Your brain exists to help you think. You must have heard the saying “Follow your heart and listen to your brain.” Your brain helps you make all the right decisions. You believe so, don’t you?
What if I told you your brain can make biased decisions? What if your brain favors certain things and often compels you to make decisions that cause more damage than good? You will find that hard to believe.
I am writing a set of posts to help you identify how your brain plays games with you. This is the first article on this topic which is the introduction to cognitive biases. You can read about all the biases of the mind by clicking here.
I will explain how. Before we get to the point, take a look at this offer on Amazon. You can purchase a portable Bluetooth speaker at a 66% discount and the deal ends in the next 19 hours.
What did your mind tell you? Unless you already are an electronics geek who knows the average price of such goods, you would have found this an attractive deal. You even decided so in a matter of a few seconds.
Your mind told you “Hey, the offer saves you 66% and you have to decide in the next few hours. Should we buy the speaker?” Boom, your brain convinced you that the deal is fantastic.
Well, whether you buy the speakers or not is not the point. But didn’t your mind easily convince you about the benefits of the offer, because you noticed a 66% discount?
Now, if you search for Bluetooth speakers on Amazon, you will find many other Bluetooth speakers at the same price. But your mind decided in a split second that because the first speaker had a 66% discount, the deal was a bargain.
Your mind failed to consider how much a Bluetooth speaker costs on an average, what quality parameters to look at or if you even need a Bluetooth speaker. The decision was solely made because your brain believes anything on discount helps you save money.
How the brain operates
Your mind did not fool or cheat you on purpose but only replayed your beliefs. It processed all the information you had, made the best decision based on available information.
The calculations happened within a split second without your knowledge. Thanks to the power of the insane computational abilities of our brain which no computer has even come close to match.
Our brain helps us make the right decisions throughout the day. It helps us drive on the right path to work, be nice to people, eat at the right time, not bump into people and so on.
However, at times, it can act like the corrupt intelligent robot from the movies. It does a lot of computations before you can blink and makes a wrong decision.
Why is our brain biased?
Our brain has descended over centuries as a child of evolution. As far as our knowledge tells us, the human brain is the most sophisticated living matter that exists today. We haven’t been able to understand the functioning of the brain completely yet.
Scientists still have a long distance to go to know how the brain works the way it does. Due to the extensive brain research in the last few years, we end up learning new things about our brain daily.
Our brain has evolved over billions of years, starting from a single-celled organism which showed up 3.5 billion years ago. Take a step back and think about the world 500 years ago. People were still fighting wars, killing each other, expanding empires. We have transcended from absolute monarchy and butchery to democracy and peace.
If the way our brains think has changed so drastically in a few hundred years, imagine what changes could have occurred over a period of billions of years. Our brain is the most awesome brainchild of evolution.
Due to the evolution over the years, some of the beliefs in the brain are hardwired within us. Evolution takes its own sweet time to iterate and moves at a slow pace. A change can take hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to take effect.
Once it takes effect, the change remains for a thousand or millions of years. During these long periods, what was once created to gain an advantage might cause an unnecessary impact in another area.
Evolution focuses on survival before anything
In the early days of the human race or any species, survival was the focus. Evolution operates purely from a survival perspective. In the future, after billions of years, this might change.
But for now, evolution optimizes an organism to increase its chances of survival. Evolution is like a kid who focuses on the ice-cream before any other nutritious food.
For example, fear as an emotion evolved to prevent you from dying. Why do you fear a lion as soon as you see one? Never has a lion attacked you, but your fear within prompts you to run and rightly so.
You fear heights because nature wanted to keep you safe from falling off a cliff and killing yourself. But today, when you stand on the ledge of a bungee jump you feel fear tingling down your spine and anxiety rushing through your knees and thighs.
You know you have a harness. You know you will end up safe in a few minutes. You know you won’t kill yourself due to the jump. Yet the fear of heights ingrained in you triggers an emotion.
Like fear of heights and danger, your brain makes many other decisions by default. These decisions are not only based on prior experience but also based on information fed to you since your childhood.
Most children are petrified of the dark while some can breeze through it like a supermodel on a ramp. The darkness remains the same but the reaction varies because no two minds operate alike. Not even the brains of twins.
Examples of the flaws of the brain
The human brain has a level of sophistication making it very difficult to decipher its functioning. Therefore, certain things ingrained in your brain can prompt you to make a decision based on what your mind tells you.
- Buying a medium sized coffee because it seems like the most optimal choice even if you do not know the size of the cup
- Finishing food off the plate because you should not waste food
- Pursuing entrepreneurship because people who have tried hard have made a ton of money
- Buying a house because real estate ends up as a good investment
- Believing you always encounter red lights when you are in a late but never when you leave early
- Assuming the product which has a thousand 4.5 star reviews on Amazon will work for you
- Convincing yourself that the good results happened due to your talent while the bad results were caused by bad luck
These are only a few examples. Our mind is an amazing tool. On one end it has the potential to do some unbelievable feats which no scientists can figure out how. On the other, your brain commits some rookie mistakes due to the information ingrained within it.
How to overcome the flaws of the brain
The worst part of such fallacies of the brain is, you cannot completely prevent such impulses from your brain. You might reduce some of them with practice but never will you be able to fully get rid of them.
It is like trying to fight an army having grenades and missiles with a horde of cavalry and infantry. What you practice for a few years will seem like a speck of dust in comparison to the billions of years of evolution.
These biases will stick to your brain like algae stick to damp areas.
No matter how much you practice, do you think you will be able to get rid of the fear-induced in your body when you come face to face with a lion? No way. You might argue, what about the circus trainer? Sure, he might not fear the lion in the circus. Try putting him face to face with a lion in the jungle.
Therefore, building an awareness of the existence of such flaws of the mind is the most you can do. You will not have success if you try to get rid of them. So do not even bother trying.
For example, every time you go to a coffee shop, the middle-sized cup will seem like the best choice by instinct. Over time, your awareness that the choice may not be the best, will prompt you to ask “How big is the cup?” or “Do I need so much coffee right now?”
The awareness of the biases and that you are susceptible to them will keep you grounded in reality. Due to the new-found knowledge, you can override the decision that your intuition feeds you with and make a logical decision instead.
I will write about many such biases of the mind and the ways to build awareness of them. I will provide real-life examples where you end up a victim of such biases in your day to day life without your knowledge.
These articles aren’t on the lines of ‘How to avoid the bias of …’ because you cannot avoid these biases. The articles will be more like ‘Be aware of XYZ bias within you.’
I can only help you with the awareness and ways to identify the biases. The onus is on you to identify them and not get influenced by the incorrect voices in your head.
The awareness of such biases will make you a wiser and smarter man/woman. Recently, I have prevented some incorrect decisions due to the awareness of my mental flaws. It’s time you learned them too.
I would love to know about a situation where you encountered a fallacy of the brain. Leave a comment below.
What I am not:
What I am:
Continuously improving self-learner
Productivity/Time Management Obsessed