Cognitive Bias

Sunday, December 15, 2019
First Aired: 
Sunday, July 16, 2017

What Is It

Aristotle thought that rationality was the faculty that distinguished humans from other animals. However, psychological research shows that our judgments are plagued by systematic, irrational, unconscious errors known as ‘cognitive biases.’ In light of this research, can we really be confident in the superiority of human rationality? How much should we trust our own judgments when we are aware of our susceptibility to bias and error? And does our awareness of these biases obligate us to counter them? Debra and Ken shed their biases with Brian Nosek from the University of Virginia, co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Open Science.

Part of a six-part series on Intellectual Humility.

Listening Notes

Ken asks if knowing that one has a cognitive bias is enough to dispel such bias. He reminds us that there are 150 named cognitive biases that humans tend to have and that they can be dangerous: distorting race relations, hiring practices, one's own self-image, politics, and even science. Debra adds that, because cognitive biases are often hard to find, they are also difficult to correct. 

Ken and Debra welcome Brian Nosek, co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for Open Science, to the show. Nosek offers that cognitive biases often arise in scientific research. For example, some scientists may hope to achieve results that are better suited for publication than achieve results that are mundane or ordinary. He goes on to argue that cognitive biases are part of our design: they are not defects of human evolution but have evolutionary value. According to him, cognitive biases are rooted in ordinary operations of the mind and are meant to make the world easier for us to function in. While, for instance, confirmation bias may lead to polarization in the political sphere, it also enables us to pick out the same healthy food over and over again.

Brian further explains that cognitive bias is not gendered. Debra cautions against using evolutionary arguments to explain difference in gender today. This, in turn, leads Brian to name a new bias—the "narrative bias." This brings them back to the idea that awareness of these biases may be necessary but is not sufficient to dispel them completely. Ken offers that perhaps one needs a degree of intellectual humility to help protect against such bias. Ultimately, Brian thinks that the biggest danger of cognitive bias is overconfidence and that perception is filled with cognitive bias.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 6:40): Holly McDede interviews Daniel Mochon, a Tulane University professor, about biases such as the Ikea Effect, Endowment Effect, Confirmation Bias, Implicit Ego Bias, and Rhyme-as-Reason Effect.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 46:39): Ian Shoales considers name-calling of former president Barack Obama and Democratic Presidential Elect Hilary Clinton and how this name-calling functioned as a kind of heuristic. 


Comments (19)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, July 28, 2017 -- 9:57 AM

Ok. We have cognitive biases.

Ok. We have cognitive biases. That makes us irrational and Aristotle was wrong? Hmmmm. Well, seems to me that if we did NOT have cognitive biases, we would still be irrational beings, based on the notion that cognitive bias is the outcome of a rational psyche and sentience? Let's take the matter one step further into absurdity: animals are irrational because they do not possess sentience and/or consciousness. What would it mean if we could somehow measure animal behavior(s) in such a way as to show, at least superficially, that they actually are rational when compared to our cognitively biased selves? Perhaps OUTCOME, as used above is too strong a word. I'm just thinking out loud. So, what if there were a way for us to erase our cognitive biases? Would we? Could we? All right, you can't compare animal behavior to human behavior. I get that. But where, when and why does cognitive bias emerge? Socialization and acculturation appear to be likely precursors. We TEACH cognitive bias, don't we? Well, if that were true, we certainly would not be very rational. And, on the basis of that argument, I guess we are not... (I was wearing my sociologist's cap for this one.)

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, December 13, 2019 -- 11:30 PM

These are good thoughts. I

These are good thoughts. I would answer them but your thought continues below and gifted a year plus worth more thinking. Let's just skip to that since that is where you are now.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, November 24, 2019 -- 11:04 AM

See also: my remarks on

See also: my remarks on Comedy and the Culture Wars...(scheduled for December 8, 2019) I still believe cognitive bias is largely a learned behavior. And, perhaps moreover, irrationality is a defense mechanism? Mindfulness, then, only attains within those who attain mind it all connected with Searle's notion about direction-of-fit?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, December 13, 2019 -- 11:29 PM

I disagree.

