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How We Know What Isn't So

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Saved by Martin Poulter
on January 20, 2009 at 2:48:45 pm

Notes on How We Know What Isn't So: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life by Thomas Gilovich, 1991, Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0029117062 (Google Books info)


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I'd highly recommend this as one of the starting points to anyone interested in learning about cognitive biases. Gilovich is both a prominent researcher and an excellently readable writer. He encourages the reader to think like a bias researcher. Using logical principles, we can get hypotheses about which biases to expect. With controlled experiments, we can verify the existence of biases and by applying them to specific topics we can see how natural human fallibility can have disastrous results. Cordelia Fine's "A Mind of Its Own" complements it nicely, and is more recent.



Part One: Cognitive Determinants of Questionable Beliefs


Ch. 2: Something Out of Nothing: The Misperception and Misinterpretation of Random Data


Ch. 3: Too Much from Too Little: The Misinterpretation of Incomplete and Unrepresentative Data


Ch. 4: Seeing What We Expect to See: The Biased Evaluation of Ambiguous and Inconsistent Data


Part Two: Motivational and Social Determinants of Questionable Beliefs


Ch. 5: Seeing What We Want to See: Motivational Determinants of Belief


Ch. 6: Believing What We Are Told: The Biasing Effects of Secondhand Information


Ch. 7: The Imagined Agreement of Others: Exaggerated Impressions of Social Support

  • False consensus effect: subjects exaggerating the extent to which others share their beliefs, preferences or attitudes (classic experiment is Ross, Greene & House (1977) in J. Exp. Soc. Psych.)
  • False consensus has a variety of motivational and cognitive mediators
  • One important process maintaining false consensus is the lack of negative feedback on behaviour due to adult etiquette.
  • Children merrily taunt each other for breaking and social norm. Adults learn not to do this; to minimise their apparent disagreement, avoid pointing out when a man has his fly undone, for example. It's etiquette not to discuss politics or religion with someoneBad-ScienceBad-Science


Part Three: Examples of Questionable and Erroneous Beliefs


Ch. 8: Belief in Ineffective "Alternative" Health Practices


Ch. 9: Belief in the Effectiveness of Questionable Interpersonal Strategies


Ch. 10: Belief in ESP


Part Four: Where Do We Go from Here?


Ch. 11: Challenging Dubious Beliefs: The Role of Social Science

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