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9 Cognitive Biases You Didn't Know You Had

Your dumb brain is playing some truly devious tricks on you. Learn to look out for some of these sneaky, tricksy cognitive biases and it might just change the way you see the world.

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1. Dunning-Kruger Effect: The less you know, the more confident you're likely to be.

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The greatest trick that the devil ever pulled was giving ignorant or incompetent people an enhanced sense of their own competence due to their inability to understand the performance standards inherent in a given field of knowledge. See also: mansplaining.

2. The Curse of Knowledge: Once you understand something, you assume it must be obvious to everyone.

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Once something hard intuitively makes sense to you, it seems like it should be obvious to everyone else, even though that is rarely true with anything that is at all complex. This is one of the cruelest biases of all, because it can tend to make you dramatically undervalue the things you're good at.

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3. Sunk Cost Fallacy: Irrationally clinging to something just because it has already cost you something.

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For example, scammers usually try to get people to only send a small amount of money to begin with so that they’re more likely to send more money later.

4. Self-Serving Bias: You believe that you are responsible for your successes and that your failures are due to external factors.

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This is a universal and understandable defense mechanism, but if you think the A you got on that test was because of your hard work, and the C you got on that other test was because the questions were unfair, you may want to do a bit of self-reflection.

5. Framing Effect: You allow yourself to be unduly influenced by the manner in which something is explained to you.

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A great example of this bias in action is when Penn and Teller got a bunch of people to sign a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide – a dangerous chemical in our waterways that causes hundreds of deaths every year. Dihydrogen monoxide is more commonly known as H2O, and it does cause deaths, but it probably shouldn't be banned. Framing is everything.

6. Confirmation Bias: You favor things that confirm your existing beliefs.

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If there is One Bias to Rule Them All, it is confirmation bias. On the more innocuous end, it's why we like people we agree with, but it's also why we sometimes end up in literal cults. Confirmation bias is incredibly difficult to avoid because it feels SO GOOD to have our beliefs confirmed and so bad to have them disproved.

7. The Availability Heuristic: Your judgments are influenced by what springs most easily to mind.

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It turns out that the ease with which something comes to mind isn't a great measure of its relevance to your argument. Recent, emotionally powerful, or unusual memories seem more relevant than distant, emotionally underwhelming, or mundane memories — even when they aren't.

8. The Barnum Effect: You see personal specifics in vague statements by filling in the gaps.

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This bias relies on the mind's amazing ability to make connections, even when there aren't any, combined with our ego's constant need for validation. When a psychic tells you that you are "often critical of yourself," or that you "sometimes project confidence despite your many insecurities," they're relying on the Barnum effect to make you feel like things that are true of literally everyone are deep insights into your own personality.

9. The Spotlight Effect: You overestimate how much people notice how you look and act.

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This one should be pretty comforting: If you ever have that feeling like everyone is looking at you and judging you for every little thing you do, that's often the spotlight effect in action. The truth is that most reasonable people want to like and get along with you, and they want you to do the same for them. We're all the heroes of our own stories and people tend not to care so much about how you're coming across to them as about how they're coming across to you.

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