Thursday, September 16, 2010

Simplifying Restatement of Cognitive Bias 15

To a large extent, cognitive bias is what happens with group think, cult followers, specialists with identical backgrounds (especially academically), political activists and oftentimes culture vultures (like the management and volunteers for municipal symphonies). In the long run, it is likely that cognitive bias has a stultifying impact on the arts and sciences, as the Academie Francais has had for centuries on France.

But there is something almost neurotic about cognitive bias. Here's an internet discussion of the distortions involved:

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Ten Common Cognitive Distortions:
1. All or nothing thinking. Black or white.
2. Over generalization. Always/never... [examples coming latter in this blog]
3. Mental Filter. Dwell on negative aspect. Filters out the positive
4. Disqualify the positive. Changing + into -
5. Jump to conclusions: a)mind reading b)fortune telling* [see my footnote below]
6. Magnification/minimization (Catastrophizing) [examples coming later in this blog]
7. Emotional reasoning. I feel like x therefore I am x.
8. Should statements.
9. Labeling.
10. Personalization.

Cognitive Distortions – A Longer Version of this Explanation:

Cognitive Distortions
This section is largely from taken from my 1996 book, but I first heard of the term "cognitive distortions" from a book called "Feeling Good," which is based on cognitive therapy by David Burns [and which includes the list of 10 items above] .

Emotions have the ability to distort our vision of reality. Hence the following common expressions:
He sees the world through rose colored glasses.
He was blinded by his rage.
She always expects the worst.
At such times we are making what have been called cognitive distortions since our thoughts, or our cognitions, are being clouded by our feelings. When this happens we are thrown off balance from reality. Consider these examples:
Emotional reasoning. This is when we allow our emotions to lead us to faulty conclusions. An example of this is someone who believes that because he feels like a failure, he is a failure.
Emotional imprisonment. This is where we become a prisoner to our feelings. We feel trapped or we feel locked into a certain course of action, even when our better judgment and all the evidence is against it.
Mental coloring or filtering. We may either see everything in an overly positive or overly negative light. We may for example, see any sign of trouble as "a disaster." Or we might allow our emotions to trick us into converting a positive into a negative. An example of this would be someone who feels so bad about herself that she thinks people who compliment her are lying out of pity.
Over-generalization. This is where we mistakenly think that because something happened before, it "always" happens. This is similar to black and white thinking. High EQ people refrain from making themselves feel worse by their distorted "self-talk." Some examples of over generalizing negative self-talk are:
I always screw up.
I am always forgetting things. .
I always get lost. .
I will never be happy.
My partner is always late.
Awareness of these common distortions may help remind us to try to remain realistic, to try to see in a more positive or at least neutral perspective, as opposed to seeing things based on largely negative perceptions, which often are actually distortions resulting from many years of negative social influences influences in our families or society.

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* Footnote on mind reading and fortune telling

It is possible through vast experience and experimentation to develop an ability to foresee the future. It is even possible to develop an ability to understand human nature so very well that, by mere introduction to a new acquaintance, it is possible to know their thought patterns. Experienced auditors can often see the future of the organizations they audit. Very experienced doctors can sometimes read the character and minds of their patients. An example of this is Dr. Drew Pinsky (MTV's and cable TV's “Dr. Drew,” who has also been on the radio for decades in Los Angeles). Dr. Drew can ask one or two casual, superficial, conversational questions and then, using the short answers, jump to the real problem. This is not a conjuring trick, nor is it magic. This is the result of decades of experience for which fair-mindedness was absolutely required at all times.

For further clarification, see Appendix A (subject: intuition) of A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (Third Edition) by Dr. Eric Berne (1968).

Compare Dr. Drew Pinsky to this actual anecdote from a female police detective:

I've gone into hundreds of [fortune-teller's parlors], and have been told thousands of things, but nobody ever told me I was a policewoman getting ready to arrest her.”

-- New York City detective

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When we are dealing with music and melody, an area bristling with quality but lacking both objectivity and subjectivity, the argument eructed by someone trapped in his own emotions is likely to surface.  This is what went wrong in the previous posts with the Honolulu Symphony and with the musicologists' books on 20th century music.

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