The Paradox Center
Cognitive Illusions and Biases
Dr. Iris Oved
In this program, students be exposed to a variety of illusions and biases, and in some cases explanations for their power over our minds. Awareness of illusions and biases and why they work is a kind of meta-cognitive (thinking-about-thinking) exercise. Such meta-cognition highlights the wedge that exists between how we mentally represent the world and how the world really is. Learning to spot these cognitive mistakes is a step towards overcoming them.
-Vision: For example, the Muller-Lyer Illusion of length (Fig 1).
-Touch: For example, Aristotle’s Illusion –cross your fingers and touch your nose, and it feels like you have two noses!
-Taste/Smell: If you taste drinks that have mis-matched colors to flavors, your taste experience is the one expected from the color.
-Hearing/Speech: Speech played on loop quickly starts to sound like music. [Hear a demo from speech scientist Diana Deutsch on Radiolab http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/]
-Cross-Modal Illusions: E.g., the McGurk Effect occurs when a video of a person saying “ba” is paired with audio of a person saying “ga”, resulting in the perceptual experience of hearing the person saying “da”. [for a demo, see http://www.maniacworld.com/McGurk-Effect.html]
Illusions about Action/Choice:
-Phantom Limb: patients with a severed arm often feel ‘phantom pains’ in their non-existing hand because the nerves are stuck representing the hand as being in a clenched-fist. Using a mirror, Neuroscientist VS Ramachandran was able to trick such patients into believing they are un-clenching their fist, thus relieving the pain. See Fig 4 below.
-Right-hand bias: When two (in fact identical) stalkings are place side-by-side and subjects are asked to choose one, most choose the one on the right. When asked why they chose the one they chose, they confabulate explanations appealing to texture or shininess.
-Randomness: e.g., we are tempted to think that the sequence of 5 coin flips landing HHHHH is more likely than the sequence landing HTTHT, when in fact they are equally likely.
-Stereotyping: Susie is playful, energetic, and very social. She likes to swim and play soccer, and share stories with her friends. What is more likely? (a) Susie is an only child or (b) Susie is an only child who enjoys going to movies. (We are tempted to say (b), but (b) entails (a)!)
-Monty Hall: Suppose you are on a game show, and there are 3 doors –one has a car behind it and the other two each have a goat behind them. You get to choose a door. Then the host opens one of the doors that he knows has a goat behind it. Now you are given a choice: stay with your original door or switch to the other. (Most people stay put, thinking they have a 1 of 2 chance of winning the car. In fact, you should always switch because switching gives you a 2 of 3 chance of winning.)
Fig 5. Monty Hall Problem
Spotting Reasoning Fallacies: Students will learn to spot these fallacies in videos and/or writing involving argumentation in various domains –Court Cases, Politics, Science, Pseudoscience, History…
-Ad hominem: “I deny your argument because you are a crazy liberal.
-Appeal to Tradition: “Women should take men’s names, that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
-Begging the Question: “Abortion is murder, since killing an unborn baby is murder”
-Hasty Generalization: “I got sick from eating fish two times in a row.”
-Inferring Causation from Correlation: “A black cat crossed her path, and she got in a crash.”
-Faulty Analogy: “Pets are like nails; they need to be hit on the head.”
-False Dilemma: “Susan didn’t take medicine and she got better, so it must be a miracle.”
-Straw Man: “Women don’t really want equality; they’d have to use men’s restrooms.”