Interesting Effects, Biases, and Principles

Kitchen Debate Between Nixon and Khrushchev

“The Kitchen Debate was a series of impromptu exchanges (through interpreters) between then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the opening of the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow on July 24, 1959.” – Wiki

So many of the decisions we make and opinions we form are influenced by mostly unconscious factors; from reading news articles, academic journals, tweets, to speaking to people, to reflecting on one’s own life — all of these functions are determined (at least in part) by these effects, biases, and principles. If current surveys of cognitive psychology have anything to say about this, it is that by being conscious of these biases, we are better equipped to negate them. Thus, just on a lark, I have compiled a non-comprehensive list of interesting effects, biases, and principles along with definitions and examples.

Presentism bias – Undue weight given to items closest to the present. Example: A thematic booklist that only has titles published within the last ten years.

Peter Principle – Employees tend to be promoted to their level of incompetence. Example: A supervisor who was an excellent rank-and-file employee, who is promoted to a position in which they are a total zero.

Commercial bias / Funding bias – Where the opinion of the author is influenced by his funding source. Example: A journalist does not report a story that would be deleterious to her publisher.

Bad News bias – More focus given to bad news. Example: The front page of a national paper full of corruption and murder rather then successes.

Status Quo bias – Preference given to current state of affairs. Example: A company is performing poorly, but all attempts to change anything are discounted because there is fear that things will get worse.

Access bias – When perspective is determined solely by information that the person has access to. Example: A scientist’s literature review is limited by what is available through the local university library.

Visual bias – A state where information that is visual is privileged. Example: Readers of sensational blogs make assumptions about the contents of an article based on the tangentially-related stock photo at the top.

Narrative bias – When facts are presented in way that stripes their context to promote a storyline. Example: Michael Moore’s documentaries.

Fairness bias – Giving every side equal representation despite unequal information quality. Example: Including a proponent of creationism in a debate about evolution.

Group bias / In/Out-group bias – Favoritism given to members or ideas of an in-group. Example: Females being perceived as less competent in a largely-male professions/environments.

Dunning–Kruger effect – People believe that they are smarter/better then they are. Example: Commenters on popular news websites.

Confirmation Bias – “The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” Example: Seeing an ugly book cover and being unduly critical of the book itself.

Selection Bias – When an issue with the sample selection influences results. Example: A survey that doesn’t take into account that all of the respondents are, for example, college students.

Hawthorne effect / Observer effect – The possibility that results of an experiment are affected because subjects know they are being observed. Example: When workers try harder because they know they are part of a pilot program.

Reality Distortion Field – Refers to the conditions under/with which a charismatic person is able to persuade others to take on an unlikely point-of-view. Example: An entrepreneur like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk convinces investors that their company, which looks risky, is perfectly safe.

Woozle Effect – An assertion or study lacking evidence is cited so many times that it is given credence by repetition. Example: “We only use 10% of our brain” or “People fear public speaking more then death.”

Curmudgeon Bias – When every aspect of the past is considered better then the present. Example: When I was growing up, everyone was more polite.

Availability Bias – The tendency to predict a probability based on how many examples of the case first come to mind. Example: We don’t usually get much rain in the winter. I can only think of one time in recent history.

Furor (or Barnum) Effect – People’s predilection to believe vague feedback/statements about themselves if framed as specifically for them. Example: Newspaper horoscopes.


If you have any suggestions, email me at the address towards the top of the page or comment below.

Updated: 17 October 2016

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