CHAPTER 20

COGNITIVE BIASES

Before we begin our discussion, here are a few warmup exercises. We shall refer to these questions later on. Write down your answers, and perhaps get your friends to answer them as well:

1. Which is more likely in your country: death from lung cancer or traffic accident?

2. Are there more words in English that begin with the letter kthan words with k as the third letter?

3. Eritrea is an African country. Do you think its population is above or below 50 million? Estimate its current population. Just guess how many people there might be, even if you do not know the country well.

4. Do you drive? If so, how would you rate your driving skill? Above average or below average? Which percentile?

5. How would you rate your critical thinking skills? Which percentile would you put yourself?

These questions all relate to cognitive biases, which are widespread and persistent psychological tendencies detrimental to objectivity and critical thinking. In recent years, scientists and economists have discovered a long list of cognitive biases, many of which are surprising and difficult to avoid.

20.1 MEMORY BIASES

Information that is more vivid, recent, and easier to recall can bias our reasoning. Take the first warmup question. Many people think they are more likely to die from traffic accident than from lung cancer, but this is not true in most developed countries. It is easy to get it wrong because traffic accidents are more vivid and are mentioned more often in ...

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