Views & Opinion

Why do we make bad decisions?


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Do we pride ourself on being a good decision-maker? Well, chances are we aren’t one, and don’t even know it. Like everyone else, we’re subject to cognitive bias, a limitation in our thinking brought about by errors of memory, miscalculation or social attribution. Not all biases are negative, however. The placebo effect, for example, is important in the search for new medicines. This cognitive bias can be so powerful that by simply telling a patient a new drug will make them better, they begin to believe it.

What we know is not much more reliable than what we remember, either. In a recent Forum session titled What If Your Mind Can Be Read, Duke University professor Nita Farahany described how researchers were able to create false memories through persuasion. This isn’t as sinister as it sounds: the drug propranolol has shown promise in reducing anxiety and trauma; it could even be offered to victims of traumatic accidents or violent crime, disconnecting their emotions from their troubling memories and alleviating suffering.

This chart, compiled by Business Insider, shows 20 common cognitive biases that trip us up in our decision-making.

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H/T Donald Armbrecht

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