Cognitive biases that prevent us from being rational (2)

This article is a sequel to the original 13 cognitive biases that impede our rational thinking ability. Due to the immense popularity of the aforementioned post, I decided to delve deeper into the concept of cognitive biases.

To my surprise, I came across some more common and elusive biases that tend to impair our rationality. I also came across biases that weren’t actually biases. 

After much filtering and eliminationI’ve squeezed out a few more cognitive biases that are worth keeping an eye out for…

14) False cause

We live in a cause and effect universe where the cause often immediately precedes the effect. We also live in a universe where a lot of things are happening at the same time. Other than the real cause, many related and unrelated events also precede the effect that we observe. So, we’re likely to mistake one of these events as the cause of our observed effect.

In other words, just because two events occur in succession doesn’t mean the preceding event is a cause of the succeeding event. False cause bias is the basis of most superstitions.

Say you slip on the street and fall face first into the ground right after a black cat crosses your path. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the cat, notorious for bringing bad luck, was responsible for your fall (although, it could have distracted you). It could very well be that you slipped on a banana peel or that you were so lost in your thoughts that you didn’t notice a pit on the ground.

Similarly, when you install a new software program and your computer crashes, it’s tempting to think that the software caused the crash. But the real reason behind the crash may have nothing to do with the software.


15) Strawman

People rarely engage in arguments or discussions to better their understanding or to increase their knowledge. Mostly, they enter a discourse to win, to one-up their opponent.

One common tactic that debaters use is to misrepresent their opponent’s argument and attack that misrepresentation to better their own position. After all, by exaggerating, misrepresenting or even completely fabricating someone’s argument, it’s much easier to present your own position as being reasonable.

Say you’re discussing nationalism with a friend and express your disapproval at the concept, saying that we should all think of ourselves as global citizens. Agitated, your friend says, “So you’re saying we shouldn’t care about our country and its progress. You’re a traitor!”

16) Slippery slope

Cool alliteration, isn’t it? A person committing the slippery slope bias thinks along these lines…

If we allow A to happen, then Z will also happen, therefore A shouldn’t happen. Unsurprisingly, the attention is directed away from the issue at hand and people begin to worry about baseless extreme hypotheticals and suppositions.  

The best example is of those who oppose gay marriage. “What! We can’t allow gay couples to marry. Next thing you know people will marry their parents, their house and their dog.”


17) Black or white

Seeing only two extreme and opposite possibilities because that’s what you’re shown, whilst ignoring all the other equally possible possibilities that lie in the grey area.

Also known as the false dilemma, this tactic seems to be a favourite of the demagogues because it has the false appearance of being logical and pushes people to choose a better alternative between the two they’re presented with, unaware of the fact that many other alternatives may also exist.

demagogue feeding on black or white bias

18) Appeal to nature

The argument that because something is ‘natural’ it is, therefore, valid, justified, good or ideal. Sure, many things that are natural are good such as love, happiness, joy, trees, flowers, flowing rivers, mountains, etc.

But hatred, jealousy, and depression are also natural. Murder and theft are also natural. Poisonous plants and wild animals who attack unwitting picnickers are also natural. Diseases and cancers are also natural. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes are also natural.

19) Special pleading

Inventing new ways to hold on to old beliefs, especially when those old beliefs have been proven to be wrong. When the reasons with which support our beliefs are crushed, we craft new ones.

After all, it’s much easier to defend an already-existing belief than to usurp it and induce mental
instability in oneself.

Raj was adamant in his belief that the earth was flat. “No matter how far I run in a particular direction, I can never fall off an edge or something”, Vicky reasoned, hoping to change his friend’s mind. “Well, you must be running in the wrong direction then”, Raj replied.

20) Bias Bias

Also known as the fallacy fallacy, it means dismissing a person’s argument solely because he’s committing one or more cognitive biases. Some people simply don’t know how to present their arguments and inadvertently slip into a bias. This doesn’t necessarily mean their point carries no merit.

Sometimes it also takes the form of accusing someone of committing a bias, even if he’s not, in order not to answer their question or deviate from the topic at hand.

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