I disagree.

Let me go where you say and comment there. I will post my own reaction below but I'm very interested in yours.

RepoMan05's picture


Monday, December 2, 2019 -- 4:40 PM

Its so politically incorrect

Its so politically incorrect to suggest diferences between the sexual dimorphism. Its just like if someone made the existence of time into a political issue. On one hand, you can obviously eat a plate of french fries without suffering from the exotoxins of mold spores but then you also cant explaine the incorporeality that lets you do it.

Obviously there's a difference between the sexes you can discuss but you have to entertain legitimacy for the fallacy of statistics and averages to do it. A very unpopular fallacy to entertain when it doesnt suit you.

At some point, you just have to admit that the problems seen in a half billion years of evolution might not have been "problems" and liberation from those problems without balancing those problems with adequate solutions, has lead the world to the brink of very probably real global annihilation.

A big forcible backslide might be a very good idea if discussions of contextual solutions are going to be denied by partisan politics.

psconrad's picture


Tuesday, December 17, 2019 -- 11:43 AM

I have a bias against using

I have a bias against using Greekesque plurals for words with no Greek root. I can almost tolerate biases being pronounced as "biaseez", but processes is definitely not "processeez", any more that fortresses is "fortresseez" or caresses are "caresseez". Biases and processes were so much a part of this otherwise enjoyable and interesting podcast that it was quite maddening.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 -- 6:06 AM

That is not a bias. It is a

That is not a bias. It is a take. They can be the same.
There is no natural kind to grammar. Grammar is constructed as was this show. The fact that a group of minds constructed language does not give language a natural kind status.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 -- 11:05 PM

This show danced around truth

This show danced around truth but in the end was whole and pointed. Hakim, the last caller from Castro Valley, dropped a key point and Nosek brought it all home only to have the show end. Unfortunately the entire talk and concept of cognitive bias is shrouded by confusion. Let me share mine because I am not only cognitively biased I am cognitively challenged.

The human mind is constructed. The brain and human body is a tool for this mind to find truth. Along the way we bounce from breast to tombstone on a cascade of necessity and vice. Very very rarely do we actually find truth.

I lost it... let me start again.

This show was pointless, misleading and in the end doesn't advance the concept of cognitive bias one little bit. The whole idea of cognitive bias is a cognitive bias.

Wait... that's not good either. Let me try one more time.

Ken hit a very deep point early on that was glanced a few more times in the discussion and, I think, might put light to the darkness that is cognition falsity.

Ken playfully called Debra Dorothy to allude to Dorothy's awakening or delusion to find Oz and the Lollipop Guild. This is the deep. This is the point where bias becomes bias. You are not you. The mind is not the brain though it sprouts from it.

Blogging is fun. On many sites, news sites especially, you are able to blog with an avatar. This can be liberating and fruitful. It can also be rough and yes dehumanizing - David is getting into that on the blog right now. I choose to use my real name on this site and news sites.

But what is real? What is cognitive bias? I think Nosek confuses the issue by not laying out his concept of construction to begin. It is "the" deepest confusion in Science and thought today. Drop your avatar when finding truth unless that avatar is the problem all along. It is.

What is real? ... I don't know. But I do enjoy the lollipops of all flavors. Is a lollipop that tastes bad a lollipop. I would say no. Is Oz real? Certainly not.

