Cognitive distortions

Let’s start with what cognitive errors are actually. This is a general term for an irrational way of perceiving reality. They may be caused by limited cognitive resources, lack of time, lack of motivation to formulate correct judgments or a desire to maintain well-being. In short – logic suggests something completely different, and yet we behave in contradiction to it. It happens that cognitive errors are helpful – they speed up the decision making process, and the risk they carry is small compared to the profits. It also happens, however, that their effects are catastrophic. That is why it is worth to be aware of them, observe how often and in what situations they appear with us and work out a way to get out of them if necessary. Below are some examples of typical thought traps.

1. Anchor heuristics: According to this principle, people attach the greatest importance to the first information they hear. It becomes a point of attachment and based on it then the whole thinking process is activated. This information, therefore, defines in some way the space and scope in which you then move, is a reference point. It is worth remembering, for example, during negotiations – according to this principle, when negotiating your salary, it is worth starting with a high amount, not only to leave room for concessions, but also to “anchor” the other side on the desired scale.


2. Contrast effect: I have been using a certain smartphone model for a long time. The times of splendor were already behind him, a bit bad, photos did not go out as beautiful as on a much newer model of my partner. When we compared the two phones with each other – mine seemed definitely weaker, had fewer functions and I felt that I would like to replace it as soon as possible. Until one day my phone landed on the floor, the quick went to a small poppy and for a few days I was to transfer the SIM card to the previous camera, which I saved for exactly such a case. And you know what? When I started walking with this quite old camera in my pocket, my last phone (the one that crashed) didn’t seem so weak anymore! It had a much better camera, faster processor, more functions. He was regarded as the pinnacle of technology in my eyes! And I dreamed of returning to it, even though recently I wanted to exchange it. The contrast effect worked, i.e. increasing or decreasing the observed features of the object depending on comparing it with another. You will observe the same phenomenon in relationships with people – the assessment of traits, abilities, competences, predispositions, skills can be very different depending on who you take as a reference point and with whom you compare. Objectively, this should not happen, because the characteristics of a person or object do not change at all, but a person is not a computer – it is not always logical.


3. Confirmation effect: It is a tendency to seek only arguments confirming our opinion or thesis and to omit those that contradict or verify it. I bet you sometimes fall victim to this cognitive error. You face a complex problem at work, but you already have similar experiences, a developed way of working. Based on this feeling, you formulate your decision. The boss asks you to think about it, so you start rummaging in the data and … by some strange luck they all confirm your point of view. You go to a meeting with this decision, a teammate expresses his fears and recalls situations in which a similar approach ended in failure. So you enter into a fiery discussion, because someone dares to question your opinion, which you confirmed by analyzes. But say – what did you look for in the data? Did you accidentally subconsciously reach for only those that were supposed to confirm your point of view?Next time, go to a higher level and try honestly … refute your thesis before others do it for you. Only then will you find out if it is real. By the way, watch out for the decision support effect, according to which it is much more difficult for us to get out of the choice we have made, even though in time we start to notice its shortcomings.


4. Focus effect: The point is that you pay so much attention to one aspect/feature that you ignore the other, equally important. Recently I experienced it buying a fridge. Normally, with such a decision I would be guided by functionality, technical parameters and price. However, because of the architectural design there were big restrictions on its size – this aspect came to the fore! It came to the point that we began to compare selected models only in terms of dimensions, forgetting that we wanted a zero chamber, good energy class and easy cleaning. One evening I sobered up, knocked my head and called the architects to change the design. I did not intend to limit myself any longer, because in a few weeks it would not have any impact on my comfort of use. I shook off the focus effect.

5. Shock illusion: Have you ever been nervous about being nervous? Or remain in a very unsuccessful relationship only for fear of suffering and loneliness after separation? The illusion of shock probably worked then, i.e. the tendency to overestimate the intensity and severity of future emotional states. The effect also works the other way around – we sometimes overestimate the feeling of happiness that overwhelms us when we get a promotion or go on vacation. Watch out for a hard landing, when the state of nirvana you hoped for would not prevail! Preferably instead of thinking about what it will be like in a while – focus on how it is now.


6. Reluctance to Loss: It’s a tendency to prefer avoiding losses over multiplying profits. This, of course, involves the risks we are willing to take. Loss seems to us more severe than no profit. Because we already have something, we are attached to it, it is ours. And the potential profit is only potential. And of course in certain situations this approach can be helpful – it protects us from taking irrational risks. However, if the fear of loss begins to cut you off from new opportunities or development – make an effort to get out of this trap.


7. The principle of attachment: Occurs if you act or form an opinion in a certain way, just because most people do/think so. You follow the crowd without actually assessing the benefits or losses. Sometimes because you lack the full information, sometimes because of time, and sometimes you simply save energy needed to make your own decision. Recently, I heard a good example from one of the neighbors. We talked about the advantages of wooden and stone terraces. The neighbor admitted that in retrospect he would definitely prefer to have a wooden terrace, but when he constructed it, everyone around decided on the tiled option. So he went the same way instead of breaking out.


8. The gambler’s paradox: If the heads have fallen out of coin in the last 10 tosses, what is the probability that it will also be eleven times? Exactly 50%. And yet it seems to us much more likely that we will finally see the eagle. After all, it’s impossible for this tails chain to last without a break. Gamblers very often succumb to such delusion (e.g. when playing roulette), hence the name of this cognitive error. Why is this happening? We assess individual coin tosses as being dependent on each other, forming a series in which the coin “remembers” to which side it fell previously. In fact, however, these events are completely unrelated to each other and the probability is determined separately for each of them. So if you play a lottery or any other game of chance – remember this trap!


9. The illusion of asymmetrical insight: Do you think you know everything about your partner, friends, colleagues? Do you know their needs, strengths and weaknesses, values, preferences? You always tell them what they should do, choose, say. And at the same time it annoys you if someone is wondering what is best for you, because how can he know it … You probably fall victim to the illusion of asymmetrical insight and overestimate your knowledge about others, you consider it much deeper than the knowledge of others about you. Be careful, because this approach can seriously threaten your relationships.
10. The illusion of transparency: Can’t he see that I’m sad? Instead of staring at the TV or going to training, he should pay attention to me. He certainly knows how I feel, and yet he ignores me. Maybe he doesn’t care about me anymore? STOP! Before you get into such thoughts, think about whether you’re accidentally heading into the trap of another thought trap – the illusion of transparency. It involves overestimating the visibility of your emotional state to other people. You think it is obvious and clear that you are sad, angry, nervous, tired today … but the world does not see it at all! So if you enter an interview and are afraid that recruiters will immediately notice your high stress level … there is a high probability that you are wrong. The same applies to public speaking, competitions and important meetings. People don’t have radars in their heads. Of course, if they are distinguished by a high level of empathy, they will probably notice subtle signs flowing from body language, tone or tempo. However, they see and know much less than you think. Your mood is not always written on your face, so if you want someone to notice it, just talk about it.

Oh, there are many pranks that the mind plays on us. And above I mentioned only a few of them. Have you found a trap that you often fall into yourself? I hope you will now increase your mindfulness and capture these situations.