen for a bishop… but you should wait to see how it unfolds.

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