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On how NOT to structure an argument - Cognitive biases

Author: A Philosophical Mind
Dec 14th 2016
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A thesis on the cognitive biases
A bias is a preference or outlook to give or hold a different perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view.

All the biases, are something we ALL have (yes even me) :) - it has been evolutionary hardwired into us as a sort of shortcut to decision making when speed was more important than accuracy...

For instance - tending to see advocacy in your surroundings even when there are none:
When you lived on the savanna and could be eaten by a lion at any moment - the people who thought LION!!! every time a twig broke or a shadow moved (even when there was no lion) were the ones who survived in the long run....

So, they are not bad as such... but in cases where accuracy (i.e. the truth) matters, then we need to be aware of them, so they can be countered and we can get it right, when we need to.

Note: No bias stand alone, but are all part of a larger network of biases either working with or against each other.

When it comes to biases, they are usually divided into 5 categories:
1. Cognitive biases
2. Conflicts of interest
3. Prejudices
4. Statistical biases
5. Contextual biases

In this blog, we will look at cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases:
A cognitive bias, is an inherent bias in a persons cognitive processes (thinking, assessing, etc.), which leads to a deviation from rationality that would not otherwise be present.

Now when we talk about cognitive biases there are generally considered to be 6 cognitive biases:
1. Confirmations bias
2. Attribution bias
3. Framing
4. Anchoring
5. Apophenia
6. Halo effect

Confirmation bias:
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, or recall information in a way that confirms a preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.

It is an error in inductive reasoning that increases with the emotional investment of the person in the subject and can be seen as an effect in informational processing.

There are 3 basic conformation biases:
1. Biased memory
2. Biased search for information
3. Biased interpretation

Biased memory:
All else being equal, fair and without bias, a person still tends to selectively remember things in a way that reinforces their expectations.

Biased search for information:
This is the tendency people have towards searching for evidence consistent with their current hypothesis or conclusion.

Biased interpretation:
This is when a person tends to interpret any given information in a way that confirms the already held hypothesis or conclusion.

So, even if you have managed to avoid remembering-, and collecting information in a biased way you will still interpret set memories, and information in a biased way... there seems to no winning :)

Note: intelligence have no correlation with these biases, and these biases are not restricted to topics that are emotionally significant.

Consequences of confirmation biases:
It is a simple, but influential, trait in people, that we like to be right, so we tend to try and prove the validity of what we already believe, by searching for information, and asking questions, whose expected findings and answers respectively, will confirm our initial hypothesis - instead of what will prove our initial hypothesis false.

Conformation biases, as in all biases, had an evolutionary advantage (promoted cohesion among the tribe of 30 odd people where adhesion among members of the tribe could be catastrophical, etc.), but it has some negative consequences in large modern societies...

Those consequences, are mostly found in areas of research where accuracy of beliefs matter (i.e. science), and the severity of the consequences are directly proportional with the importance of accuracy (i.e. biases in medical science have far reaching consequences on the health and wellbeing of billions of people whereas biases in social science, though very influential in policy making and influencing morality in all societies, is less so in health and wellbeing).

One consequence is, that it promotes a polarization of opinion among people with already differing opinions.

When people remember things, and gather and interpret information in a way that is biased towards what they already believe, a large population will, over time, create their own echo chambers, and their own realities, and the more differing the opinions the faster this will happen (think US election 2016).

Another is, that it promotes an illusory association between events.
When people remember things, and gather and interpret information in a way that is biased towards what they already believe, their samples of reality is heavily slanted towards that bias, which in turn promotes a tendency to see non-existent correlations in a set of data.

If 95% of all you ever remembered experiencing, or read is confirming a specific conclusion, it is easy to conclude a correlation between events remembered and set conclusion.

Next is, that it promotes a preference for early information.
When people remember things in a way that is biased towards what they already believe, they tend to weigh new information against what they already know/remember.

