Monday, December 31, 2012

attribution biases

Human behavior can be understood as issuing from "internal" factors or personal characteristics--such as motives, intentions, or personality traits--and from "external" factors--such as the physical or social environment and other factors deemed out of one's personal control. Self-serving creatures that we are, we tend to attribute our own successes to our intelligence, knowledge, skill, perseverance, and other positive personal traits. Our failures are blamed on bad luck, sabotage by others, a lost lucky charm, and other such things. These attribution biases are referred to as the dispositional attribution bias and the situational attribution bias. They are applied in reverse when we try to explain the actions of others. Others succeed because they're lucky or have connections and they fail because they're stupid, wicked, or lazy.

Monday, December 24, 2012

control group study

A control group study uses a control group to compare to an experimental group in a test of a causal hypothesis. The control and experimental groups must be identical in all relevant ways except for the introduction of a suspected causal agent into the experimental group. If the suspected causal agent is actually a causal factor of some event, then logic dictates that that event should manifest itself more significantly in the experimental than in the control group. For example, if 'C' causes 'E', when we introduce 'C' into the experimental group but not into the control group, we should find 'E' occurring in the experimental group at a significantly greater rate than in the control group. Significance is measured by relation to chance: if an event is not likely due to chance, then its occurrence is statistically significant. Being statistically significant is not the same as being important. It means, again, that the results are not likely due to chance. That’s all it means.

A double-blind test is a control group test where neither the evaluator nor the subject knows which items are controls. A randomized test is one that randomly assigns items to the control and the experimental groups. Whenever possible, a control group study should randomly assign members to the control and experimental groups. This reduces the chance of biasing the study.

The purpose of controls, double-blind, and randomized testing is to reduce error, self-deception, and bias. An example should clarify the necessity of these safeguards.

Monday, December 17, 2012

false memories

A false memory is a memory that is a distortion of an actual experience or a confabulation of an imagined one. Many false memories involve confusing or mixing fragments of memory events, some of which may have happened at different times but which are remembered as occurring together. Many false memories involve an error in source memory. Some involve treating dreams as if they were playbacks of real experiences. Still other false memories are believed to be the result of the prodding, leading, and suggestions of therapists and counselors. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus has shown not only that it is possible to implant false memories, but that it is relatively easy to do so (Loftus 1994).

source memory

A memory of your mother throwing a glass of milk on your father when in fact it was your father who threw the milk is a false memory based on an actual experience. You may remember the event vividly and be able to "see" the action clearly, but only corroboration by those present can determine whether your memory of the event is accurate. Distortions such as switching the roles of people in one's memory are quite common. Some distortions are quite dramatic, as you will see from the examples given below.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Forer effect

The Forer effect refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements were not made about them personally and could apply to many people.

Psychologist Bertram R. Forer (1914-2000) found that people tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to many people. Consider the following as if it were given to you as an evaluation of your personality.
You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Monday, December 3, 2012

optimistic bias

The optimistic bias is an expression used by Daniel Kahneman to describe the idea that "most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favorable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be." Furthermore, most of us have an unrealistic view about predicting the future: we think we're much better at it than we really are. Study after study has found that self-deception is pervasive: the vast majority of people think they are above average, less biased, more congenial, less susceptible to improper influence, and more competent than the majority of their peers.

Kahneman thinks that many of us suffer from (or are blessed with, depending on how you see things) "optimistic overconfidence." He writes that "the optimistic bias may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases. Because optimistic bias can be both a blessing and a risk, you should be both happy and wary if you are temperamentally optimistic." (Thinking, Fast and Slow, p. 255).