In last month’s blog we explored an intriguing book about the biases of our intuition: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In it, we learned that we assume certain things automatically without having thought through them carefully. Kahneman calls those assumptions heuristics (mental shortcuts that ease the mental load of making a decision) and certain heuristics lead to muddled thinking and errors of judgment. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for proving over 150 human biases influencing our thinking and behaviors. In that blog we looked at the first heuristic of PRIMING.
Another example of a heuristic is COGNITIVE EASE. Things that are easier to compute, more familiar, and easier to read seem more true than things that require hard thought, are novel, or are hard to see.
How do you know that a statement is true? If it is strongly linked by logic or association to other beliefs or preferences you hold or comes from a source you trust and like, you will often unknowingly fall victim to cognitive ease. Things that are familiar seem more true. Advertisers, marketers, authoritarian tyrants, and even cult leaders repeat their message endlessly.
Potential for error? If we hear a lie often enough, we tend to believe it.
COHERENT STORIES (ASSOCIATIVE COHERENCE)
Yet another of Kahneman’s heuristics is COHERENT STORIES or ASSOCIATIVE COHERENCE. To make sense of the world, we tell ourselves stories about what’s going on. We make associations between events, circumstances, and regular occurrences. The more these events fit into our stories, the more normal they seem. Things that don’t occur as expected take us by surprise. To fit those surprises into our world we tell ourselves new stories to make them fit. We say, “Everything happens for a purpose,” “God did it,” “That person acted out of character,” or “That was so weird it can’t be random chance.”
These surprises in daily living beg for coherent explanations. Often those explanations involve:
- Assuming intention, “It was meant to happen,”
- Causality, “They’re homeless because they’re lazy,”
- Interpreting providence, “There’s a divine purpose in everything.”
Potential for error?
- We hypothesize intention and agency where none exists
- We confuse causality with correlation
- We make more out of coincidences than is statistically warranted.
It is true, if we behave in certain ways our thoughts and emotions will eventually catch up. We can not only feel our way into behavior, we can behave our way into feelings. Another potential for error? We are not objective rational thinkers, so things influence our judgment, attitude, and behavior that we are not even aware of.
How can you leverage this idea?
The next time you feel that others are not following your thinking, try slowing down and checking your stories and what you might have assumed is true that is not!
Onward and Upward,