7 Common Mind Traps That Affect Our Thinking

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The human brain is able to perform more than a thousand operations per second. This means that its power is still greater than of any computer invented to-date. But this does not mean that our brain does not have limitations. A simple calculator can perform calculations much more precisely and faster, and our memory is often unreliable.

In addition, we tend to fall into traps of our own consciousness, which, time and again, lead us to questionable choices or result in making biased decisions. In this article we will discuss seven of these common traps or, scientifically speaking, “cognitive dissonances.”

1. Affirmation bias

We like to agree with people who agree with us. That is why we often visit forums where people sharing our political views tend to congregate, and we communicate with people, whose tastes and opinions are similar to ours. We despise individuals, groups or sites which provoke us to doubt our established beliefs. Psychologist B. Skinner called this phenomenon a “cognitive dissonance.”

This selectivity leads to “affirmation bias”, we often subconsciously perceive only information that “feeds” into our existing opinions, ignoring or rejecting anything that conflicts with these opinions and threatens to undermine the familiar image of the world around us. Internet, by the way, only reinforces this tendency.

2. Affiliating with a group

The phenomenon of affiliating ourselves with a group is similar to affirmation bias, which was discussed above. This is a manifestation of our innate need to “be a part of a group.”

Oddly enough, this need is related to the hormone oxytocin, also known as a “love molecule”. This neurotransmitter, on the one hand, helps us to build strong ties with each other, on the other hand it results in an opposite effect towards those who exist outside of our “circle”. It makes us suspicious, frightened, and even arrogant towards unfamiliar people.

3. Player’s prejudice

This is a tendency to attach great importance to the events which have already happened, when we become confident that they can somehow influence our future. The classic example is a coin toss. If five consecutive tries show tails, the probability that the next try will result in a head becomes highly likely to happen according to the way we think. In fact, the probability is still 50/50.

The trap called “positive expectations”, which is typical for gamblers works almost the same way. They think that after a couple of losses luck has to be on their side, and the next game will bring them a huge jackpot. The phenomenon called a “strip of luck” works in the same fashion.

4. Post-shopping rationalization

Any one of us can recall at least one case when, after buying something useless, non-working or prohibitively expensive, we tried to convince ourselves that “the purchase was still worth it.” This is known as “post-shopping rationalization”, a way of thinking built into our consciousness which can make us feel a little better after doing something obviously stupid.

5. Neglecting probabilities

Very few of us are afraid to get in the car, but most of us can admit feeling anxious when coming on board of an aircraft. Flying, which is, unarguably, a completely unnatural state for humans, is commonly associated with danger. At the same time, almost everyone knows that the probability of dying in a car accident is many times greater than dying in a plane crash. And yet, our brain refuses to accept this relationship (statistically, the chances of dying while traveling by car are 1/84, while by plane – 1/5000). The same phenomenon makes us to be afraid of dying at the hands of terrorists, and not think about more immediate dangers, such as falling down the stairs or being accidentally poisoned, for example.

6. Selective observation

Selective observation is when we suddenly start to notice something around which is completely novel to us. We think that this “new experience” started pursuing us at a certain point, while in reality it simply escaped our attention earlier.

7. The negativity effect

People have a tendency to pay more attention to the bad news, and it does not necessarily mean psychological abnormalities. Scientists believe that we subconsciously perceive bad news as more important to us. In addition, the bad news instill more confidence in us, perhaps because the good news often seem to be too suspicious or boring.

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Anna LeMind

Anna is the founder and lead editor of the website Learning-mind.com. She is passionate about learning new things and reflecting on thought-provoking ideas. She writes about science, psychology and other related topics. She is particularly interested in topics regarding introversion, consciousness and subconscious, perception, human mind's potential, as well as the nature of reality and the universe.

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One Comment

  1. Rob V. August 7, 2013 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    I was taught that “cognitive dissonance” is the ability to enjoy something which you fundamentally disagree with, like an anti-Semitic finding a Jewish comedian hilarious. Or I guess rather, it’s the ability to hold two conflicting opinions about the same concept, object or person.

    I watch a lot of QI, which is the only reason this term has been introduced to me.

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7 Common Mind Traps That Affect Our Thinking