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English Detective # 93 Watch out for Cognitive Biases! 10-17-17
October 17, 2017

Have you ever wondered what is behind the bad decisions we all make at times? Learn about cognitive biases-- mental tendencies we rely on for easier decision-making—and how they can lead to a lot of trouble instead. The TED talk also discusses mindset: whether we approach judgments with a strong desire for all the facts, or with a preference for a certain result or outcome.

After the links to the articles and talks, there are explanations for some of their most important vocabulary and a page to practice related vocabulary.

Fast Company looks at 5 Common Unconscious Biases That Lead to Bad Decisions. Do you recognize any of these? As they point out, these mental habits can sometimes make life easier and help us save time. We just need to watch our thinking so that they don’t cause us to miss or ignore the factors we need to consider.

The article makes brief suggestions for how to prevent each of these natural biases from hurting us.

Here’s a great infographic illustrating 20 cognitive biases, the five above and fifteen others.

TED also has a fascinating talk on “scout mindset” and “why you think you’re right even if you’re wrong.” It’s a twelve-minute exploration of confirmation bias, “motivated reasoning” (wanting one side to win enough that it biases your judgment), and a mindset that can help you keep looking for the truth.

Vocabulary: Mental Processes & Cognitive Biases

assume—to think you know about something without really looking into it. (Its noun is assumption.) Example: “The teacher assumed Eric was just too lazy to do his homework until she learned he was working 20 hours a week to help feed his family.”

bias- favoring one group or choice over another without evidence; prejudice

cognitive- related to knowledge or understanding (from the Latin word for ‘getting to know something’—the same root the word ‘recognize’ comes from.)

confident- feeling able or sure of oneself or of a situation. Overconfidence is more confidence than is justified.

confirm- to verify that something that you thought or believed is in fact true.

fallacy—incorrect (or false) reasoning

mental- of (relating to) the mind

misjudge- to make a mistake in judgment; misunderstand

perceive—to recognize with the senses (see, hear, sense). Perception is the noun: knowledge obtained through the senses.

rely- to trust in someone or something for help. Reliance means confidence or trust; reliability means trustworthiness. Example: The business lost a lot of money because of over-reliance on a single supplier that was devastated by the hurricane.

To practice related words (about honesty and deception, rather than self-deception), see 20+ Words for Truth, Falsehood, and Error.” A link to the answers is at the bottom of the page.

Incidentally, English Detective 53 has some ideas for teaching children about bias. If you’re a teacher, you may find those links useful.

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