February 13, 2022




Naïve Realism, Naïve Cynicism, Forer Effect, & More

At a glance

Hello again Mental Models Lovers!

It’s great to have you onboard for the second edition of my weekly newsletter—I appreciate your early support.

This week we covered 100 mental models (concepts and biases) across psychology and general thinking.

As you read through, I would love if you could consider the following questions (please shoot me a response if you’d like to give feedback on either of them!):

  • Was the level of explanation sufficient to understand the concept?
  • Would you like to see each week ‘themed’ by topic, or would you prefer a mix of fields each week?

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 :)

General Thinking Concepts

Naïve Realism

We believe that we observe objective reality and that other people are irrational, uninformed, or biased

"I have an objective view of the world, I am pragmatic—other people are dumb.”

Naïve Cynicism

We believe that we observe objective reality and that other people have a higher egocentric bias than they actually do in their intentions/actions

"This person is only being nice to get something out of me.”

Forer Effect (aka Barnum effect)

We attribute vague statements to our personalities, even if they can apply to a wide range of people

"I can't believe how accurate this horoscope is!”

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The less you know, the more confident you are. The more you know, the less confident you are

Bob confidently reassures his friends that there's no kelp in ice cream—they don't work in the dairy industry, after all


We rely heavily on the first piece of information introduced when making decisions

A price tag shows an original price of $1,000, now reduced to $700. You'll consider the item a bargain, regardless of its true worth

Automation Bias

We rely on automated systems, sometimes trusting too much in the automated correction of actually correct decisions

Your phone auto-corrects "There" to "Their", so you assume it's right

Google Effect (aka digital amnesia)

We tend to forget information that's easily looked up in search engines (facts: statistics, names, dates)

Partly because the mind struggles to attach this type of knowledge to existing knowledge; partly because of information overload

Reactance Theory

We do the opposite of what we're told, especially when we perceive threats to personal freedoms or a limitation of our alternatives

Can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view, causing them to adopt an attitude contrary to that intended

Backfire Effect

We believe that when our beliefs are challenged, we alter our opinions and incorporate new information into our thinking

In reality, when our deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, our beliefs get stronger

Third Person Effect

We believe that others are more affected by mass media consumption than we ourselves are

"You've clearly been brainwashed by the media!”

Belief Bias

We judge an argument’s strength not by how strongly it supports the conclusion but by how strongly we support the conclusion

A useful thing to ask is 'when/how did I get this belief? We tend to automatically defend our ideas without ever really questioning them

Availability Cascade

When a new concept enters the arena of ideas, people react to it, thereby amplifying it

The idea thus becomes more popular, causing even more people to amplify it by reacting to it until everyone feels the need to talk about it


You remember the past as better than it was and expect the future to be worse than it will likely be

Instead of relying on nostalgic impressions of how great things were, use measurable metrics such as life expectancy and prosperity statistics

Sunk Cost Fallacy

You irrationally cling to things that have already cost you something (investments, relationships, projects, etc.)

To escape, ask yourself: had I not already invested in this, would I do so today?

Gambler's Fallacy

We think future possibilities are affected by past events

You've lost 9 in a row, but you're sure to win the next one!

You've won 9 in a row, how could you possibly lose the next one?!1

Zero-Risk Bias

We tend to opt for situations where we can completely eliminate risk, seeking solace in the figure of 0%, over alternatives that may actually offer greater risk reduction

Examples include insurance policies and 30-day money-back guarantees


We adopt generalised beliefs that members of a group will be a certain way, despite not having any information about the individual

"He's got a fancy moustache, must be a hipster!”

Outgroup Homogeneity Effect

We perceive out-group members as similar and our own in-groups as more diverse

Bob is not a gamer, but he thinks "all gamers are the same."

In contrast, Bob plays sports, but he "couldn't be more different to his teammates!”

