Cognitive Bias..

What do you do when you got a bad cold?! You want to go out but the malaise keeps you home, you want to read a few more chapters in that book ‘shadows of the mind’ by Roger Penrose but your eyes go teary and bleary as you try to focus on the page, your nose’s red and running in torrents, your throat ruined and starts feeling like sandpaper everytime you swallow and not to miss the unnerving pain that all of a sudden makes you aware of the many muscles (howsoever atrophied!) present in your body?!

 So, what do you do? Wel, i think. And also indulge in the pleasant task of writing. There is no better balm to a sick body than a busy mind. So whats rollicking in my mindspace now? Well, heard of something called Motivated Reasoning and Introspective Illusion?! No, yes, either way am going to string couple sentences about either. Both are psych concepts, but not essentially pathologic. We are guilty of falling preys to them every now and then on a daily basis!

images (7)So lets begin with the lesser of the two evils! Motivated reasoning…now whats it? Wel the theory is simple. “You implicitly decide about something, anything, and retrospectively substantiate your decision with many good reasons.” Its where you having a motivation towards a particular decision, and that makes a mockery out of the rational reasoning that you may otherwise have performed . This is no standard definition, but should serve for our purpose here.

Lets dig a bit more into this concept. We are making decisions all time all day. We base them on ‘the spurt of the moment’, ie, as how we ‘feel’ as about it at that moment. And in certain situations, we reason to figure out a right decision. We seek to optimise for these more important ones. Its this latter that i intend to deal with. It occurs, as quite often, that the reasoning we do to arrive at the decision is glaringly flawed. The flaw is in the form of a subtle bias.(yes, the flaw is glaring, but the bias subtle!)

We ‘want’ a particular decision. Why?… well who care! We just want it. But our mind often needs a rationale as about why we want it. So we give our self reasons as to why that decision, say A, is better than the other, say B. We give to selves all the points in favor of A, and against B. There may still be a contentious few who will also include points anti-A and pro-B, but since you have already set your mind on A, these are numerically few. And even on those rare occasion where the number of reasons for-against A and for-against B are numerically equal, there is still the quanta of significance that we attach to each reason that need be considered. This particular task is far from being rational. And why, because we freaking-dont-know how to do it?! We dont know how to annote weightage to each reason based on its significance. We havnt got the right tool in the form of rigorous mathematical models to annote points of weightage. Its very difficult and equally ambiguous to do such stuffs.  And wel, little do we even care! Thus, we bias it towards the ‘pre-set’ decision.

INTROSPECTION STUDY ISo that’s the end of the story. You decide upon something. Implicitly! Just because you feel so. And in a sincere ploy, give self reasons, for the sake of the stern rationalist within you, that why that decision is right, good, proper and the IT! So it forms a cognitive bias, ie, a flaw in the rational thought process. And the root for the flaw is motivation. Thus the crisp title, Motivated Reasoning. And what can you do about it, wel Nothing! The most sane thing to do would seem to strip the motivation away, but i wonder how that could be done. If you know better, be my guest!

Lets pick on the next. Introspective Illusion. Its something i found quite very interesting. Its a thought that occurred to me, but guess am not the only one, for there are pages online about the same!

Now what is Introspective Illusion?! And how does it form a Cognitive bias?!

Who’s your favourite actor or actress?!… no, dont read on. Pick one… got it, sure right, do not try cheating!… Ok now why do you like him/her?! Why is he your favourite?! … Some of you may blink, while else may give a handful of handsome (or pretty) reasons. If you blinked, you made my case easier, but if you are the latter, then how sure are you that the reasons that you gave are ‘indeed THE reason’ why the guy/gal is your favourite?! If you think hard, you may be able to find quite the same qualities in quite few other guys/girls in cinema who also fill the slot but arent your favourite!

This is not restricted to this particular scenario. Its more pervasive. So pervasive that all questions that involve introspection, yes, ALL questions of introspection, are susceptible to this bias. Why you like a particular dish? Why you like that restaurant? Why you like that particular girl/guy from your long list of admirers (note, his/her smell may have something to do about it. Pheromones. Just a research query!)? Wel, carrying on, why you like some particular movie? Book? Color? Painting? Poem? The list can be extended quite endlessly. Guess you would have guessed it ages ago!

There are two counter arguments that may be made here. One, that there is no reason to it! Its flat point-blank just it. I like paneer-butter masala (yes i do!), and i just like it. I dont have a reason as for it and i dont care. Very wel, it possibly could be true. But this in no way harms the case that am presenting (nor the paneer-butter masala).  The second could be that we are making the pick based on some implicit calculation that we are finding difficult to figure out. Thus, though am not sure why i picked say Ileana (good aint she, in acting i mean!), but am perfectly sure she is the One!

Now coming back to the case. I said the first counter-point doesnt harm the case and as about the second, it is the case! We dont know whats brewing inside us! We know the result, but not the factors and the processes that worked upon it to give the result. Because there could be many factors, standing quite behind the scene and hidden from our purview, which go into making of the pick, but when after having made the pick amasked as about why i made it, its not imperative that i may succeed in tracking the pick back througimages (9)h the processes to all the factors that got me choosing it. Imperative, wel, in actuality, its not even remotely possible (leave alone probable). Maybe i may be able to tell you a handful of factors from the repertoire, but its not necessary that i may be able to cover them all. And actually, there is no way to say even the handful of factors you figured out are what indeed went into the deciding or rather they are simply what you want to have been the factors to have consequented the decision. Leave alone maybe, we quite absolutely are not equipped to figure such things out. So though you maybe so sure that it definitely was her ambition, discipline, manners, sweetness, blah blah blah, that got you interested, you never know, it could after all have been that pair of long legs!

So now let me make the very audacious claim! Introspection is a farce. I could be wrong, i could be right. Neither can say based on theory alone. But dear me, studies, yes, of the likes that insomniac men (and women) of science do along the lines of double-blind randomised-control-trial was done, and it was figured out that we dont know why we like something or someone! We may though very readily furnish an explanation for the case, it perfectly and absolutely is far far far from truth! In the end, we just dont know what we are! Who cares!


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