February 7, 2022




Tilt, Do/Say Something Syndrome, Availability Bias, & More

At a glance

Hello Mental Models Lovers!

It's great to have you on board for the first edition of my weekly newsletter—I appreciate your early support.

This week was a truncated one, meaning 62 models were covered.

I'll be looking to share ~100/week on average over the next ~15 weeks— that's a lot of mental models.

So without further ado, let's get into it! This week focused on psychological biases and general thinking concepts.

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 :)

Concepts in Psychology

Tilt: A frustrated, confused state of mind caused by the emotional stress of losing (particularly in strategic games like poker)

Tilting degrades skill, so tilting less allows you to beat people better than you because you're playing at your skill cap more often than they are

Do/Say Something Syndrome: Waiting and watching is torture, so humans tend to act even when no action is needed

We often confuse activity for results. Sometimes, the best thing to do or say in the face of a problem, question, or situation is nothing at all

Availability Bias: Our tendency to rely on information that is easy to recall or top of mind when making decisions

When decision-making, gain different perspectives and relevant statistical information rather than relying purely on first judgments and emotive influences

Insensitivity to Base Rates (Representativeness Heuristic)

In statistics, a base rate is the % of a population with a certain characteristic

Insensitivity occurs when we put heavier weight on appealing information about an individual case, rather than considering the average outcome over time

Insensitivity to Sample Size (Representativeness Heuristic)

Extreme outcomes are more likely in small than in large samples

Before drawing a conclusion from information about a limited number of events (sample) selected from a larger number of events (population) understand the statistics of samples

Misconceptions of Chance (Representativeness Heuristic)

Expecting the immediate outcome of events to represent the broader outcomes expected from a large number of trials

Don't believe that independent events offer influence or meaningful predictive power over future events

Failure to Account for Regression to the Mean (Representativeness Heuristic)

Performance always varies around an average true performance. Extreme performance naturally gets less extreme the next time, regardless of the intervention

Take account of track records more than one-time success stories

Bias from Conjunction Fallacy (Representativeness Heuristic)

Believing that two events happening in conjunction is more probable than one of those events happening alone

Which is more probable?

a) Linda is a bank teller

b) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement

Are you sure?

Incentives and Reinforcement Bias: Our tendency to neglect the importance of incentives in understanding human behaviour

Don't think of something else when you should be thinking about the power of incentives

Show me the incentives and I'll show you the outcome

Self Serving Bias: Believing your failures are due to external factors, yet you're responsible for your successes

Don't forget your unearned privileges, luck and advantages

Don't blame circumstance or point the finger when things don't go your way

Deprival Super-Reaction Syndrome: If our freedom, status, money or anything we value is lost, we will over-react in a negative manner

This effect is even greater when we almost have something but then lose it

Don't let your reaction cloud your judgement of the next best steps

Contrast Effect: Reduced perceptive performance as a result of simultaneous exposure to two objects of lesser or greater value in the same dimension (Think of two product pricing options side-by-side)

Antidote: Evaluate people and objects individually and not by their contrast

Stress-Influence Bias: Stress is good, up to a point, but will then amplify the other biases

Light stress can slightly improve performance—say, in examinations—whereas heavy stress causes dysfunction

Limit your major decisions while over-stressed, or de-stress first

Emotional Arousal Bias: The tendency for arousal to enhance memory for high priority information but reduce memory for low priority information

An explanation for why catastrophic events can lead victims without any recollection of the "minor" details surrounding the main event

Physical or Psychological Pain Bias: The tendency to distort facts for our own psychological comfort

This psychological comfort is known as cognitive dissonance

Face the truth: It's better to deal with problems before they become bigger problems

Fundamental Attribution Error: Underemphasizing situational factors while over-emphasizing character traits in assessing others

You haven't slept well so you know why you're slow, they haven't slept well so you assume they're a slow person

View other's situations with charity

Status Quo Bias: We tend to prefer things to stay the same; changes from the baseline are considered to be a loss

Present in all corners of society; people tend to reject change for psychological or physical comfort

Why seek change or discomfort? Growth

Do Nothing Tendency: We are more bothered by harm that comes from action than harm that comes from inaction, so we default to no action

Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us - @SPressfield

Don't resort to no action as a means of comfort

Precision Bias: The tendency to believe that greater precision implies greater accuracy

Collecting an impressive quantity of statistics or evidence even though they may be of little value for demonstrating any particular truth

Ask: What is the 80/20 here?