Placebo Effect

If we believe a treatment will work, it often will have a small physiological effect

Bob was given a placebo to quell his pain, and his pain decreased1

Survivorship Bias

We tend to focus on those things that survived a process and overlook ones that failed

Yes, Entrepreneurship can lead to big wins. But, no, not everyone succeeds as the media demonstrates


When our perception of time shifts depending on trauma, drug use, and physical exertion

"When the car almost hit me, time slowed down...”

Law of Triviality (aka bike-shedding)

The tendency to give disproportionate weight to trivial issues of a larger or more complex project

In other words, prioritising an issue that's easy to grasp and/or debate

Zeigarnik Effect

The tendency to remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than completed ones

When overwhelmed by your to-do list, stop to think of what you have already completed. It's far more motivating

IKEA effect

The tendency to place higher value on things we partially created ourselves

"Don't you love this pot I spent $20 on? I painted it myself!”

Ben Franklin effect

A person who has already performed a favour for another person is more likely to do another favour for the other than if they had received a favour from that person

Similar to commitment & consistency bias

Bystander effect

A form of social loafing, it's the tendency for individuals to be less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present

It arises because of a 'diffusion' of responsibility; clearly defined roles get clear outcomes


The tendency to accept and act on the suggestions of others

Yawning is an example of suggestibility because we are influenced by the behavior of others without conscious awareness

False Memory

The tendency to mistake imagination for real memories

Bob is certain Linda said a really funny joke about bananas, when that joke actually came from a TV show


When a forgotten memory returns without being recognized as such. We believe it is something new and original

Experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration

Clustering Illusion

The tendency to find patterns and "clusters" in random data

In other words, it is our natural inclination to create order from chaos; even when chaos is what exists

Pessimism Bias

The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes

Evolutionary speaking this developed as a defence mechanism and served humans well

It made sense to hear a noise in the bushes and run the other way

However, as @Naval would say, in the modern world it doesn't make sense to be a pessimist

We've never lived in a safer, more comfortable world

Perhaps the worst aspect of pessimism is that even if something good happens, you'll probably feel pessimistic about it anyway11

Optimism Bias

On the other side of the coin, this is having too much faith in a good outcome or not paying enough attention to the potential for a bad outcome

Optimism motivates us to pursue our goals but must be balanced with pragmatism

Blindspot Bias

The tendency to think we're immune from bias but those around us aren't

"That argument is biased!"

Occurs regularly in shouting matches

Publication Bias

Occurs when the outcome of an experiment or research study influences the decision whether to publish it

Studies with significant results can be of the same standard as studies with a null result with respect to the quality of execution and design

But, statistically significant results are 3x more likely to be published than papers with null results

This can unduly motivate researchers to manipulate their research practices to ensure that a statistically significant result is reported

Negativity Bias

Allowing negative things to disproportionately influence your thinking

Pro-and-con lists or thinking in terms of probabilities can help you evaluate things more objectively and avoid this bias

What you see is all there is (WYSIATI)

The tendency to make judgements and impressions according to the information we have available

In general, we don't spend enough time thinking "well, there are still many things I don't know"

Simply, we assert what we do know

The clearest example of this is when we meet someone, we take less than a few seconds to build an impression

Immediately, we decide whether they are kind and nice or dominant and hostile, and whether we will like them or not

This is all done on incomplete information

The Associative Machine

The tendency for our brain to form links between ideas/actions/events in associative memory and develop coherent accounts of these linkages

Related to the priming effect, this helps explain the pattern of System 1 Thinking (See @kahneman_daniel)

Jealousy (Envy) Tendency

When you think of how natural the differences among us are, you quickly come to realize the potential power and frequency that bias from envy and jealousy can have on world affairs

“It is not greed that drives the world, but envy.” Warren Buffett

Preferential Attachment

A bias whereby some quantity, typically a form of wealth or another reward, is distributed among a number of individuals or objects according to how much they already have so that those who are already wealthy receive more than those who are not1

Classical conditioning

The tendency to feel emotion towards intangible objects, with the emotion coming from past associations rather than direct effects

For example, the first time you eat a food you get food poisoning, it'll be hard for you to ever eat it again


The tendency to discount or disbelieve an important and uncomfortable fact

When you're in denial, ask yourself, "Will denying the facts be more or less painful in the long run? And how would I feel if I faced, and heartily embraced, the truth?”

