When You Can't Afford to Make a Mistake, This’ll Keep You Sharp

20 cognitive biases in a chart that could keep you from making a bad decision.

Check your thinking against this chart of cognitive biases before you make a mistake.

Peter Baumann suggests that our biases can get a bad rap, but that they're essential. He sees them as unconscious inclinations that we've developed over time, and most of the time, they reflect actual knowledge we've acquired about how the world works. They set the frameworks within which we live our lives. Our bias toward feeling safe, for example, keeps us (mostly) out of trouble, while a bias towards certain flavors sets us parameters for selecting the dish we'd like to eat at a restaurant. Of course, our biases are only as intelligent as we are, so occasionally they're pretty stupid.


There's a category of not-so-helpful mental habits and inclinations called “cognitive biases." The problem with these biases is that when we incorrectly apply them to decision-making, they prejudice our thought process and keep us from thinking, and deciding, clearly.

Researchers have identified a number of these mind traps. In this video, Baumann zeroes in on confirmation bias, where we ignore any evidence that doesn't support what we've already concluded, and only find things that prove it. He also nominates the uniqueness bias as maybe the most amusing cognitive bias.

Julia Galef has a great method for avoiding another common bias, the commitment effect. It's the one where you keep doing what evidence suggests may not be working anymore because either you don't want to feel your investment up until now has been wasted, or because the behavior has become tied up in who you feel you are. Her tip? Ask yourself what you would do if you were just coming to the problem from the outside.


At Business Insider, Samantha Lee put together a great infographic showing 20 cognitive biases that can get in the way of solid decision-making.

If you make a lot of decisions, this seems like a fantastic tool to have available so you can double-check the integrity of your thought process at those times when it's absolutely critical that your cognitive biases don't prevent you from thinking clearly.

Every 27.5 million years, the Earth’s heart beats catastrophically

Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.

Credit: desertsolitaire/Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
  • Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
  • Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Keep reading Show less

Making memories actually involves breaking our DNA, study shows

Brain cells snap strands of DNA in many more places and cell types than researchers previously thought.

Mind & Brain

The urgency to remember a dangerous experience requires the brain to make a series of potentially dangerous moves: Neurons and other brain cells snap open their DNA in numerous locations — more than previously realized, according to a new study — to provide quick access to genetic instructions for the mechanisms of memory storage.

Keep reading Show less

Babble hypothesis shows key factor to becoming a leader

Research shows that those who spend more time speaking tend to emerge as the leaders of groups, regardless of their intelligence.

Man speaking in front of a group.

Credit: Adobe Stock / saksit.
Surprising Science
  • A new study proposes the "babble hypothesis" of becoming a group leader.
  • Researchers show that intelligence is not the most important factor in leadership.
  • Those who talk the most tend to emerge as group leaders.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast