Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Top 10 Mental Shortcuts

Most of us know more about the processor in our laptops and iPhones than we do about the core processor right inside our own minds. We employ relatively loose strategies to control problem solving, be that an educated guess, an intuitive argument, 'uncommon' common sense, or a rule of thumb method. 

Mental short cuts ease the cognitive load of making a decision. They speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution to life's many challenging opportunities. Knowing which ones to use and when, can help us refine our decision making processes, while making better choices as a result. 

Recognizing how our minds process information can help us sort out anomalies while improving the efficacy of our thinking. Recognizing and actively testing out the short cuts we employ can minimize the unexamined long-term cognitive biases that hinder our ability to make significant progress in life. 

Top 10 Mental Shortcuts

  1. Anchoring - the tendency to rely too heavily, or 'anchor,' on a past experience or a single piece of information when making decisions. 
  2. Attentional bias - the tendency to pay attention to 'shiny' objects or emotionally dominant stimuli in one's own environment, causing us to neglect relevant data when making judgments or decisions. 
  3. Bandwagon - we've all heard of the bandwagon effect, the natural tendency to do (or believe) things because others have done (or believed) them. 
  4. Belief bias - when our evaluation of a situation is biased by a preconceived belief. 
  5. Denomination effect - the tendency to spend more money when it is denominated in small amounts (e.g. coins) rather than large amounts (e.g. bills). 
  6. Empathy gap - the tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, either in oneself or in others. 
  7. Frequency illusion - the illusion in which a word, name, or object that has recently come into one's attention suddenly appears "everywhere" with improbably frequency. 
  8. Neglect of probability - the tendency to completely disregard the probability of an outcome when making a decision under uncertainty. 
  9. Observer-expectancy effect - when a researcher expects a given result and therefore unconsciously manipulates an experiment or misinterprets data in order to find it. 
  10. Pessimism bias - the tendency for some people, especially those suffering from depression, to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening to them. 

While there are hundreds of biases that either enhance or hinder our ability to make timely, rational decisions, these are 10 of the most common biases that result from our minds having taken a mental break or short cut when making decisions or judgments. 

In the future, we'll not just need our memories, we'll need to have a solid roadmap of how we process information to maintain our individuality. Copying those biases onto or into a new material will be a formidable task, but a necessary one if we wish to retain our unicity. 

As much as we are a culmination of our memories and life experiences, we are also a culmination of how we have learned how to process information and solve problems. Understanding how we make assumptions, discount facts, and/or produce decisions from motivations, wishful thinking, or cognitive assessments, helps us better appreciate who we are inside.   

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