Narrative Fallacy

The tendency to interpret sequences of facts as a story by threading them together into an imagined chain of cause & effect

If an alcoholic loses their job we assume the alcoholism led to it, even if it didn’t

Curiosity Instinct

We like to call other species curious, but we are the most curious of all

Without the human curiosity instinct, science and technology would not be present

Even before there were direct incentives to innovate (capitalism), humans innovated out of curiosity

Language Instinct

Humans are born with an innate capacity for language

Language is an ability unique to humans, produced by evolution to solve the specific problem of communication among social hunter-gatherers

Good communication is a superpower

First-conclusion bias

A tendency to settle on the first information or conclusion adopted for a given problem, thus remaining resistant to the search for any more alternatives or asking further questions

Can be countered with simple useful mental routines (objective reasoning)

Relative satisfaction/misery tendencies

The tendency to determine one’s own level of satisfaction by comparing circumstances to others’ circumstances

These relative tendencies cause us great misery or happiness in a very wide variety of objectively different situations

Hyperbolic Discounting

The tendency to show a preference for immediate rather than delayed rewards

Humans discount future events. This is why it's easy to succumb to bad habits

Bad habits have an immediate payoff while the benefits of good habits can take years to see

Illusion of control

The tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events

This leads us to overestimate our odds of succeeding or getting a positive outcome and to invent explanations linking our behavior to some result

Loss aversion

The tendency to prefer avoiding losses compared to acquiring equivalent gains

This overwhelming fear of loss can you to behave irrationally and make bad decisions, such as holding onto a stock for too long or too little time

Maslow's Heirarchy of needs

The motivational theory created by psychologist Abraham Maslow stating that humans have five categories of needs in order: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization

At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological (or basic) human needs that are required for survival: food, shelter, water, sleep, etc.

If these requirements are not met, the body cannot continue to function

Once physical needs are satisfied, security (aka individual safety) takes precedence

Security and safety needs include personal security, financial security, and health and well-being

These first two levels are critical to our physical survival

Once we have basic nutrition, shelter, and safety, we seek to fulfill higher-level needs

The third level of need is social, which include love and belonging; the need to share and connect with others

Deficiencies at this level can impact our ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships

We (humans) need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance

Without this feeling, it's easy to succumb to psychological difficulties such as loneliness or depression

The fourth level is esteem, which represents our innate desire to be valued and validated by others (through recognition or success)

This level also includes self-esteem, which refers to the regard and acceptance we have four ourselves

Imbalances at this level can result in low self-esteem or an inferiority complex

When we suffer from low self-esteem we may find that external validation by others—through fame, glory, accolades, etc.—only partially or temporarily fulfills needs at this level

The fifth level of the pyramid is self-actualization

Here we feel that we've reached our full potential and are doing everything we're capable of

Self-actualization is rarely a permanent feeling or state

Rather, it refers to the ongoing need for personal growth and discovery that we have throughout their lives

Self-actualization may occur after reaching an important goal or overcoming a particular challenge, and it may be marked by a new sense of self-confidence or contentment

So, what does this tell us? Higher needs in the hierarchy emerge when the previous need is appropriately satisfied

We must endeavour to meet our lower level needs—what I like to call the foundation—before we can become the best version of ourselves

Operant Conditioning

The tendency to make associations between a behaviour and consequence (whether negative or positive) for that behaviour

Helps inform the optimal approach to learning in a given environment (e.g., the carrot or the stick approach)1


A way of thinking in which people are overly loyal to their own social group, at times disregarding logic and devaluing kindness or justice

Vaccination vs. Anti-Vaccination. BTC vs. ETH.