Simplicity Bias: The tendency to hold views that can be explained by a simple narrative, as opposed to views that take more complex details into account and are generally more balanced

Likely caused by limitations of individual memory and closely related to confirmation bias

Uncertainty Avoidance: The tendency to interpret information, people or things that are inconsistent, vague, or contradictory as potential sources of psychological discomfort or threat

It's important to separate risk from uncertainty: they are not the same

Ideological Bias: The collection of ideas, or beliefs, held by an individual, or a group of people; it's the tendency to be influenced to see reality from only a particular viewpoint

Political parties have an ideology they hold to, this makes their views ideologically biased

Not Invented Here Bias: We get drunk on our own ideas (whether individual or in a business setting)

Sober up, take a step back every now and then to examine their quality in hindsight

Which of your ideas from the past 5 years were truly outstanding? My guess is a small few

Extremeness Aversion: When making decisions, the tendency to avoid the outermost edge or ultimate poles of a situation and prefer a compromise or middle position

The middle option on a software product page is conveniently placed, isn't it?

Social Proof Bias: In the face of uncertainty, the tendency to look to others for answers as to how we should behave, what we should think and what we should do

Occurs due to our natural desire to 'fit' in with the crowd

But, we should always question whether the crowd is wrong

Framing Effect: Allowing ourselves to be overly influenced by context and delivery

We like to think that we think independently, but the truth is we are influenced by delivery, framing, and subtle cues (think Ads or Politics)

Be mindful of how messages are being put to you

Lollapalooza Effect: Extreme consequences arising from confluences of psychological biases acting in favor of a particular outcome

For example, auctions can generate foolish behaviour (ending in regret), because of social proof, loss aversion (FOMO), commitment, and action bias

Peak-End Theory: A cognitive shortcut our brains use by focusing our memories on the most intense aspects of an experience or what the ending was like

A bad flight experience on the way home from a vacation can take away from an otherwise positive trip

Confirmation Bias: Favouring things that confirm our existing beliefs and ignoring or dismissing information that conflicts with them

This has been labelled as the mother of all biases, as it affects so much of our thinking

Question your beliefs and seek disconfirming evidence

Scope Neglect: A lack of sensitivity to the scale of a benefit or harm

Even if there is an exponential increase in the scope of a problem, our response in attention may only be linear

Don't trust your intuition when dealing with numbers, do the work to understand the problem

Cognitive Dissonance: The mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes

Example: Justifying 'cheating' when dieting

Can result naturally, or from a lack of focused reflection and investigation of our deepest beliefs or attitudes

Illusory Truth Effect: Believing false information to be correct after repeated exposure

Repetition makes statements easier to process relative to new ones, leading people to believe that the repeated conclusion is more truthful

The antidote: keep questioning everything

Cue-Dependent Forgetting: Memories are forgotten because they can't be retrieved, not because they don't exist

Information is stored in human memory by way of association with other memories

Attach new memories to old memories and you'll retrieve them more quickly

Mood-Congruent Memory Bias: The tendency to more easily remember events that have congruence with one's current mood

Remember: It's never as good or as bad as it seems

Bias from Association: The tendency to be easily influenced by associations

Highly-priced goods = high-quality goods. Cheap goods = cheap quality

Not always the case. Take things at face value

Liking/Loving Bias: The tendency to judge in favour of people and symbols we like, or ignore their faults

When dealing with those who clearly benefit from your liking, check whether you've been influenced

Don't distort the facts of a situation to comply with your liking

Disliking/Hating Bias: The tendency to distort facts to facilitate hatred or disdain

Take opinions and behaviours at face value rather than in the veil of your disliking or hatred for someone or something

Commitment and Consistency Bias: The instinctual desire to remain consistent with our prior actions and beliefs

Society values consistency, but this can lead us to behave in irrational ways

Always reflect on whether you truly want to continue a commitment of any sort

Kantian Fairness Tendency: The pursuit of and belief in perfect fairness in the world

Stop expecting the world to be fair and adjust your behaviour accordingly

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people: this is the way of the world

Bias from Jealousy/Envy: The tendency to dislike those who make us feel our own inferiority

Jealousy involves a triangle of relationships. Envy involves the self and another

It's no wonder workplaces don't like you telling your colleagues the value of your bonus

Reciprocation Bias: The tendency to reciprocate actions others have done towards us

Culturally and societally enshrined: "One should treat others as they would like to be treated"

Beware of ill-intentioned actions or relationships that feel transactional

Authority Bias: The tendency to trust and be influenced by the opinions of authority figures

Experts aren't always right. Influencers don't always have valuable opinions. Your boss doesn't own your thinking

Take opinions on their logic, not their sender

Hindsight Bias: The tendency, upon learning an outcome, to overestimate one's ability to have foreseen the outcome

The "I knew it all along phenomenon"

Solution? Decision journals and honest self-assessment

Mere exposure effect: The tendency to develop a preference for things merely because we're familiar with them

Critical in decision-making; when deciding between alternatives, we shouldn't choose the familiar option, we should choose the best option based on its effectiveness

Conservatism bias: Emphasizing original or pre-existing information over new information

Highly applicable to decision-makers when reacting to new developments in their field

