Aristotle defined humans as the rational animal. But he was wrong! The human mind is riddled with cognitive biases. At last count, there are something like 150 named cognitive biases – confirmation bias, in group bias, loss aversion, the Ikea effect, the halo effect, endowment effects.
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.
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.