28 October 2009

Overcoming irrationality

The editor of the British Psychological Society's Research Digest asked many leading research psychologists to write briefly about one nagging thing they still don't understand about themselves. One of the more insightful contributions is from David Buss:

One nagging thing that I still don't understand about myself is why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I'm acutely aware of these biases. One example is my failure at affective forecasting, such as believing that I will be happy for a long time after some accomplishment (e.g. publishing a new book), when in fact the happiness dissipates more quickly than anticipated. Another is succumbing to the male sexual overperception bias, misperceiving a woman's friendliness as sexual interest. A third is undue optimism about how quickly I can complete work projects, despite many years of experience in underestimating the time actually required. One would think that explicit knowledge of these well-documented psychological biases and years of experience with them would allow a person to cognitively override the biases. But they don't.

The limitations of human cognition are sobering, and sometimes saddening.

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