Am I bias there? Maybe.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, January 2, 2020 -- 12:36 PM

An essay I have been

An essay I have been developing:

Cognitive bias and the role of form vs. substance

Cognitive bias, which I have called learning-driven, gets additional impetus from the form/substance dichotomy. Form dictates procedure, process and rules of propriety. Basking in its self-importance, it allows for substance (if any ensues) only as an incidental by-product.(It is worth noting here that in law, fairness entails two levels of due process: procedural and substantive. The procedural aspect deals with the form a process may take, The substantive, as that name suggests, concerns the matter of substance.) Rules of order are the quintessential manifestation of this phenomenon: the most important outcome is not an effective, substance-laden investigation of evidence and facts. The outcome (if it may be called such) is merely an assured and orderly procession, dotting the ii's and crossing the tt's, with form collapsing under the weight of its' own immensity. The inability of meetings to generate substantive change and improvement reliably and consistently demonstrates itself. Organized chaos is not simply a humorous quip. It is an apt description of what causes organizations to fail and otherwise-competent executives to leave, be expelled or commit suicide. Chaos, by any appellation, is still chaos. For many of us, this is a lesson learned over the course of a lifetime and one from which few profit. A fortiari, for some there have emerged new models, rejecting the burdens of form and embracing open-ended, substance-seeking approaches By encouraging results-oriented methods, obstructive effects of cognitive bias can be reduced. Japanese auto makers.pioneered this notion and other segments of society are catching up. As Ryle noted, problems are not always questions. It is helpful, however, when solutions can be found...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, January 5, 2020 -- 11:27 AM

Cognitive Bias, Part Two

Cognitive Bias, Part Two
(I actually have re-written the first portion of this essay. Much of what was shown above on January 2, 2020 got severely edited and substantially re-organized)

Is it the case, though, that cognitive bias, in all its disguises, is an inescapable contingency? May it be surmised this has always been so? In so far as there are beliefs about most anything and a plenitude of unprepared, undisciplined minds holding those beliefs, the answer, I think, must be yes. Presence-of-mind requires effort and practice: few of us can be bothered with Zen gymnastics or anything of the sort. Thinking harder is not in the playbook. Those who lack a coherent playbook, or worse, see no need for one, are blissfully ignorant of their limitations and most certainly condemned to their own cognitive bias., 'until some cro mag steals the BMW'. They have not a bare notion that providence smiles on determination and purpose (PSDP), let alone the claim: chance favors the prepared mind.

Someone else might ask: are there ANY inescapable contingencies?, and, if so: Is cognitive bias inescapably one of them? I have suggested beliefs and a deficit of mental discipline are, in large measure, responsible for cognitive bias. However, it has been concluded that human thought is layered and complex. Our individual positioning in the social fabric is crucial; our wish to secure and maintain identity; paramount. Even the misfits in our midst, however quirky and disconnected, retain some sense of identity; some desire for belonging. Identity and belonging entail adaptation and compromise. Interest groups and more tightly-knit ideological entities neither reform nor conform to the wishes of would-be members: potential adherents must conform, receive, accept, support and defend the cognitive bias of the group. The bias, a fortiari, is self-perpetuating, not subject to change, failing advent of some paradigm shift. such shifts, other things equal, do not command support and defense of cognitive bias. Reasons may be manifold, but, at bottom, there were not enough turtles...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 -- 12:13 PM

CB, Part Three:

CB, Part Three:

So, herein you have received some good news; bad news and news which may best be thought of as indeterminate. Cognitive bias is part of what it means to be sentient-the stuff of the human condition. It facilitates and/or augments our notions of identity and belonging. Only mental illness or injury may alter, damage,or, in extremis, destroy it. It can be guided and manipulated through presence-of-mind, determination and purpose (otherwise couched as force-of-will) but one is not likely to avoid it. Not even through sequestration in a monastery. (Such retreats are infused with a special variation of the subject discussed in this paper: a kind of cognitive resonance. That is fuel for another essay regarding the relationship between religion and magic, currently in first draft format.)

A final note, and by no means axiomatic: those who value form over substance may suffer disproportionately with cognitive bias. I am uncertain as to why, but, it appears to have something to do with getting one's ducks where they are supposed to be.

