The Conspiracy Bias

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

Ever since Daniel Kahneman came up with the ideas for cognitive biases in 1973, the world has been heading steadily downhill.

We used to think that the brain was a clever thinking machine, working 24/7, creating new ideas that advanced the world. Instead, this Nobel Laureate showed us the brain is basically a lazy organ, just trying to get away with as little as it can, and coming up with one cute trick after another to make its life easier.

Well, all that is not exactly true, but cognitive biases do serve as short cuts that the brain takes so as to preserve energy for survival. These biases allow us to reach quick decisions without much thought and there are scores of them that have been identified by researchers from the confirmation bias (where we look for evidence to support our own thinking) to the IKEA effect (where people think that because they put something together themselves, it is of the highest quality.)

The other day, I was out walking my dog Cody and ran into one of my neighbors. After we chatted for a few minutes, she told me that she was really disturbed by my red hat and wondered exactly what the letters stood for. Now I know that my friend is a progressive Democrat and I could only conclude that she was having a bit of a reaction thinking my hat was somehow related to the MAGA hats often worn by supporters of Donald Trump.

“My hat had a simple meaning,” I told her “it represents the sound dogs make when they vocalize.” “I wear it whenever I walk Cody, so he knows he has a relative with him.” I told her I had bought it from my local veterinarian as a fundraiser for a non-profit that transports dogs to specialty vet clinics.

She was relieved that WOOF was not a right-wing political statement.

I think she may have been a victim of the conspiracy bias where anyone who sees a red hat, associates it with political messaging.

These are difficult days for our nation and the issues we face are real and vitally important. It seems to me, however, that we might not want to exacerbate the situation and our own stress level by looking by allowing our own cognitive biases to create even more stress in our lives.

Your Challenge this week: Check to make sure you are not getting swept away by the deluge of information in front of you that are leading you to act before you think. Consider what they mean to you and to your values and then make a decision BTW, please don’t forsake red hats, I really like them.

© Richard Citrin, All rights reserved, 2019


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