Tribalism can lead to bigotry and racism and, when taken to extremes, even war

Alternative Histories

Alternative histories are all the outcomes that could have happened, but did not

They are invisible, so we contemplate them very rarely

However, for better thinking, we should always consider what they are and aim to separate process from outcome

Incentive-Caused Bias

People with a vested interest in something will tend to guide you in the direction of their interest

"Show me the incentives and I'll show you the outcome"—Charlie Munger

As the saying goes: don’t ask the barber if you need a haircut

Variable Reinforcement

The tendency for behaviour to be reinforced more strongly when a reward is irregular or unpredictable frequency

Gambling. Social media notifications. FIFA packs. NFT Investing. The list goes on

Be aware of what's influencing you

7 Deadly Sins / 7 Heavenly Virtues

Developed by the Roman Catholic Church and influenced by profound thinkers such as Aristotle

These Sins & Virtues have remained largely untouched over centuries and provide effective guideposts for character development

Unsurprisingly, the idea is simply to have more of the virtues and less of the sins

Here are the 7 virtues:

Chastity: Courage and boldness

Abstinence: Self-control and moderation

Liberality: Generosity

Diligence: A zealous and careful nature in one's actions and work

Patience: Forbearance and endurance through moderation. Resolving conflicts peacefully and the ability to forgive

Kindness: Charity, compassion, friendship, and sympathy without prejudice and for its own sake

Humility: Modest behavior, selflessness, and the giving of respect

and the sins:

Lust: An insatiable need for sex or things of a sexual nature

Gluttony: Over indulgences of anything to the extreme, usually food or drink

Greed: The need for material possessions or material wealth

Sloth: Sadness, depression, or the inability to feel joy

Wrath: Extreme anger, rage, hatred, or a need for vengeance or revenge

Envy: The need to have better or be better than others. Wanting what others have for yourself

Pride: A need for public acceptance in all acts or a need to be more important than others

Self-Interest (aka "What's in it for me")

The tendency for the brain to subconsciously decide that what's good for it is good for everyone else

Those who preference the best outcome rather than being right are people you want to work with

Squelch By Denial

Related to self-interest. The tendency to silence anything that interferes with our own personal success or income

Again, strive to work with people who want the optimal outcome for most, not just them

Foot in the Door Technique

A compliance tactic that assumes agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger request

Example: Offering to work for free as a means of securing a full-time job at the firm you'd like to work at

Most Respectful Interpretation

Assuming the best of others. Considering only the best, kindest, most helpful interpretation of every communication and responding solely to that version

Involves resisting jumping to negative conclusions and preferencing generous ones

Bright spots

A bright spot is a positive sign in a sea of negative ones

Asking if there are bright spots can help inform whether it's worth persevering with a particular endeavour

E.g, in business, a bright spot may be a small subset of customers who love what you're doing

In your career, it may be the things you love about your job

Asking whether there are enough bright spots to warrant persisting is a good strategy

If you can’t find any bright spots in what you’re doing after some time, critically evaluate your position and consider a pivot


Where continued high stress takes its toll and eventually extinguishes your motivation, sometimes requiring a complete reset

Life is a marathon, you'll achieve more over your career by being consistently productive and compounding success

At times, it makes sense to sprint and then rest, but for most people, it's important to find a level of productivity that can be sustained over the course of a career

Antidote: Listen closely to your body and mind

See Four Thousand Weeks by @oliverburkeman for more on this

Decision Fatigue

Making decisions is exhausting. Anyone who has ever researched a long trip—flight, hotels, activities, restaurants, weather—knows this well

After all the comparing, considering, and choosing, you are exhausted. Science calls this decision fatigue

Decision fatigue is dangerous: As a consumer, you become more susceptible to advertising messages and impulse buys

As a decision maker, you are more prone to seduction or persuasion

Willpower is like a battery. After a while it runs out and needs to be recharged

How do you do this? By taking a break, relaxing, and eating something

What does it tell us? Save your important decisions for the morning and minimise the number of menial decisions you make each day (remember why Steve jobs wore the same clothes every day...?)

