The conversation going on right now in Egypt, whether it’s on twitter, or in a cab, or on a supposedly well-respected television show – has mostly been bereft of all logic and reason.

I really can’t be bothered to go through all the cognitive biases that people commonly succumb to (and that our media lately has been almost relying on), but this is a short sample of some biases, with brief introductions taken mostly from Wikipedia, and with each one, I’ve tried to attach examples that are, let’s say, a bit more…local.

Enjoy.

This is not comprehensive, and certainly not exhaustive, and my examples might certainly exhibit some of the biases I’m warning people about, but then again, that is the Blind Spot Bias…

Please Note: These biases obviously exist in all people world-wide, the main object of this exercise is to see how strong a part they play in some of the conversations going on in Egypt today.

 

Attentional Bias

Occurs when a person does not examine all possible outcomes when making a judgment about a correlation or association. They may focus on one or two possibilities, while ignoring the rest.

Egypt Now:

You are with SCAF! Or, of course; you are with The Muslim Brotherhood!

 

Availability Heuristic

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by how easy it is to think of examples. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important.

Egypt Now:

My cousin know this guy who says he knows for sure that…

 

Backfire Effect

The “backfire effect” is a term coined by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler to describe how some individuals when confronted with evidence that conflicts with their beliefs come to hold their original position even more strongly.

Egypt Now:

Not only were they mostly unarmed, I can assure you the Sit-In was absolutely peaceful, and it’s contrary – I can assure you that the security forces did everything they could to prevent unnecessary deaths.

Or –

What do you mean virginity testing? Okay, even if it did happen, it was well explained – they said they did it so that people could be sure they didn’t rape any of the protesters that they had detained. If anything, that shows how honorable they’re trying to be!

 

Bandwagon Effect

The general rule is that conduct or beliefs spread among people, as fads and trends clearly do, with “the probability of any individual adopting it increasing with the proportion who have already done so”. As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon” regardless of the underlying evidence.

Egypt Now:

Man, of course I have’t seen documents, but everybody knows that Kheir Zaman is owned by an Ikhwani.

Or –

El Baradei is a traitor! I’m not sure why, but everybody says he is!

 

Belief Bias

Belief bias is a cognitive bias in which people evaluate the validity of a given conclusion (Evans & Curtis-Holmes, 2005). People either accept or reject it depending if it is consistent with their everyday knowledge (prior beliefs), regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Egypt Now:

I am certain that police officers would never shoot an unarmed protester, so no, the police didn’t kill that guy, if he was unarmed, maybe somebody else did.

Or –

Look, we are called The MUSLIM Brotherhood, and you know that Muslims never kill other Muslims, it’s forbidden! So don’t tell me that The Muslim Brotherhood kills innocents!

 

Bias Blind Spots

The bias blind spot is the cognitive bias of failing to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases. The bias blind spot is named after the visual blind spot.

Egypt Now:

The guy looked like a thug.

Or –

I’m not sure who he was, but he seemed decent, had a suit on.

 

Choice-Supportive Bias

In cognitive sciencechoice-supportive bias is the tendency to retroactively ascribe positive attributes to an option one has selected.

Egypt Now:

Man, I’m glad I voted for Shafiq – I wasn’t scared, I was smart. Look at how things turned out!

Or –

The Muslim Brotherhood were smart to ally themselves with SCAF back in 2011. Sure, now they’re on the run and being chased across the country, but at least now we’ve proven to everybody that the military can’t be trusted. It was the right choice to make.

 

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or my side bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

Egypt Now:

Man, I have folders and folders of photos and posts here that prove beyond doubt that security forces have live ammo! What? No, I don’t have any videos of the protesters who were firing machine guns…why?

Or –

Man, I have folders and folders of photos and posts here that prove beyond doubt that the MB protesters had live ammo! What? No, I don’t have any videos of the army shooting at them…why?

 

Conservatism Bias

In cognitive psychology and decision scienceconservatism or conservatism bias is a bias in human information processing. This bias describes human belief revision in which persons over-weight the prior distribution (base rate) and under-weigh new sample evidence when compared to Bayesian belief-revision.

Egypt Now:

Egypt is the greatest country in the world! We built the pyramids!

 

Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias according to which better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The term was coined by Robin Hogarth.

Egypt Now:

What the hell is the government doing? 

Or –

What the hell are the MB doing?

 

Decoy Effect

In marketing, the decoy effect (or asymmetric dominance effect) is the phenomenon whereby consumers will tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when also presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated. An option is asymmetrically dominated when it is inferior in all respects to one option; but, in comparison to the other option, it is inferior in some respects and superior in others. In other words, in terms of specific attributes determining preferability, it is completely dominated by (i.e., inferior to) one option and only partially dominated by the other. When the asymmetrically dominated option is present, a higher percentage of consumers will prefer the dominating option than when the asymmetrically dominated option is absent. The asymmetrically dominated option is therefore a decoy serving to increase preference for the dominating option. The decoy effect is also an example of the violation of the independence of irrelevant alternatives axiom of decision theory.

Egypt Now:

This is how I see it; the military always provided us with security, but gave us very little rights, then the revolution came along, and it couldn’t guarantee us any security, but it promised to give us all our rights – that was the choice. Then along came the Islamists, and they provided neither security, nor rights, that’s it, I’m siding with the military.

Or –

Look, you know I’m not an Ikhwan, but between the organized Ikhwan who might be a bit conservative, and the liberal opposition who never had a plan, I figured I’d try the Ikhwan – then of course, the military came in, and I like them even less. I’m siding with the Ikhwan.

 

Empathy Gap

hot-cold empathy gap is a cognitive bias in which a person underestimates the influences of visceral drives, and instead attributes behavior primarily to other, non-visceral factors.

Basically, your logic fails to consider the other person’s emotional factors because you don’t feel them yourself.

Egypt Now:

Doesn’t that terrorist realize what it feels like to lose a son whose only fault was that he’s a CSF soldier on a bus in Rafah? 

Or –

Doesn’t that pro-coup supporter realize what it feels like to lose a son who was gassed to death in a packed bus after being detained during a protest?

 

Gambler’s Fallacy

The Gambler’s fallacy, also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy (because its most famous example happened in a Monte Carlo Casino in 1913),[1][2] and also referred to as the fallacy of the maturity of chances, is the belief that if deviations from expected behaviour are observed in repeated independent trials of some random process, future deviations in the opposite direction are then more likely.

Egypt Now:

Things are bound to get better.

Or –

C’mon, the military screwed it up before, how could they possibly make the same mistake twice?

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