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John Rentoul: Cognitive bias

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Saturday, 26 December 2009 at 10:32 pm

A Boxing Day treat from Chris Dillow, who rightly identifies the Rage Against the Machine campaign as "a herd of independent minds":

Alexandra Burke came on the TV, singing “The bad boys are always catching my eye.”

Well of course they are. Bad boys hang around on street corners and in malls where you can see them. Good boys on the other hand are working or studying and so are in offices and libraries where they’ll not catch your eye.

This is a sampling bias. It’s an elementary cognitive error.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg ... Take for example the Black Eyed Peas: “I gotta feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good good night.“

This, surely, is the base rate fallacy. Past experience shows us that tonight is rarely gonna be a good night; the best we can expect is to avoid too bad a fight and cop off with a girl who weighs less than us. But Will.i.am is ignoring this prior probability, and over-weighting his subjective feeling. This is a basic deviation from Bayesianism.

Let’s move to Cheryl Cole:

Anything that's worth having
Is sure enough worth fighting for
Quitting's out of the question
When it gets tough, gotta fight some more.

The first two lines are acceptable. But the last two, surely, are not. Except in cases of severe duress, which Mrs C is not addressing, quitting can never be out of the question. Sometimes, when it gets tough, quitting is the right thing to do. To think otherwise is to commit the sunk cost fallacy.

Her protege Joe McElderry presents a more awkward case:

There's always going to be another mountain
I'm always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes you going to have to lose,
Ain't about how fast I get there,
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb
Keep on moving.

This, I fear, is an example of time inconsistency. At the start of the climb, you might believe you should always keep moving. But what about when you face the third or fourth mountain? Will your preference be to keep moving then? Or will you prefer not to climb at all? If so, your later preferences will be inconsistent with your earlier ones. 


The Sunk Cost Fallacy
vassily_shuisky wrote:
Sunday, 27 December 2009 at 02:41 pm (UTC)
Another example would be the Iraq War. The Government dared not retreat, because that would be admitting that those who had already died had lost their lives in a war over a pack of neocon lies.

I've give this msg about... ooh, nearly 20 mins before JR deletes it.
Re: The Sunk Cost Fallacy
nthmost wrote:
Monday, 28 December 2009 at 10:45 am (UTC)
The lesson here is that the secret to happiness (or unhappiness, or paranoia, or pronoia) is learning to choose your own cognitive biases.