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An Introduction To Cognitive Bias

In some other lectures I have done, I discussed a variety of different logical fallacies. In case you missed those, a logical fallacy is simply a mistake in the logical structure of someone's argument. Many of the common fallacies are given different names to help categorize them and make them more easily recognizable. In this lecture, I want to start looking at the psychology that causes all of us to commit logical fallacies from time to time. Broadly speaking, most logical fallacies are unintentional, and result from a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive bias. A cognitive bias is a flaw in someone's thought process caused by quirks in how the human brain behaves. As an example, there is a very common bias called confirmation bias, which refers to our natural tendency to only accept information that confirms our beliefs, while ignoring information that challenges them. Cognitive biases like confirmation bias are the result of the natural behavior of our brains. In order to process information more quickly, our brains perform what are known as "heuristics", which are basically mental shortcuts that allow the brain to more quickly respond to information. Such behavior is likely an evolved trait that helped our ancestors more quickly respond to their environment and stay alive. In such conditions, the brain doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be good enough to get out of a tight situation, such as an attack by wild animals. So heuristics and the cognitive biases that stem from them are likely a product of natural selection. These biases persist to this day, and while they are sometimes accurate ways of assessing the world around us, they also often come at the expense of sound logic. It should be noted that cognitive biases are not the same as logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a flaw in the structure of an argument, while a cognitive bias describes the underlying behavior of the brain. Cognitive biases often cause logical fallacies, but they are two separate things. The goal of good critical thinking is to realize that all of us are vulnerable to cognitive bias and learn to recognize biases so we can still form arguments that are logically sound.

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