Subconsciousness is not completely understandable and a bit weird. FastCompany prepared a list here of 8 mistakes we all make without completely realising them.
I know I make them.
1) WE SURROUND OURSELVES WITH INFORMATION THAT MATCHES OUR BELIEFS. (Crazy talk, right?).
We listen to who we want to listen, we hear what want to hear, and we like people who are like us and like what we like. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirm what we already think.
This is called confirmation bias. If you’ve ever heard of the frequency illusion, this is very similar. The frequency illusion occurs when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the same car everywhere. Or when a pregnant woman suddenly notices other pregnant women all over the place. It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.
Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.
2) WE BELIEVE IN THE “SWIMMER’S BODY” ILLUSION.
The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. Another good example is top-performing universities: Are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence? Our mind often plays tricks on us, and that is one of the key ones to be aware of.
What really jumped out at me when researching this section was this particular line from Dobelli’s book:
Without this illusion, half of advertising campaigns would not work.
It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. If we believed that we were predisposed to be good at certain things (or not), we wouldn’t buy into ad campaigns that promised to improve our skills in areas where it’s unlikely we’ll ever excel.
3) WE WORRY ABOUT THINGS WE’VE ALREADY LOST.
It’s all about the the sunk-cost fallacy, we all do it, no shame in here, just the brain.
The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So it’s a payment of time or money that’s gone forever, basically.
The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain.
Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer created an experiment in 1985 that demonstrated your tendency to go fuzzy when sunk costs come along. They asked subjects to assume they had spent $100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for $50 and bought a ticket for this trip, too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?
More than half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater.
So like the other mistakes , the sunk-cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions–without even realizing we’re doing so.
4) WE INCORRECTLY PREDICT ODDS.
This one is my favourite. When you flip a coin and guess Heads or Tails you have 50/50 chance of being right. Every time, this happens every time. It does not matter if you guessed right 4 times in a row, the chances are still 50/50 each time. The odds don’t change.
The gambler’s fallacy is a glitch in our thinking–once again, we’re proven to be illogical creatures. The problem occurs when we place too much weight on past events and confuse our memory with how the world actually works, believing that they will have an effect on future outcomes (or, in the case of Heads or Tails, any weight, since past events make absolutely no difference to the odds).
5) WE RATIONALIZE PURCHASES WE DON’T WANT.
Every time people buy something they don’t really need, people try to rationalise the purchase. We’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that those flashy, useless, badly thought-out purchases are necessary after all. This is known as post-purchase rationalization or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we get when we’re trying to hold onto two competing ideas or theories. For instance, if we think of ourselves as being nice to strangers, but then we see someone fall over and don’t stop to help them, we would then have conflicting views about ourselves: We are nice to strangers, but we weren’t nice to the stranger who fell over. This creates so much discomfort that we have to change our thinking to match our actions–in other words, we start thinking of ourselves as someone who is not nice to strangers, since that’s what our actions proved.
So in the case of our impulse shopping trip, we would need to rationalize the purchases until we truly believe we needed to buy those things so that our thoughts about ourselves line up with our actions (making the purchases).
6) WE MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THE ANCHORING EFFECT.
Here is long but great examplanation of this mistake we all make.
Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist who gave a TED talks about the irrationality of the human brain when it comes to making decisions.
He illustrates this particular mistake in our thinking superbly, with multiple examples. The anchoring effect essentially works like this: rather than making a decision based on pure value for investment (time, money, and the like), we factor in comparative value–that is, how much value an option offers when compared to another option.
One example is an experiment that Dan conducted using two kinds of chocolates for sale in a booth: Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt Truffles. The Kisses were one penny each, while the Truffles were 15 cents each. Considering the quality differences between the two kinds of chocolates and the normal prices of both items, the Truffles were a great deal, and the majority of visitors to the booth chose the Truffles.
For the next stage of his experiment, Dan offered the same two choices, but lowered the prices by one cent each. So now the Kisses were free, and the Truffles cost 14 cents each. Of course, the Truffles were even more of a bargain now, but since the Kisses were free, most people chose those, instead.
Your loss-aversion system is always vigilant, waiting on standby to keep you from giving up more than you can afford to spare, so you calculate the balance between cost and reward whenever possible. -You Are Not So Smart
Another example Dan offers in his TED talk is when consumers are given holiday options to choose between. When given a choice of a trip to Rome, all expenses paid, or a similar trip to Paris, the decision is quite hard. Each city comes with its own food, culture, and travel experiences that the consumer must choose between.
When a third option is added, however, such as the same Rome trip, but without coffee included in the morning, things change. When the consumer sees that they have to pay 2,50 euros for coffee in the third trip option, not only does the original Rome trip suddenly seem superior out of these two, it also seems superior to the Paris trip. Even though they probably hadn’t even considered whether coffee was included or not before the third option was added.
7) WE BELIEVE OUR MEMORIES MORE THAN FACTS.
Our memories are highly fallible and plastic. And yet, we tend to subconsciously favor them over objective facts. Here is an example:
Suppose you read a page of text and then you’re asked whether the page includes more words that end in “ing” or more words with “n” as the second-last letter. Obviously, it would be impossible for there to be more “ing” words than words with “n” as their penultimate letter (it took me a while to get that–read over the sentence again, carefully, if you’re not sure why that is). However, words ending in “ing” are easier to recall than words like hand, end, or and, which have “n” as their second-last letter, so we would naturally answer that there are more “ing” words.
What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability (that is, whether it’s probable that there are more “ing” words on the page) on how available relevant examples are (for instance, how easily we can recall them). Our troubles in recalling words with “n” as the second last letter make us think those words don’t occur very often, and we subconsciously ignore the obvious facts in front of us.
8) WE PAY MORE ATTENTION TO STEREOTYPES THAN WE THINK WE DO.
The funny thing about lots of these thinking mistakes, especially those related to memory, is that they’re so ingrained.
It’s another one that explains how easily we ignore actual facts:
The human mind is so wedded to stereotypes and so distracted by vivid descriptions that it will seize upon them, even when they defy logic, rather than upon truly relevant facts.