Again, if 95% of all you ever remembered experiencing, or read is confirming a specific conclusion, anything new that contradicts that will be the exception to the rule (so to speak), which would make it not-important, so you don't need to remember it, enhancing your memory bias.

This is why first impressions matter :)

The last is, that it promotes a persistence of discredited beliefs.
When people remember things, and gather and interpret information in a way that is biased towards what they already believe, they tend to persist in their initial conclusions even when the initial information leading to that conclusion later is show to be false.

Again, if 95% of all you ever remembered experiencing is confirming a specific conclusion, someone might discredit 20% of what you remember, but that still leaves 75% confirming your conclusion, and any new information would be slanted towards that conclusion (see preference for early information) and over time bring that number back up to 95%.

Next in the cognitive biases is...
Attribution bias:
This is when people make systematic errors when they evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others' behaviors.

We all constantly make attributions regarding the cause of our own behavior and the behaviors of others, even if those attributions are not correlated to reality. Rather than operating as objective observers, we tend to be prone to errors in perception that lead to a biased interpretation of our social world.

Nobody wants to be the bad person in their own story, and it is easier to interpret other peoples intentions either as the same as our own or compliant with the prejudices we hold towards the group the other person belongs to - as all other biases, attribution bias is a shortcut in thinking for the sake of expediency...

There are 3 basic attribution biases:
1. Self-serving bias
2. Hostile attribution bias
3. Fundamental attribution error

Self-serving bias:
This is any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner.

We all tend to prefer ascribing success to our own abilities and efforts, and ascribing failure to external factors - it is a way to protect our ego from threat and injury and although these cognitive and perceptual preferences perpetuate illusions and error, they also serve the need our self has for validation and esteem.

There are 8 factors that are influential on the self-serving bias:
1. Motivation
2. Age
3. Sex
4. Culture
5. Role
6. Self-esteem and emotion
7. Self-awareness and probability of improvement
8. Locus of control

Motivation:
There are two types of motivation that affect the self-serving bias, self-enhancement and self-presentation.

Self-enhancement aims to uphold a persons own self-worth, and attributing successes internally and failures externally helps them in their self-enhancement.

Self-presentation refers to the drive to convey a desired image to others and make self-serving attributions to manage their impression of you (i.e. you claim personal responsibility for successes but not failures to influence how others perceive you).

Note: your motivation works in conjunction with cognitive factors to produce personally satisfying and self-preserving attributions for outcomes.

Age:
There is a tendency for the self-serving bias to ween over time, and it is therefor inverse proportional to age.

This is because, other factors (especially negative emotional factors) tends to take over the need for the self-serving bias. (i.e. older adults have learned that they are not as important as they thought they were in their teens, and therefor they don't need the same level of self-aggrandizing as they did earlier in life, it is all part of becoming an adult).

Sex:
There tends to be a slight discrepancy in males and females use of the self-serving bias.

Historically men tended to attribute negative interactions to other women more than women did to other men, whereas women tended to attribute negative interactions to other women more than men did towards other men (it is the old sayings - the old ball and chain and women hate women).

But in recent times rising equality between the sexes have seen women also surpassing men in their attribution of negative interactions to other men compared to the opposite (i.e. all men are misogynistic, it is all the Patriarchys fault, etc.).

Culture:
There seem to be a cross-cultural difference in the tendency to exhibit the self-serving bias, particularly when considering individualistic (Western) versus collectivistic (non-Western) societies.

When your focus is family and group goals like it is in collectivistic cultures, you don't have to self-aggrandize yourself to get an advantage in the same way you do in individualistic societies where the need to guard and boost your personal self-esteem is much higher.

Role:
When we talk about self-serving bias, we need to distinguish between the role of participants as the actor of a task or as the observer of someone else performing a task.

Actors of a task exhibit the self-serving bias in their attributions to their own success or failure feedback, whereas observers do not make the same attributions about another persons task outcome.

Observers tend to be more objective in their tendency to ascribe internal or external attributions to other peoples outcomes.

