February 28, 2022




Modality Effect, Next-in-Line Effect, Placement Bias & More

At a glance

Hello again Mental Models Lovers!

It’s great to have you on board for the fourth edition of my weekly newsletter.

This week we covered 60 more mental models (concepts and biases) across psychology and general thinking.

Some highlights for this week include:

  • Enclothed Cognition
  • Protect Yourself From Bad Advice
  • Asch Negative
  • Meehl Pattern
  • Catharsis
  • and many more…

For those following along on Twitter, you may have noticed in my profile bio that I've decided to reduce the number of mental models shared each week to ~60. My hope is that this change makes the content more consumable.

As always, if you get value out of this, I’d appreciate you sharing it or my Twitter profile on Twitter so others can get value out of it too :)

Without further ado, let's get into it!

Psychology & General Thinking Concepts

Modality effect

You'll tend to remember more when using a mixed-mode (partly visual and partly auditory) of learning compared to a single-mode (either visual or auditory alone)

When information is presented in multiple modalities, total working memory capacity is increased

Next-in-line effect

The tendency to have lower recall for events that happen right before or after a public performance—whether performing on stage or talking to a group of other people

This effect is believed to occur due to both attention distraction and retrograde amnesia

Placement bias

The tendency to be influenced by story placement in the news in a way that downplays information supportive of a minority viewpoint

As a general rule, story placement is a measure of how important the editor considers the story

Picture superiority effect

The tendency for pictures and images to be remembered more easily than words

Occurs because our brains dually encode images, but encode words only once. This means that images are stored as pictures and words, but words are only stored as words

Positivity effect

The tendency for elderly people to perceive and remember positive images and experiences more than negative ones

A form of selective memory that helps compensate for troubles that occur over the lifetime

Processing difficulty effect

We have an easier time remembering information that takes longer to read and understand

This feels counter-intuitive: we want to make our message simple and short, right? In some cases, yes. But, not all. Making the brain work is a powerful tool

Rosy retrospection

Our tendency to recall the past more fondly than the present

An inaccurate view of past events might lead to judging current or future events unfairly. And without storing negative experiences, you may fail to incorporate constructive feedback

Reminiscence bump

The tendency for older adults (over forty) to have increased or enhanced recollection for events that occurred during their adolescence and early adulthood

Occurs because memory storage in autobiographical memory is not consistent through time

Self-relevance effect

A tendency to encode information differently depending on whether we are implicated in the information

When we are asked to remember information when it is related in some way to ourselves, the recall rate can be improved

Source Confusion

A type of memory error where we don't remember where certain memories come from

Dangerous because when we disassociate the content of our knowledge from the source, we become similarly confident in all content despite not being confident in all sources

Suffix effect

The tendency to be unable to recall the final items from a spoken list when the list is followed by an unnecessary or irrelevant speech item or suffix

Occurs because the mind fixates on the very end of the list, even if it's not actually part of the list

Spacing effect

The tendency for learning to be more effective when study sessions are spaced out

Explains why cramming doesn't lead to long-term memory retention, and why repeated exposure over a longer period of time typically does

Telescoping effect

Refers to inaccurate perceptions regarding time, where people see recent events as more remote than they are (backward telescoping), and remote events as more recent (forward telescoping)

Can occur whenever we make temporal assumptions regarding past events

Testing effect

The tendency for long-term memory to be increased when some of the learning period is devoted to retrieving information from memory—in other words, devoted to 'active recall'

Flashcard software like Anki is an application of this

Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon

The experience of feeling confident that one knows an answer, yet is unable to produce the word

The effect tends to develop with age, but can be mitigated through diet, exercise, socialisation, and games related to words such as scrabble

Verbatim effect

People remember the gist of information, which is its general meaning, better than they remember its exact form

This has important implications for presenting information. We should preference storytelling over facts or statistics, they'll stick better

Von Restorff effect

An item that “stands out like a sore thumb” is more likely to be remembered or preferenced than other items

Takeaway: Make important information visually distinctive


We use different mental processes in different situations, so each of us is not a single character but a collection of different characters, who take turns to commandeer the mind depending on the situation. There is a work “you”, a friend “you”, an online “you”, etc.


