Psychology Round-Up

Use Life Hacks to Minimize Bad Decisions

Financial planner Carl Richards discusses our cognitive biases:

A cognitive bias is a mistake we make because of a hole in our thinking. It’s a sort of mental blind spot; a lot of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it.

As an example of a cognitive bias, he uses his mother, who tends to forget things. One day she came to Richards’s house for a meal on her way home from buying groceries. She put her groceries in the refrigerator, then put her car keys into the refrigerator on the shelf next to her groceries. She explained that she couldn’t leave without her keys and having to get her keys from the refrigerator would remind her to take her groceries with her as well. She used a simple life hack to help overcome her cognitive bias of forgetfulness.

If we aren’t aware of our own cognitive biases, Richards suggests asking our spouse or partner: “Trust me — they know our biases.”

Once we’ve identified our cognitive biases, we can, like Richards’s mother, begin to take precautions to help us overcome those biases. That way we can avoid making the same mistake over and over again.

How different are your online and offline personalities?

“As the internet gained prominence in our lives, we gave up anonymity and also the desire to mask our real identity online,” writes Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. With ever larger portions of our time spent online, particularly in social networking, how much of our real self are we projecting online?

Before the internet, Chamorro-Premuzic writes, our identity, styles, and values were revealed mainly by our material possessions, “which psychologists described as our extended self.” However, today many of our valuable possessions have dematerialized into digital presentations such as communications, photos, videos, music, messages, and written words that are “largely invisible and immaterial until we choose to call them forth.”

Yet in psychological terms there is no difference between the meaning of these dematerialised digital artefacts and our physical possessions – they both help us express important aspects of our identity to others and these identity claims provide the core ingredients of our digital reputation. A great deal of scientific research has highlighted the portability of our analogue selves to the digital world. The common theme of these studies is that, although the internet may have provided an escapism from everyday life, it is mostly mimicking it.

Chamorro-Premuzic points out that research has revealed that, “although our digital identity may be fragmented, it seems clear that our various online personas are all digital breadcrumbs of the same persona; different symptoms of our same core self.” He concludes that developing algorithms for making sense of our online data might, in addition to producing targeted marketing tools, “also educate individuals about their own personality and perhaps even help them become smarter and happier consumers.”

Do you find this a comforting thought?

Male vs. female brain? Not a valid distinction, study says

How are men and women different? It’s an age-old question that modern science is still trying to answer. In this article Malcolm Ritter reports on recent research that suggests the brains of men and of women are not essentially different.

The research, published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined MRI scans of more than 1,400 brains. Examinations focused on the anatomy of the brain rather than on how the brain works:

They scored variable traits like tissue thickness or volume in different parts of the brain. They focused on traits that showed the biggest sex differences, dividing the scores into a predominantly male zone, a predominantly female zone, and an intermediate range.

The result? “It was much more common for an individual to score in both the male and female zones than to show a lineup that indicated only one sex or the other.” In other words, human brains do not belong to one of two distinct categories, male or female.

However, Larry Cahill, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, who didn’t participate in the new study, points out that this research doesn’t rule out differences in how the brains of the two sexes work. There’s “a mountain of evidence proving the importance of sex influences at all levels of mammalian brain function,” he said.