Default Effect (Status)

People crave what they know. Given the choice of trying something new or sticking to the tried-and-tested option, we tend to be highly conservative, even if a change would be beneficial

Where does it come from? Sheer convenience and loss aversion

Gateway drug theory

The tendency for a drug to lead to an increased probability of the use of further dangerous substances

Proponents suggest that the adverse effects of these substances are minimal, but they should be avoided because they lead to more harmful drug use

Golem Effect

Related to the observer effect, the tendency for performance to decline when supervisors, teachers, or bosses have low expectations of one’s abilities

The golem effect is a type of self-fulfilling prophecy


You make most of your everyday decisions using your intuition, with your subconscious automatically intuiting what to do from encoded knowledge

It’s your sixth sense, your gut feeling, drawing on your past experiences and natural programming to react to circumstances

You can run into trouble when you blindly trust your gut in situations where it is unclear whether you should be thinking more deliberately

Following your intuition alone can cause you to fall prey to many biases, such as anchoring or the availability bias

You probably don't have the right experience intuitively to handle everything that life throws at you, and so you should be especially wary of your intuition in any new or unfamiliar situation

In these situations, slow down and bring objective decision-making to the table

Learned helplessness

The tendency to stop trying to escape difficult situations because we have gotten used to these conditions over time

Someone learns that they are helpless to control their circumstances, so they give up trying to change them

Learned helplessness can be overcome when we see that our actions make a difference, that we aren’t actually helpless

If feeling helpless, focus on the small wins and progression, or seek feedback from someone who can lift you up

Non-response bias

Occurs when a subset of people don't participate in an experiment after they're selected for it (they fail to respond to the survey)

If the reason for not responding is related to the topic of the survey, the results will end up biased

For example, your company wants to understand whether it has a problem with employee motivation

You choose to study it via an engagement survey

Employees missing the survey due to vacation would be random and not likely to introduce bias

However, employees not responding due to apathy would be nonrandom and would likely bias the results

That's because the latter group is made up of disengaged employees, and by not participating, their disengagement is not being captured

Observer Expectancy Bias

Where the cognitive biases of researchers, or observers, may cause them to influence the outcome in the direction they expected

Optimistic Probability Bias

Sometimes you may want something to be true so badly that you fool yourself into thinking it is likely to be true—this is known as optimistic probability bias

The closer you are to the facts, the easier it is to avoid this bias


The tendency to believe that others are trying to harm, deceive or exploit you

Some level of paranoia is helpful but too much will shut you off from the world—it's good to be sceptical, but not too sceptical

Present Bias

The tendency to overvalue near-term rewards over making incremental progress on long-term goals

This explains a lot of procrastination. It's easy to find reasons to opt-out of positive habits on a given day, but too often and you'll never reach your goals

Self-Selection Bias

Arises when individuals select themselves into a group, causing a biased sample with a nonprobability sampling

Marketers can stumble into the trap in this way: To analyze how much customers value their newsletter, they send out a questionnaire

Unfortunately, this reaches only one group: current subscribers who are clearly satisfied, have time to respond and have not cancelled their subscriptions

The others make up no part of the sample. Result: The survey is worthless

Social versus Market Norms

Young professionals would be unlikely to take up babysitting for extra cash, but likely to babysit for free when a friend is in need

The first scenario is framed from a market perspective: "Would you babysit my kids for $30/hour?"

The second is framed from a social perspective: "Can you please do me a favour?"

The difference in this situation can be thought of as social versus market norms and draws on the concept of reciprocity

We must be careful not to inadvertently replace social norms with market norms, because it can end up eliminating benefits that are hard to bring back

Once social norms are undermined, the damage has been done and they are no longer norms

Take pause when thinking about introducing monetary incentives into a situation where social norms are the standard

Social Norms: No money involved, no instant payback, community situations

Market Norms: Money involved, transactional, business situations

Ultimatum Game

An experimental economics game in which two parties interact anonymously and only once without reciprocation

The first player proposes how to divide a sum of money (Say, $10) with the second. If the second player rejects this division, neither gets anything

If the second accepts, the first gets their demand and the second gets the rest

The most logical way to play is for the first person to offer the minimum (e.g., $9.99/$0.01 split) and for the second to accept it since otherwise, they would get nothing

In practice, though, across most scenarios and cultures, the second person usually rejects offers lower than 30% of the total, because the perceived unfairness of the offer

They would rather deny the first person anything, even at the expense of nothing for themselves

It's critical to keep this strong desire for fairness in mind when you make decisions that impact people important to you, such as those in your family (chore distributions, wills, etc.) or your company (compensation, promotions, etc.)