This is because the self-image of actors is challenged directly and therefore actors have a greater need to protect their own self-image, but an observer does not feel the same inclination to do so when the self-image of others is threatened.

Self-esteem and emotion:
When it comes to self-esteem and emotions, emotions tend to influence feelings of self-esteem, which then alters the need to protect ones own self-identity.

People with higher self-esteem tend to have more to protect in their self-image, and therefore they tend to exhibit the self-serving bias more than those individuals with lower self-esteem.

Self-awareness and probability of improvement:
When it comes to the relationship between peoples awareness levels and perceived probability of improvement, this also tends to influences the activation of the self-serving bias.

People with a high self-awareness attribute failure internally and tends to perceive a high probability of improvement when it comes to engaging in the self-serving bias, and attributing failure externally when they perceive a low probability of improvement.

People who are low in self-awareness on the other hand will tend to attribute failure externally regardless of their perceived probability of improvement.

Locus of control:
When it comes to locus of control it is one of the main influences of attribution style.

People with an internal locus of control believe that they have personal control over situations and that their actions matter, whereas people with an external locus of control believe that outside forces, chance, and luck determine situations and that their actions cannot change anything.

People with an external locus of control are also more likely to exhibit a self-serving bias following failure than those with an internal locus of control.

Next in the attribution biases is...
Hostile attribution bias:
This is when a person has the tendency to interpret others' behaviors as having hostile intent, even when the behavior is ambiguous or benign.

A person with high levels of hostile attribution bias might see two people laughing and immediately interpret this behavior as two people laughing about him/her, even though the behavior was ambiguous and may have been benign.

The level of hostile attribution bias is inverse proportionate to the mood of the person, the worse a person fells the more he/she will tend to implement the hostile attribution bias.

And last of the attribution biases:
Fundamental attribution error:
This is the tendency for people to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics of the agent (character or intention), rather than external factors, in explaining another person's behavior in a given situation (i.e. when a person sees a coworker bump into someone on his way to a meeting, he/she will tend to be more likely to explain this behavior in terms of the coworkers carelessness or hastiness, rather than considering that he/she was running late to a meeting).

This contrasts with interpreting ones own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can be taken into account.

The main consequence of the attribution biases is, that it promotes Aggression.
There is a direct association between attribution bias and aggression, meaning higher levels of attribution bias tends to lead to more aggressive behavior.

It seems attribution bias tends to be especially prevalent in reactive aggression (i.e., impulsive and hot-blooded aggression that reflects an angry retaliation to perceived provocation) rather than proactive aggression (i.e., unprovoked, planned/instrumental, or cold-blooded aggression).

Beyond physical aggression, elevated attribution bias also tends to mean increased use of relational aggression (i.e. gossip, spreading rumors, social exclusion).

The next cognitive bias is...
Framing:
Framing is comprised of a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies, organize, perceive, and communicate about reality.

It involves the social construction of social phenomena by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, etc. It is an influence over how people organize, perceive, and communicate about reality and it can be positive or negative - depending on the audience and what kind of information is being presented.

Framing itself can be framed in one of two ways, depending on whether one chooses to emphasize processes of thought or processes of interpersonal communication.

Frames in thought consist of the mental representations, interpretations, and simplifications of reality. Frames in communication consist of the communication of frames between different actors.

You can view framing in communication as positive or negative - depending on the audience and what kind of information is being presented.

Framing is either equivalence frames, which represent logically equivalent alternatives portrayed in different ways or as emphasis frames, which simplify reality by focusing on a subset of relevant aspects of a situation or issue.

When it comes to equivalence frames, the information being presented is based on the same facts, but the frame in which it is presented changes, thus creating a reference-dependent perception.

Examples of this can be found in for instance journalism, where a journalist with the same information being used as a base, can, by framing the surrounding issue, change the reader's perception without having to alter the facts.

