Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cognition - Truths and Errors

We humans have been occupying this pale blue dot on this universe for a small period of about 2-4 million years and have developed into a species with a lot of advantages over our fellow animals. Many of us believe that we humans have the perfect features required to sustain in this planet. But that statement has been proved wrong many a times physiologically and psychologically. In this article I will try to deal with the significance of the psychological errors or as they are widely known, biases in our cognition.

We all see the world not as it is, but as we want it to be. We follow certain pattern while processing our cognition. So what influences the way we process our thoughts? The major reason for such biases is “Motivated Reasoning”. Motivated reasoning is the term used to refer to the process by which people tend to come to a certain conclusion that makes them feel better. To brief it further it is the tendency to alter the facts or opinions in a way that they fit perfectly into the long held opinions of the person or to recall incidences in which we had the upper hand. Motivated reasoning also leads us to make varying attributions in different situations.
Attribution is the process through which humans as observers infer the causes of other people’s behaviour. It may be from an individual to an individual or from an individual to a group. Fritz Heider (the man who found attributions) and Simmel did an experiment in which they showed the observers a short clip of random motion of  a circle and two differently sized triangles. At the end of the experiment they asked the observers to report their observations. The people tended to attribute some cause to the movement of the objects. Heider believed that all humans tended to try to interpret and attribute a cause for the behaviour of other humans. Some evolutionary psychologists came up with an explanation that either humans or one of our evolutionary ancestors must have developed the tendency to anthropomorphize the movements around us as it gave them the evolutionary advantage of being on guard for their predators.

Humans make two types of attributions. They make either a dispositional attribution or a situational attribution. Dispositional attribution is one in which the observer attributes the cause of a person’s behaviour to that subject’s internal states like the personality etc. Situational attribution is one in which the observer attributes the causes of a subject’s behaviour to the situation that prevailed before or during the course of that behaviour. Social Psychologists have found a variance in the type of attributions we make based on the observer’s position in the situation. The possibilities are listed below considering myself as the observer:

I see someone do something (good or bad)
                                      I make a Dispositional Attribution saying that the incident happened because of the individual’s ability or disability.

I do something good
                                     I make a Dispositional Attribution saying that the incident happened because of my own hard work and ability.

Thus looking at these observations we can get to a conclusion that motivated reasoning has its effect on all the cognition that takes place in our brain. This also contradicts to the belief of many people that the human brain and human cognition are flawless. To err is human. 

                             I would never die for my belief because I might be wrong.
                                                                                                                    -Bertrand Russell