Cognitive Bias and the Struggle to Change One’s Mind

by cognitivelycomplex

I finished up Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar yesterday. I’d give it a score on the better side of mediocrity, maybe a three out of five stars. There is no doubt that Strayed’s life experience and ability to relate to the people asking the questions assists in conveying great, sound advice. My only issue with the book was it struggled to keep my attention as I meandered into its fourth and fifth acts. I recommend it, especially if you are intrigued by the process behind thoroughly investigating exactly how to break down a problem and give it the thought it deserves.

I moved on to This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman, a conglomeration of written articles on ideas involving our mind and critical thinking. If you haven’t gotten the clue from the title of this blog, I’m highly interested in critical thinking and how to improve it.

One of the core ideas that was explored early on in this book (I’m only about 100 pages in) is cognitive bias. Cognitive bias, I’ll take Wikipedia’s definition since it sources its creator Daniel Kahneman, is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations, which may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality. I’m sure anybody reading this can pick out a person in their lives who personifies the definition. If you’re really open-minded, you might see yourself within that definition.

I bring this up because, as of late, I’ve felt that nearly everyone in my life is overly biased on almost every single moral or social issue that I bring up. None of my friends have shown an ounce of critical thinking skills when it comes to a variety of issues that plague the country. Many of them believe in some archaic opinion that is either rooted with religious overtones or in terrible ideas that were embedded in them by the very people who raised them.

The fact that I can hardly find an equal when it comes to debating the issues is saddening and making me somewhat depressed about the world. Why is it that everyone has such a hard time critically thinking about problems, seeking out facts, and… possibly, POSSIBLY changing their minds when the evidence presented points the other way?

It’s a demoralizing realization for someone who is analytical in nature. I used to shrug off the idiocy I was confronted with at parties and social gatherings to flat out stupidity, but as Richard Dawkins conveys in the book — it’s a stretch to think 100% of this is due to stupidity.

Education is a factor. The lack of teaching critical thinking techniques is another. The list goes on and on. How many people out there know how to create a hypothesis and run experiments to validate or invalidate that hypothesis? In my experience, not very many.

Heated debates over gun control are my best example as of late. Many people continue to quote that the assault weapons’ ban was in place when Columbine occurred. Those people clearly haven’t read the law that was in place from 1994 – 2004. I’ll refrain from getting fully into it here, you can see my view here. It is, however, a great example of cognitive bias. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve shown bias plenty of times, but I have also changed my mind. In fact, I completely changed my tune about attention deficit disorder. And that was something that really opened my eyes to the power of critical thinking. We lack it, and we shouldn’t.