Where people ("Victims") are blamed for their circumstances, with no accounting for factors of randomness like the birth lottery or bad luck

Problematic approach because it's a broad judgement that's often inaccurate at the individual level

Inconsistency - Avoidance Tendency

We like to be consistent in everything we do, say, and everything we are

To save energy, we are often reluctant to change our habits, especially bad ones

These patterns lead to cognitive errors, limiting our choice of actions in life

Excessive Self-Regard Tendency

The natural tendency to overestimate your own abilities

A healthy amount of humility can keep you from assuming you know everything

It helps to cultivate relationships with people who aren’t afraid to tell you when you’re wrong

Use-it-or-lose-it Tendency

All skills attenuate with disuse. Wise people engage in regular practice for their useful skills

When a skill is raised to fluency, the skill (1) will be lost more slowly and (2) will come back faster when refreshed with new learning

Drug Misinfluence Tendency

Drug addicted people tend to believe that they remain in respectable condition, with respectable prospects

They thus display an extremely unrealistic denial of reality as they go deeper and deeper into deterioration…

One should stay far away from any conduct at all likely to drift into drug/chemical dependency

Even a small chance of suffering so great a damage should be avoided

Senescence-Misinfluence Tendency

As we get older, our mental abilities decline. It’s going to happen to all of us —there's no stopping it

It may be possible to slow the decline by continuing to think and learn as you age, so make a commitment to yourself to never stop learning

Twaddle Tendency

Humans waste a lot of time talking about nothing at all

Or by flicking through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and suddenly realizing an hour has passed

Value your time, and stay far away from time-wasters if you need to get serious work done

Reason-Respecting Tendency

The tendency of humans to treasure the importance of reasons

Reasons help to learn, so a teacher provides reasons for teaching certain knowledge rather than laying out the desired belief ex-cathedra with no reasons given

Unfortunately, this tendency is so strong that even providing meaningless or incorrect reasons will increase compliance with directions or requests

It's a conditioned reflex, based on a widespread appreciation for reasons

This has been demonstrated in psychology experiments where participants successfully jump to the head of lines in front of copying machines by explaining their reason: "I have to make some copies."

When requesting something, add on "because" and watch compliance go up

Few practices are wiser than not only thinking through reasons before giving directions but also communicating these reasons to the recipient

It also applies in group decision making: regardless of logic, sometimes having more reasons wins

Rashomon Effect

The situation where an event is given contradictory explanations by the individuals involved

It's a storytelling method in cinema meant to provide different perspectives and points of view of the same incident

It reflects witnesses subjective interpretation and self-interested advocacy, rather than an objective truth

The Rashomon effect is evident when the event is the outcome of litigation. One should not be surprised when both parties claim to have won the case

Paradox of Knowledge

The more you know, the less you can clearly explain

Our inability to explain familiar concepts is a form of cognitive bias wherein experts often overestimate the ability of novices

Hot Hand Fallacy

Our tendency to believe that a successful streak is likely to lead to further success

Example: A basketball player made 3 consecutive shots, we may believe they have a greater chance of making the 4th than is actually likely

Also applies to gambling/investing

The Turkey Illusion

A metaphor for the one who is both surprised and harmed by black swan events, i.e., unpredictable events of massive consequences

"It's never happened in the past, it's unlikely to happen in the future."

