Cognitive Illusions

In response to tweet by Justin Sheehy of Basho:

I may not add anything valuable to cargo cult observation, i just want to say a couple of things about how psychology is working (to my very minor and fragmented knowledge), and that people shouldn't really be blamed for that :) they're just biased.

Illusion of validity

Another example of an industry where "cargo-culting", e.q. worshipping / acting upon no information or just based on feeling is stock trading. As you know, shares are being traded by people holding pretty much same information. But one part of people (without any obvious reason) thinks that price is going to go down, so they get rid of stock, another part thinks that price will go up, so they buy stock on lower bound. But something makes them believe that they're doing a right thing. But it's a cognitive illusion. Same thing happens to techies all the time. They see some things in their (very limited) part of world, and act upon it. One of the most prominent examples of recent time is probably node.js thing, where world have divided into three parts, pretty much: first part of people think that node.js is "next big thing", it's super-performant and will outdo anything in the world, second part think that it's not worth a penny, and everything others think is incorrect, third part thinks that there're some applications for it, but they wouldn't use it it for everything. That kind of an "illusion of validity".

When people receive information from some handsome / appealing person, they tend to believe it easier. So if there was someone in their life (be it a conference/meetup speaker), or someone they admire, they'll exaggerate weight of his words and will apply them in their lives eagerly.

Conjunction fallacy

Another example is "conjunction fallacy", where people simplify the decision based on an easier fact. Not to make fun of Ruby on Rails right now, but if someone gets compromised right now, they would blame Rails, even thought it's more probable that Rails Core Team and all the contributors around Rails are very smart people, and they've thought Rails through way better than someone have thought his application through. So people pick up less probable fact, making a mental shortcut. When people are facing "logic vs representativeness" fight, representativeness wins.

Discarding positive facts about disliked things

Last thing I'm going to mention is when people that are responsible for making some choice, when seeing some benefits (it's cool, many people are using it, I'm good in it, it's said to be fast etc), don't see downsides. I mean - logically, they do see them, but feeling offers the opposite opinion, which people often misunderstand and accept as their logical conclusion. If people find something less appealing, they consider technology to be flawed or bad. That actually explains why people start using questionable technologies. When they start, they see a benefit and they get biased, therefore they can't see downsides or assess complexity any more.

Only thing we can do is to inform ourselves better and seek flaws in our thinking, rather than accepting an intuitive solution or choice. It's not easy, of course, but since our mind is partially blind, and some information is harder to access in our minds, we need to retrieve it with an effort and prevent brain laziness and shortcuts.

Worth reading

Once again, I'm far away from being an expert on the subject, but I've found following authors/books to be very interesting:

  • "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
  • "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert
  • "Upside of Irrationality" by Dan Areily
  • "Whole new Mind" by Daniel Pink

Some of these have some research data on how mind functions. Of course, it's more of a pop-science. I'm not aware of any [more serious] books in English on Psychology subject, really. If you have something to add, ping me on twitter

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