Politics – cognitive bias on steroids?

The BBC’s Horizon recently broadcast a wonderful programme called: “How you really make decisions”. The BBC’s website has a detailed write-up of the programme’s themes:

With every decision you take, every judgement you make, there is a battle in your mind – a battle between intuition and logic.

And the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may think.

License Some rights reserved by evansvilleMost of us like to think that we are capable of making rational decisions. We may at times rely on our gut instinct, but if necessary we can call on our powers of reason to arrive at a logical decision.

“If we think that we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake”

We like to think that our beliefs, judgements and opinions are based on solid reasoning. But we may have to think again.

Prof Daniel Kahneman, from Princeton University, started a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. It’s a revolution that led to him winning a Nobel Prize.

His insight into the way our minds work springs from the mistakes that we make. Not random mistakes, but systematic errors that we all make, all the time, without realising.

Prof Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky, who worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stanford University, realised that we actually have two systems of thinking. There’s the deliberate, logical part of your mind that is capable of analysing a problem and coming up with a rational answer.

This is the part of your mind that you are aware of. It’s expert at solving problems, but it is slow, requires a great deal of energy, and is extremely lazy. Even the act of walking is enough to occupy most of your attentive mind.

Professor Kahneman’s Nobel Prize was for Economic Sciences. (There is no psychology Nobel.) In the Horizon show, they featured two of his main cognitive bias theories concerning money decisions. One is the tendency to over-focus on present, here and now considerations, rather than on future considerations. The second was the tendency to over-obsess about monetary losses to an extent which is completely out of proportion with their financial size, so that less time is spent thinking about larger amounts of money.

This all got me wondering about political opinions and cognitive bias. There is a list of cognitive bias categories here. Scanning through them, there doesn’t seem to be a single one that doesn’t figure in political opinion forming.

And, by that, I include my own political opinion forming. If I didn’t include myself, I would be guilty of a bias blind spot, which is:

The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.

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