It represents a confusion between risk and uncertainty

This confusion between risk and uncertainty has baffled investors for centuries

In a casino, the probabilities of different outcomes are calculable and hence the risk can be controlled

There’s no unknown-unknown in the sterile environment of a casino

But, in the real world of business, not only the probabilities of possible outcomes are unknown, but the range of possible outcomes are also unknown

"Predicting the rain doesn’t count (uncertainty), building an ark does (risk mitigation)." - Warren Buffett

Lucretius problem

A mental defect where we assume the worst-case event that has happened is the worst-case event that can ever happen in the future

We fail to understand that the worst event that has happened in the past surpassed the worst event that came before it

The Echo Chamber Effect

We tend to be surrounded by people who are like us and share our worldview

Social media accentuates this by tailoring our news and opinion feeds to match our pre-set views

This effect feeds on another fundamental cognitive error called confirmation bias

To avoid falling into this homogeneity trap, we need to seek out and dispassionately engage with people whose views differ from our own

This applies not just to political views, but also investments, or life philosophies

Lucifer Effect

Human beings underestimate their own vulnerabilities which can turn them into evil

Demonstrated through the Stanford Prison Experiment where participants were assigned roles of 'prisoners' and 'guards'

Tests showed all students had no psychological issues

A few days into the experiment, participants who were playing guards began to treat the prisoners as if they were non-humans

The prisoners began to experience extreme stress and the more they acted like non-humans, the more the guards mistreated them

The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but had to be abruptly ended after 5 days

Often when we are in a role, we tend to act as others expect

As a consequence, good people, under certain circumstances, can turn into bad (dishonest, evil, and even dangerous) people

Pareidolia Effect

The tendency for our perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual, so that one sees an object, pattern, or meaning where there is none

Examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations

Denominator Blindness

The failure to put big numbers into proper context. Put simply, information that provides only a numerator is of limited use

Headlines or statistics that provide only a numerator are of limited use, they need to be considered in full context or relatively

Denominator Blindness The failure to put big numbers into proper context. Put simply, information that provides only a numerator is of limited use Headlines or statistics that provide only a numerator are of limited use, they need to be considered in full context or relatively

Ludic Fallacy

The tendency for people to mistake the kind of uncertainty found in games to the kind of uncertainty found in real life

The attributes of the uncertainty we face in real life have little connection to the sterilized ones we encounter in games

Scarcity Bias

We unconsciously assume things that are scarce are valuable and things that are abundant are not

Frequently occurs when we are told that a product is in short supply and we might miss a great deal unless we book/pay now

Hawthorne Effect

Occurs when people behave differently because they know they are being watched

It can affect all sorts of behaviours such as dietary habits, or hygiene practices because these have considerable opportunity for instantaneous modification

The Hawthorne effect can also lead to the observation being the intervention

For example, a study of hand-washing among medical staff found that when the staff knew they were being watched, compliance with hand-washing was 55% greater than when they were not being watched

Inattentional Blindess

When focused on a task that demands attention, a failure to notice a fully visible, but unexpected object or event which occurs in full view


Has implications for driving, the reliability of witness statements, and pick-pocketers

Preference Falsification

People lie about their true opinions and conform to socially acceptable preferences instead

In private they’ll say one thing. In public, they’ll say another. Often occurs because they believe the conveyed preference is more acceptable socially

Reductive Bias

The need to treat non-linear complex systems as if they are linear

Mistakes generally arise from the mismatch between the complex reality we face and the simplifying mental routines we use to cope with that complexity

Bizarreness Effect

Bizarre or controversial information is easier to recall than what is common

Caused by the human interest in information that is novel, strange, or unusual and the tendency for memories to fade more for mundane information

There are interesting implications for memory enhancement such as the SEE principle

The principle relies on using all five Senses, Exaggeration (bizarreness), and Energising (animation) to help remember otherwise mundane information

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 :)

Please send me a reply if you have feedback on either of the following questions:

  • Was the level of explanation sufficient to understand the concept?
  • Would you like to see each week ‘themed’ by topic, or would you prefer a mix of fields each week?

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