Is there scientific evidence that people who read a list of cognitive biases in a psychology book or in Wikipedia improve their reasoning abilities. Is there evidence that they will less likely fall victim to the biases they read about?
locked by Sklivvz Aug 29 '14 at 6:33
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It's a little bit of a catch 22. When we tend to feel strongly that we are right, we quieten down the part of our brains that signal we might be wrong:
So it follows that if we are confident we know all the biases because we're well read on the topic, we could very well be leaving ourselves open to an as-yet unknown bias or some other weakness in our reasoning.
As a skeptic, by definition, I think it always helps to question, even the things we hold to be true.
Suggested reading: http://www.jonahlehrer.com/books
UPDATE: in response to Timwi - reference Fischhoff, B. (1982). Chapter 31 - Debiasing. In D. Kahneman, P. Slovic, & A. Tversky (Eds.), Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
I would surmise that it would only be effective if the person reading about this actually recognizes it in themselves.
When I teach reasoning in the classroom, I frequently demonstrate the confirmation bias to my students. What I find is that they are able to overcome their bias on basic questions relatively quickly. They don't do this simply because they are told about it, however. It takes demonstrations and practice to start to get the hang of it. When Wason examined reasoning and the confirmation bias in human subjects, he found that they would be quite slow to recognizing their reasoning error when given simple feedback about their choices. Nevertheless, people do show improvement. In my own research lab we are anticipating examining how long it takes for people to figure out their own reasoning errors in order to explicitly examine how training can directly impact reasoning.
Interestingly, there are instances when we appear to reason very naturally. Lena Cosmides has evidence that we avoid the confirmation bias when reasoning about social contracts. She attributes this ability to an evolved social reasoning process. Some of my own research (still under way) shows similar effects for non-social, evolved processing.