PSYCO241 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Pluralistic Ignorance, Confirmation Bias, Availability Heuristic
The study of errors of judgement is intended to prevent those errors from creating problems in the future.
Judgments are often made on the basis of very little information. Mistaken assumptions can arise from
pluralistic ignorance, which tends to occur when people believe that a group norm exists, and are unwilling
to ostracize themselves by breaking from it, and their collective reluctance in turn reinforces the false norm.
An example is when no one in a lecture understands a concept, but each assumes they are the only person
confused, and since everyone is unwilling to risk looking dumb, no one asks for clarification.
People’s judgments can seem more accurate than they really are because of the self-fulfilling prophecy,
whereby mistaken inferences lead people to act in ways that elicit the behavior from others that they
expect, where otherwise the others may have acted differently. In assuming that someone is a jerk and
being cold toward them, you may prompt rudeness from them that would not otherwise have happened.
Don’t trust secondary sources, as negative information is more likely to be repeated than positive
The way information is presented, or it’s FRAMING, significantly affects judgment. The information
presented first is disproportionately influential, because it affects the interpretation of subsequent
information, called the primacy effect. The recency effect is when information presented last is more
influential because it’s the easiest to remember. Other framing effects involve varying of the language or
structure of the information presented, and the temporal framing - far-off events are construed in more
abstract terms, and imminent events are construed more concretely.
People tend to confirm whether certain propositions are true by only searching for information consistent
with the proposition in question, which is termed confirmation bias, and leads people to believe stupid
things like that vaccines cause autism, because ‘evidence’ can be found to support anything – statistically,
eating ice cream and getting Polio are highly correlated, but ice cream doesn’t give you Polio. People want
to find evidence supporting a conclusion they already believe in, and so they manage to do so, and so
‘prove’ that their preferred conclusion is more valid than it really is.
Schemas influence the interpretation of information as it is integrated into the existing schemas of the
individual. They are important top-down tools for understanding the world, as opposed to the bottom-up
processing of information from the world. Schemas guide attention, memory, and the construal of
information, and they can directly prompt behavior. For this reason, being exposed to certain stimuli
summons the schema they are related to, and has the effect of priming the concepts with which they’re
associated, making them all momentarily more accessible. If you show me an axe and then ask about a
winter holiday, I will immediately think of The Shining. The more recently and the more frequently a schema
has been activated, the more likely it is to be applied to new information – if you then name your favourite
movie, and it’s one I don’t know, I will assume that it’s a horror movie, because that schema has just been
primed for me. Conscious awareness of a schema is not required in order to be influenced by it.
People have two systems for processing information: an intuitive system and a rational system. Intuitive
responses are based on rapid, associative processes, whereas rational responses are based on slower,
rule-based reasoning. Intuitive heuristics, or mental shortcuts, provide people with sound judgments most
of the time, but they sometimes lead to errors in judgment. It’s fine to ‘go with your gut’ when choosing one
of several unknown, unpronounceable items off a menu – but ‘I went with my gut’ is not considered a valid
excuse for, say, stabbing your neighbour because you just watched The Shining, and due to rapid
associative processes primed by that experience, you thought your neighbour was going to kill you. People
use the availability heuristic when judging the frequency or probability of some event by how readily
relevant instances come to mind, and the representativeness heuristic when trying to categorize something
by judging how similar it is to their conception of the typical member of a category, or when trying to make
causal attributions by assessing how similar an effect is to a possible cause.
The sense of fluency people experience when processing information can influence the judgments they
make about it. Disfluent stimuli lead to more reflective thought – your professor will analyse the academic
quality of your essay more closely if your godawful handwriting makes it take longer to read.