The tendency for positive reinforcement or indirect suggestions to influence behaviour and decision-making

A 'nudge' makes it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way; be wary of what or who is nudging you


The tendency of humans group naturally around important issues, positions, or events

Understand the group dynamic, or you’re likely to be caught up in it

Meehl Pattern

When an expert in a field tries to predict something complicated but has a lower success rate doing so than a simple statistical formula (or ‘algorithm’)

Sometimes experts overcomplicate explanations instead of relying on simple data (The Curse of Knowledge)

Thousands of You

The tendency to assume that we're one person in everyone else's mind when in reality, a different version of us exists in the minds of everyone who knows us

The person you think of as "yourself" exists only for you, and even you don't really know who that is

Asch Negative

A theory explaining social conformity

If someone is Asch positive, they follow the crowd over what they believe to be true

If someone is Asch negative, they follow what they believe to be true regardless of the crowd's opinion


An excess of something can give rise to its opposite. Excess builds up tension, and the more extreme the position, the more easily it can shift to its opposite

E.g. A society that is too liberal will be tolerant of tyrants, who will eventually make it illiberal

Protect Yourself From Bad Advice

People tend to be most motivated by incentives. "Show me the incentives, and I'll show you the outcome."

When receiving advice from someone—a salesman, colleague, or even acquaintances—always remember what the adviser's personal incentives are

Influence Yourself

A follow-on from the above: If you can determine the specific incentives that motivate you the most, you can hack your own motivation

Is it money? Status or prestige? Responsibility? Freedom? Whatever it is, figure it out and make them your main incentive

Doubt/Avoidance Tendency

The tendency to make quick, poorly thought-out decisions during stressful situations

The pressure to remove doubt causes you to make ill-informed choices

Control by scheduling deliberate delays when stressed to strategize before reaching a decision

Ego Depletion

The idea that willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up

When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which would be considered a state of ego depletion

Minimise inconsequential decisions

Misattribution of Arousal

People make mistakes in assuming what's causing them to feel aroused

For example, when actually experiencing physiological responses related to fear, people mislabel those responses as romantic arousal

Knowing the source of arousal is important

Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

The tendency to feel like you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves

This illusion clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex

Enclothed Cognition

The systematic influence that clothes have on our psychological processes

Clothing can enhance our psychological states, and it can improve our performance on tasks

Ask yourself, “Which clothing makes you feel [fierce, confident, composed, free…]?


A state when you become so immersed in the norms of the group that you lose your sense of identity and personal responsibility, which can ultimately lead to unsociable or "mob-like" behaviour

Anonymity and diffusion of responsibility act strongly here

Overjustification Effect

A phenomenon in which getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings

Self-Enhancement Bias

The tendency to protect unrealistic attitudes about your abilities in order to stay sane and avoid despair. Involves rating ourselves more highly than social norms would predict


Every idea you experience now unconsciously influences all the ideas you experience later. Those ideas then influence your behavior without your realizing it

With awareness, we can remain conscious of how previous experiences may influence our present decision-making


Confabulation is a type of memory error in which gaps in a person's memory are unconsciously filled with fabricated, misinterpreted, or distorted information

When someone confabulates, they are confusing things they have imagined with real memories


The Myth: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well

The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking

What's more important, your current impulses or your future life?

Introspection Illusion

Believing you understand your motivations and desires, your likes and dislikes. You believe you know yourself and why you are the way you are

However, the truth is that when pressed to explain your emotional states, you'll typically make something up

Brand Loyalty

A tendency to believe that you prefer the things you own over the things you don't because you made rational choices when you bought them

In reality, you prefer them because you rationalise your past choices to protect your sense of self

Argument from ignorance

The tendency to decide something is true or false because you can't find evidence to the contrary. You don't know what the truth is, so you assume any explanation is as good as another

This makes us more likely to accept strange explanations

Cult Indoctrination

The propensity for our innate human tendencies to make us susceptible to becoming part of a group that resembles a cult (or is a cult)

