COGNITIVE BIAS #122: Attentional Bias


Cognitive Bias of the Week

Above is a nice bit of blogging borrowed from CopyLogic: The Blog to help me populate my Cognitive Bias of The Week category.  I had neglected this category far too long and as a consequence had accumulated such a logjam of biases that it was simply too dangerous to delay any longer.

“While my Attention was taken up in guarding against one Fault, I was often surpris’d by another. Habit took the Advantage of Inattention.” –Benjamin Franklin

As we know, cognitive biases come and go with the changing configurations of the heavenly bodies. I leave it to my learned reader to select the appropriate astrological sign to indicate that corresponding part of the physiology in which  this week’s biased humor doth reside.


[The image above right is from “The Anatomy of Man’s Body as Govern’d by the Twelve Constellations”, Poor Richard Improved, Being an Almanack and Ephemeris for the Year of Our Lord 1758.”  Click on the image to enlarge]

So Shall Medea

When we reach a decision or conclusion without considering all of the contributing factors and possible outcomes, attentional bias has been allowed to influence our deliberations.

A simple example of this bias (as well as a tool for avoiding it) is demonstrated with the use of a matrix to enumerate all the possibilities of a situation. Consider the political slogan “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” intended to induce participation by inspiring guilt in the listener. Its effectiveness is dependent upon the audience not considering all the possibilities when evaluating it.

The matrix below illustrates all the possibilities of being part of either “the problem” or “the solution.” (At least those which exclude the partial options such as being slightly part of the problem and mostly part of the solution, but we digress.)

While the slogan suggests that being part of the solution or…

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