Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Psychological tendencies (heuristics and biases)


Psychological heuristics can be defined as ”Simple, efficient rules which people use to form judgments and make decisions.” Psychological biases can be defined as ”Systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.” For the sake of keeping things simple, I will call heuristics and biases psychological tendencies

Your behavior is guided by the simple algorithms in your nerve cells

You will probably see yourself as a rational thinker who makes decisions after careful consideration. This is not an exact picture of reality. You have two sides, the emotional and the rational. Both sides need each other to work well. Most often they work the way they should. Sometimes, you are predictably irrational. When this happens, you are mostly using your emotional side. Your nerve cells have simple algorithms, that are guiding your behavior. These algorithms are simple instructions. They are either based on your genes or your experiences. Sometimes, you are manipulated by some people using these algorithms. Manipulation can be so subtle that you don´t even notice it. Subtle manipulations can have a compounding effect in which repetitive small changes create bigger results and irrationalities.

People have different reactions to different tendencies. They can be personal or cultural. Some people hate authorities and someone are infatuated in them. Asians are more interested in the collective good and people in Western countries are more individualists. You have to figure out yourself which tendencies have the biggest effect on you. A process of trial and error can be used. Gradual changes and reactions to them will eventually lead to right responses.

Tendencies are not best suited to modern environments

Environment changes fast compared to brains. Most tendencies have been developed through millennia. Emotions and instincts related to survival are the most common reasons for these tendencies. They save your energy. Especially, energy used by your brain. Their usefulness in modern environment is restricted. Most often, they lead you to the right direction, but sometimes they cause you misjudged decisions. Today, your survival is not at stake all the time. Tendencies that increased your chances of survival millenniums ago have more negative consequenses in modern environments. These tendencies lead to irrational decisions concerning on many other things than survival, for example, decisions about money.

You can also manipulate your own environment in a way that increases the usefulness of these tendencies. You can and you should help yourself to achieve success by using them to your own advantage. For example, you can create better habits by creating an environment in which there are many triggers that lead to good behavior. You can and you should also create an environment in which triggers for bad habits are unavailable or hard to detect. You cannot avoid all the negative effects in your life.

Experts have diagnosed more than hundred tendencies.

There are more than hundred different tendencies diagnosed by the experts in different branches of psychology. Most of them are just special cases. Learning all the special tendencies in certain cases is useless. There is a need to simplify things as far as possible. It is safe to say that understanding less than dozen tendencies and how they interact with each other is all you need to know about them. Most often, psychological research is concentrating on a single tendency. Most often, in real life situations, tendencies are not working alone. Thinking about a single tendency often leads to wrong conclusions. I have to say that, until now, it has been really hard to research many tendencies in the same time. As big data increases and artificial intelligence becomes smarter, it becomes easier to understand the effects of the combinations of tendencies. 

Many tendencies are the exact opposites. By understanding one, you understand the other. For example, liking and disliking tendencies can be put together. I have also tried to simplify and group many tendencies together. For example, egocentricity is consisted of loss aversion, endowment effect, confirmation and consistency biases, etc. Figuring out egocentricity helps you to understand all of them without remembering all of their names, definitions, or situations in which they have an effect on people. All this complexity becomes simpler and things start to make more sense. Here is the list of all the tendencies I will go through at some point. I have tried to put them in order, where the most important ones are first:

All these tendencies can and will be used against you, either you do it yourself, or someone else does it. You should use them only to your own and common good. Using them for others will eventually backfire. Even the awareness of these tendencies, diminishes their negative effects. And hopefully will create positive influence.


Have a nice end of the week


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