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

#93 Watch out for Cognitive Biases! 10-17-17


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 article and talk links there are explanations for some of the most important vocabulary they used, 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 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.

P.S. I'm in the process of converting EnglishHints to https, but probably can't finish it until later this week. The Chrome browser has said that on Oct. 17 it will start putting a notice on sites that are not https, saying that they may not be secure.

EnglishHints will still be secure-- nothing has changed (though you should not give credit card information out on a page that is not https.) If you see that notice and it bothers you, you can visit the last two links on Thursday or after-- everything on EnglishHints should be https by then. Chrome is just trying to force sites to change, but it takes a lot of time to make this kind of changes. Thanks for your patience!


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