When we talk about constructing a frame we call it frame-alignment.
Frame-alignment comes in 4 types:
1. Frame bridging
2. Frame amplification
3. Frame extensions
4. Frame transformation

Frame bridging:
This is when you link two or more ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a issue or problem.

It is when you link a movement to immobilized sentiment pools or public opinion preference clusters of people who share similar views or grievances but who lack an organizational base.

This type of frame alignment is most often seen in politics.

Frame amplification:
This is the clarification and invigoration of an interpretive frame that bears on an issue, problem, or set of events.

This interpretive frame usually involves the invigorating of values or beliefs.

This type of frame alignment is what is also known as echo-chambers, and is usually found in groups with a very strong in-group/out-group dichotomy.

Frame extensions:
This is what we call a movements effort to incorporate participants by extending the boundaries of the proposed frame to include or encompass the views, interests, or sentiments of targeted groups.

Frame transformation:
This is when the proposed frames may not resonate with, and on occasion may even appear antithetical to, conventional lifestyles or rituals and extant interpretive frames.

When this happens, new values, new meanings and understandings are required to secure participants and support.

This is called keying where activities, events, and biographies that are already meaningful from the standpoint of some primary framework transpose in terms of another framework such that they are seen differently (i.e. the new speak/reclassification of words of the SJW-PC type of feminism/left).

There are two types of frame transformation:
1. Domain-specific transformations such as the attempt to alter the status of groups of people.
2. Global interpretive frame transformation where the scope of change is quite radical as in a change of world views, total conversions of thought, or uprooting of all that is familiar (i.e. moving from communism to market capitalism, religious conversion, liberal to SJW, etc.).

The next cognitive bias is...
Anchoring:
This is a bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the anchor) when making decisions.

During decision making, anchoring occurs when people use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor (i.e. the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is worth).

Anchoring is one of the most difficult to get rid of or counter as it is one of the deepest psychologically embedded biases.

There are 4 factors that influence the level of anchoring a person employs in any given situation.
1. Mood
2. Personality
3. Experience
4. Cognitive ability

Mood:
A sad or depressed mood tends to result in an increase in the likelihood that a person will use anchoring, as opposed to people with a happy or neutral mood.

Personality:
People with most of the big 5 personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) tends to be more susceptible to using anchoring, although people high in openness to new experiences, agreeableness and conscientiousness seem to be more likely to be affected by anchoring, than those high in the others.

Experience:
People who are experts (high in knowledge, experience, or expertise in some field) tends to be more resistant to the anchoring effect, although they are not immune.

Cognitive ability:
People with a higher cognitive ability tends to be less likely to employ anchoring, than people with low cognitive ability.

The next cognitive bias is...
Apophenia: (also known as patternicity, agenticity, and randomania)
This is the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data.

There are 3 types of apophenia:
1. Pareidolia
2. Overfitting
3. Hidden meanings

Pareidolia:
This is a type of apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli (i.e. the perception of a face within an inanimate object, the headlights and grill of a truck may appear to be grinning, etc.).

Overfitting:
Overfitting occurs in statistics and machine learning, and is when a statistical model fits the noise rather than the signal. The model overfits the data or observations rather than fitting a generalizable pattern in a general population.

Hidden meanings:
This is when a person discerns patterns in what most people would consider to be meaningless chance events.

This is mostly used in areas like fortune-telling and divination.

And the last of the cognitive biases is...
The halo effect: (the opposite is called the horn effect)
This is when an observers overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observers feelings and thoughts about that entities character or properties, most expertly used by Apple whose followers tend to border on the fanatical side.

Several things have a supporting or adverse effect on the level of halo effect a person or object haves:
A persons attractiveness, agreeableness in personality, intelligence, etc. tends to produce a halo effect (the more attractive, agreeable personality and/or higher intelligence, the higher the halo effect).

Good now you know what your (and my) flaws are, so now you can identify them in others and avoid them in yourself :)

Now go forth and find the truth...

A Philosophical Mind