End Note: I considered totally revising Part One, presented on 1/2/20. But it would have been more work than necessary, inasmuch as the revisions did not materially change the overall message and intention of the work. PSDP to all, and to all a good night.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, January 9, 2020 -- 12:15 PM

Another take on form,

Another take on form, substance and living in the real world, and again, this is just for fun:

Process implies form, but form does not guarantee substance. Consider, if you will, the current state of government: hire a clown, expect a circus. Hire a troop of clowns, expect the Greatest Show on Earth.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 -- 12:25 PM

Re-write and addition(s) to

Re-write and addition(s) to Part Three, from the sentence which reads: ...That is fuel...currently in first draft format.):

Due, in pertinent part to the inerrant need for identity and belonging, and, notions fired by the PROCESS of socialization begun in childhood, human beings cannot help but become cognitively biased. The direction and scope of that enterprise depends upon how they are parented; general and specific influences emerging therefrom; and, personal interests attending growth and maturity. Form, it would seem, ought to channel interest toward substantive matters. Yet, it is seen that ALTHOUGH FORM IMPLIES PROCESS, IT DOES NOT GUARANTEE SUBSTANCE, EVEN WHEN PROMISING TO DO SO. If, in Sellars' intonement, these 'things' were able to 'hang together' (inerrantly), a perfection of that human condition would more affirmatively present itself. He probably had some intuition of this, with or without a definitive notion thereof. As we see, perennially, promises are as ephemeral as individuals seeking public office, who also make them, perennially.

A final note, and by no means, axiomatic: those who value form over substance may suffer most from CB. Whether or not they are ever able (or willing) to own that begs the question. With this admonition, I leave the topic to your own research and investigation.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, January 16, 2020 -- 10:56 AM

In further editing of the

In further editing of the essay I shared with you in portions from January 5-15, 2020, I went through several re-writes, so that the thoughts set forth would become more cohesive. During those efforts, I arrived at two notions about the entire 'enterprise': 1. Cognitive bias, at bottom, is based on belief about something. The stronger the fact less belief becomes, the more cognitively biased the believer(s) will be. 2. Your cognitive bias is meaningless to me when I do not hold the same belief(s), and, of course, this works the other way round.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 20, 2020 -- 11:16 AM

Last comment on this topic (I

Last comment on this topic (I promise):

A fortiori, in so far as opinions are not so apt to be a function of knowledge, but, rather a consequence of belief, cognitive bias fits neatly into this category. That beliefs are "shady" was the a priori clue. Psychological or psychoanalytic notions about this are, a posteriori to the subject. Even inasmuch as those practitioners probably do not think so.
As an ex-band mate used to say: everybody's got their own album to do...

mrjames5214's picture


Friday, February 7, 2020 -- 9:32 AM

Where can we find a *biggest

Where can we find a *biggest list* (she said "approaching 200"!) of cognitive biases??'s picture


Sunday, May 3, 2020 -- 7:03 AM

Rightly said. Knowing

Rightly said. Knowing cognitive biases can really help us understand ourselves better and improve decision making.

I have a 10,000+ worded article that covers 20 biases in-depth, with infographics, examples, and ways to overcome them - It might be a great addition to your readers.

But anyway, great article.

BLord's picture


Friday, January 19, 2024 -- 3:02 AM

When considering the

When considering the consequences of this study, the question of confidence in the superiority of human rationality becomes relevant. Examining how much we should trust our judgments, given our susceptibility to bias and error, raises important considerations for self-awareness and critical thinking. In this context, the need to critically examine and refine our perspectives becomes paramount, reflecting the importance of such self-awareness in various intellectual pursuits, including academia, where students often seek help and guidance to navigate these complexities - order essay at .

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Nick Drury's picture

Nick Drury

Sunday, September 19, 2021 -- 8:18 PM

I am interested in natural

I am interested in natural occurring cognitive biases in nature. The closest example I've found is the American groundhog - which supposedly emerges from its burrow where is has been hibernating - but if it is cloudy - it concludes that winter is not over (I know a bit of anthropomorphism) and goes back into its burrow again for another 6 weeks. A human equivalent is Aristotles error, shared by many, and is "intuitive", but was corrected by Galileo's experimental proof, is that heavier bodies fall faster than light ones.

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