Reading Notes & Thoughts from…

“Elon Musk Thinks Every Child Should Learn about these 50 Cognitive Biases” 

By Jessica Stillman , Inc Magazine

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“Whatever you think of Elon Musk’s many Twitter scandals, sometimes odd public utterances, and past tax bills, one thing is for sure. The guy is clearly able to achieve the near impossible when it comes to engineering and innovation.

It’s a skill he himself attributes to clear thinking. While others look around and see what other people are trying, or assume they can move the status quo only so much, Musk is a firm believer in what he calls “first principles thinking,” or focusing solely on the basic truths and constraints of whatever field he’s working in, and building up from there.

Thinking like this might come relatively easily to a mind like Musk’s, but according to an absolute avalanche of psychological research, the rest of us often struggle to be as clear-headed. We get emotional, fear others’ judgment, or simply screw up our mental math thanks to the brain’s many inherent bugs and biases. Could we all get a little more Musk-like in our thinking if we learned about the quirks that often trip us up as kids?

Musk appears to think so. He recently took to Twitter to declare that cognitive biases “should be taught to all at a young age.” His post included a (not super easy to read) graphic laying out 50 common biases, thinking errors, and irrational human tendencies that kids should be alerted to, which I’ve laid out in list from below.

Do you agree that we’d all be a little better prepared for life if we learned them all in school? “

Ikea Effect. We tend to overvalue things we had a hand in creating. (In my experience not true of Billy bookcases, but still …)

Ben Franklin Effect. We tend to think more positively about people once we’ve done a favor for them.

Benjamin Franklin, after whom the effect is named, quoted what he described as an “old maxim” in his autobiography: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

In his autobiography, Franklin explains how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century:  Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.

Bystander Effect. Again, not strictly a cognitive bias, but important. Describes how people are less likely to take responsibility to act if they’re in a crowd.  This is very counterintuitive.

This means that the more people who see a car accident, or assault, the less likely anyone is to call 911.   Everyone is just assuming someone else already did it.

Robert Cialdini covers extensively in “Influence.”   His prescription was that, if you should ever be in an accident and need help to call people out individually:  “You blue shirt, call 911.  You, guy in red shirt, tell the paramedic that I am allergic to Penicillin.  Lady in green, come here and help me.”

Suggestibility. Seen most often in children, this is when we mistake an idea or question someone else said for your own memory. Suggestibility in psychology refers to the tendency to fill in gaps in memory with information from others that may well be incorrect.

When people are experiencing intense emotions, they show more suggestibility.  Suggestibility in psychology is a major contributor to wrongful convictions, through biased eyewitness testimony.  As time goes on, specific memories may fade.  However, though depositions from biased attorneys (and other witnesses) we have a tendency to fill in gray areas with ‘false’ memories.