10 Ways Your Brain Is Screwing With You


1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect

As a writer, this is easily the most terrifying. The D-K Effect is the idea incompetent workers fail to recognize precisely how incompetent they are because they fail to recognize what true competence looks like. Why do they fail? Because they’re incompetent! This leads them to overestimate their skill level. The reverse is also true: those who actually excel at their art or work are more likely to believe they are doing poorly because they properly understand what qualifies as quality.

2. Post-purchase Rationalization

Have you ever bought something your really wanted only to find out it sucked? If not, you might be protecting your own ego with this effect. Post-purchase Rationalization states we tend to ignore the faults of an object after we buy it because we’d like to think we are not subject to things like marketing or brand loyalty, as well as relieving the guilt of spending the money on it in the first place. This explains the existence and popularity of things like Uggs, Keurig coffee makers, and Facebook stock.

3. Hindsight Bias

So after the Boston bombing suspects were detained/dead, there was and continues to be a lot of heat against the FBI for failing to mark Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a terrorist. The FBI had been tipped off by Russian authorities that Tamerlan may very well have been radicalized during his time in Russia. In retrospect, it seems like a massive error on the FBI’s part. This is the Hindsight Bias. The FBI interviews thousands of people about possible terror links and cannot practically keep tabs on how many of them are buying pressure cookers, yet people continue to blame them for missing this one needle in the haystack. A more personal example might be missing the signs your significant other is cheating on you: dates get canceled, cell phones die, and people erase their cookies all for legitimate reasons. It only all seems suspicious after their secret is out.

4. Google Effect

Remember when you had dozens of phone numbers memorized? Your best friend, your ex-girlfriends, your grandma, your auntie, your mama,  your mammy. The reason you don’t seems fairly obvious; your cell phone now does that for you. Your brain makes the subconscious decision to not bother memorizing numbers because it knows you have instant access to that information. Sadly, this takes root in other ways. How many times have you looked up a random question you have about the world only to have it fall right out of your head? Your brain forgets to remember details which it can easily find.

5. Recency Illusion

This is the delusion something you have only just found is, in fact, only a recent development. For example, if you were to suddenly get into the show Mad Men (which you totally should), you might find news stories or blog posts about the show stick out more, so you believe the show is just now gaining in popularity. Or if you buy a Honda Civic and suddenly notice Civics everywhere you go, it’s merely because you have cause to notice it.

6. Fading Affect Bias

Looking back on your childhood, you might have fond memories of memorizing Lion King lines with friends and chasing down ice cream trucks but not, perhaps, the times your parent’s fought or the tantrums you likely threw in the middle of shopping malls. This is not only the birth of nostalgia, but also the Fading Affect Bias. Our memory has an inherent bent towards remembering the events we deem positive; this is also the same instinct which causes many abusive victims to repress memories of their attacker or the attack itself.

7. Hostile Media Effect

Ever roll your eyes as Rush Limbaugh rants against the “left-wing media”? Or at liberal bloggers as they over-talk the importance of Fox News? When we read a news story, we enter in with our own biases. Therefore, we perceive any lack of recognition of our biases as biased in itself. While there certainly is such a thing as objectively-biased media, we tend to overrate the bent a publication, journalist, or story has based on our own feeling that our beliefs are not being properly represented.

8. False Consensus Effect

Similar to the Hostile Media Effect, the False Consensus Bias states we tend to overestimate the number of people who agree with us on any given issue. Ever have someone say something completely racist directly in front of you? It’s probably because they assume you agree, in the same way you might make a Nickelback joke not realizing they do, in fact, have fans who may be in your immediate company.

9. Gambler’s Fallacy (WARNING: Contains Math)

This one sounds like common sense but actually sneaks it’s way into your everyday life. So you might know that flipping heads four times on a coin toss doesn’t effect the result of the fifth flip, but we often fall for similar traps. For example, if you get in an accident on one day, you’re more likely to believe an accident the next is less likely. Or if two mutual friends of yours suffer a loss in their families on the same week, you might consider it less likely another friend would lose a relative in that same frame of time.

10. Zeigarnik Effect

Ever hear the studying tip of taking a break between bouts of studying? This relies on the Zeigarnick Effect, which forces the memory to cling to incomplete tasks more so than completed ones (this is also why a cliffhanger in a TV show or movie bothers you so bad). It’s actually the most productive bias on this list as it encourages us to keep in mind that which we still need to do. For instance, I’ve written nearly 150 articles for Thought Catalog and the only ones I can remember are “10 Ways Your Brain Is Screwing With You” and “6 Ways To Weave Baskets Underwater In Your 20’s (Copy Pending).”

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image – dierk schaefer