New information should be analyzed carefully to determine its value

Social Desirability Bias: Our tendency to respond in ways that we feel are more appropriate or socially acceptable to others, even if we're untruthful

Enter: The anonymous survey

Identifiable Victim Bias: We feel greater empathy in situations where tragedies are about a specific, identifiable individual, compared to situations where the victims are a larger, vaguer group of people

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

Peltzman Effect: The theory that when safety measures are implemented, people actually tend to increase their risky behaviors

Why? People’s perception of risk decreases, and so people may feel that they can now afford to make riskier decisions

Omission Bias: The tendency to view harmful inactions as more morally sound than harmful actions

Example 1: Referees avoiding game altering calls near the end of tight games

Example 2: Not vaccinating even though the probability of harm is greater without vaccination

In-group Bias: We favour those with perceived or real similarities to ourselves: race/ethnicity, country of origin, sporting team, political views, etc.

Areas where awareness of ingroup bias is important: Hiring, promotions, politics, capital allocation, team selection

Moral Foundations Theory: We have ingrained ‘intuitive morals’ which drive all our behaviours

They include:

Care: instinct to protect

Purity: disgust for the foul

Fairness: instinct to punish cheating

Loyalty: how tied you feel to others

Authority: knowing when to obey

We're prewired with the five modules, but each of them can be amplified or toned down by our personality, environment, and experiences

The outcome is differing moral and political views across and within cultures

To avoid political or moral 'high-ground' shouting-matches, seek first to understand the opponent's moral foundations

You'll have a more fruitful conversation and learn a new valuable perspective

Decline of Violence: The modern world is witnessing a massive decline in all forms of violence such as war, crime, and interpersonal relationships (see@sapinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature), yet we are accustomed to thinking the modern world is increasingly violent

This thinking comes from the persistently horrific stories in the news: murders, geopolitical wars, abuse

It results from the availability bias: the tendency to judge the probability of an event occurring based on how easily it comes to mind

Since the news disproportionately reports on bad things happening (that's what gets clicks!), we overestimate how common these rare bad events are because they are fresh in our memory

Antidote: Remember the whole story, not just the available story

Fox vs. Hedgehogs

There are two types of people in the world: foxes and hedgehogs

The dichotomy describes two contrasting ways of viewing the world

If you adopt foxlike thinking, you rely on various pieces of information to form your view on an issue and think about it from different angles

If you adopt a hedgehog mindset, your world views and predictions are formed with a central, overarching principle in mind

Foxes are willing to admit when they're uncertain in the face of difficult problems

Hedgehogs are more confident in their views, regardless of the uncertainty of the problem at hand

Unsurprisingly, people with foxlike characteristics tend to make more accurate predictions when it comes to global trends and events

The best forecasters put their own theories aside, embrace uncertainty, and use multiple perspectives to achieve a more accurate prediction

Bandwagon Effect: Ideas, fads, and beliefs grow as more people adopt them

This concept has heavy overlap with Social Proof and the Technology Adoption Lifecyle

A lot of modern marketing techniques can be explained through these concepts

Groupthink: Due to a desire to 'fit-in' and to retain harmony in group settings, we make irrational decisions, often to minimise conflict

Solutions? Six thinking hats, write storming, and any other process that forces more objective group decision-making

Halo Effect: The tendency to assume other agreeable characteristics upon seeing one agreeable characteristic in someone or something

" He could never have done that; he's too nice!”

Moral Luck: Where someone is assigned blame or praise for an action or its consequences even if it's clear that the person didn't have full control over the action or its consequences

Assess voluntary actions, not uncontrollable outcomes

False consensus: The tendency to believe that your views and behaviours are more common and appropriate to existing circumstances than they are

"What, you don't drink alcohol?!”

Curse of knowledge: Once we know something, we assume everyone else knows it, too

It's why some experts can't explain their field in simple terms

and people don't share knowledge that could benefit others; there are always people to teach and people to learn from

Spotlight effect: We overestimate how much people are paying attention to our behaviour and appearance

Hard truth that will pull the weight off your shoulders: People care far more about themselves than they care about you

Simple but hard antidote: Just be you

Defensive Attribution: When someone attributes blame for a mishap to minimize their fear of being a victim or a cause in a similar situation

Attributing blame allows the person to believe that the mishap was controllable and thus preventable

Example: you want to feel better or less scared after a car crash happens in front of you

You blame one of the drivers for being on their phone and tell yourself it couldn't have happened otherwise

Interestingly, the willingness of the attributor to apportion blame to the person(s) involved has been found to decrease with the perceived similarities between the two parties

I.e., there is an "In-group bias" that occurs

Just-World Hypothesis: We tend to believe the world is a just place; therefore, we assume acts of injustice are deserved and vice-versa

This is not always the case: good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people

However, it's refreshing and powerful to think that good equals good

Without this hypothesis, the motivation to do good would dissolve

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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