The term "cult" is hard to define, so we may fall into one without consciously knowing it

Supernormal Releasers

If you associate something with survival, but find an example of that thing that is more perfect than anything your ancestors could have ever dreamed of—it will overstimulate you

Examples for humans are: junk food, the Internet, TV, and video games

Affect Heuristic

The tendency to rely on our emotions, rather than concrete information, when making decisions

It allows us to reach a conclusion quickly and easily, but can also distort our thinking and lead us to make suboptimal choices

Selling Out

Selling out is an expression for the compromising of a person's integrity in exchange for personal gain, such as money

This model reflects the idea that both consumerism and capitalism are driven by competition among consumers for status, rather than profit-seekers


The tendency for "venting" (releasing strong emotions) to—counterintuitively—lead to sustained strong emotions and aggressive behaviour rather than relief from strong emotions

If you get accustomed to blowing off steam, you become dependent on it


The mistaken belief that we are strong individuals who don't conform unless forced to. In reality, it takes little more than an authority figure or social pressure for us to conform

Never be afraid to question authority when your actions could cause harm

Extinction Burst

When your brain makes a last-ditch effort to return you to a bad habit after you quit it

To give up bad habits; overeating, smoking, or gambling, we must be prepared to look for alternative rewards or positive reinforcement, and we should expect resistance

Embodied Cognition

Our physical settings prime us to see the world a certain way. We translate our physical worlds into words, and then believe those words

We believe our opinions of people and events are objective, but they are often influenced by the environment around us


Involves investments in a future reality in which you can blame your failure on something other than your ability

When the fear of failure is strong enough, we like to see new ways to blame possible failures on forces beyond our control to protect our egos

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

A positive outlook will lead to positive predictions, and you will start to unconsciously manipulate your behaviour and actions to deliver those predictions

Things you think are true will become reality if given enough time to fester

The Moment

We believe we are one person, and our happiness is based on being content with our lives

In reality, we are multiple selves, and to be happy now and content later, we can't be focused only on reaching goals, because once we reach them, the experience ends

Caveman Syndrome

Humans are optimized for a world that existed 100,000 years ago, not for the world today

Food is everywhere; predators are not

We use to be in constant motion; now we sit behind desks at a computer

Anxiety from overstimulation is rampant

How to counteract? 👇

Performance Requirements

If you don’t give your body what it needs to run, you’ll won't function as well as you can

Basic tips:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sunlight
  • Eat high-quality food
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep
  • Avoid social media at the start of your day

The Onion Brain

Our brains are made up of layers of internal voices that consistently change modes; excitement, concern, calmness

To be effective, we need to dissociate ourselves from the voices and realise that they are only an automatic reaction to our surrounding environment

Perceptual Control

We act to keep our perception of the world within acceptable boundaries

Once a certain action brings our perception under control, we stop acting until the system is once again out of control

Control is about adjusting to environmental changes as they happen

Reference Level

At the heart of every Perceptual Control system is a Reference Level-a range of perceptions that indicate the system is “under control”

When a perception is within the system’s reference level, nothing happens, when it isn't, change occurs

Conservation of Energy

Humans have evolved to avoid expending energy unless it's necessary

Unless a Reference Level is violated, we'll "conserve energy" by not acting

Can explain why people stay in marginally satisfying jobs for decades, it's "good enough" but not great

Guiding Structure

The structure of our environment is the largest determinant of our behavior

If you want to successfully change a behavior, change the structure that influences or supports the behavior first, and the behavior will follow—don't rely on willpower alone


Occurs when a Reference Level is violated, but you don’t know how to bring the system back under control

This is what happens when people feel “unhappy with their jobs”, or have the “quarter-life crisis”

There’s something wrong, but it’s hard to know what


Occurs when two control systems try to change the same perception. This is what happens in the typical case of procrastination: one system wants to rest, and one wants to work

Conflicts can only be solved by changing Reference Levels: how success is defined

That's it, thanks for reading!

If you got value out of this, I’d appreciate you sharing it or my Twitter profile on Twitter so others can get wiser too :)

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