Shielding against Cognitive Biases with Critical Thinking
Overall, the workings of cognitive biases and heuristics seldom originate from what can be categorically deemed as a rational affair, an objective engagement or a systematic procedure. For example, our daily lives and routines are all too easily and frequently coloured by and conflated with our emotions, which are valenced reactions invariably intertwined with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, creativity and motivation. Unlike computers, machines, robots, automata and artificial intelligence, we as humans are hardly ever equipped with a clear default, tidy reset, handy reboot or even expedient reprogramming for recalibrating our minds to a neutral position to free us from (the costs and effects incurred by) our emotional baggage and aftermath. Throughout the waking hours, we are continually carried along by many psychological processes, mental habits and internal states, which can influence our judgements and decisions by stealth. Given that people are responsive beings whose current emotions (such as joy, pleasure, empathy, trust, pride, confidence, surprise, hope, fear, anger, anxiety, contempt and other conscious experience) habitually influence their decisions, it would be quite difficult to avoid the affect heuristic, which is a rapid, involuntary emotional response, a kind of mental shortcut described in Wikipedia as “a subconscious process that shortens the decision-making process and allows people to function without having to complete an extensive search for information. It is shorter in duration than a mood, occurring rapidly and involuntarily in response to a stimulus. Reading the words “lung cancer” usually generates an affect of dread, while reading the words “mother’s love” usually generates a feeling of affection and comfort.” In other words, affect heuristic is a simple, efficient rule that people often intuitively use to form judgements and make decisions such that “emotional response, or “affect” in psychological terms, plays a lead role”, insofar as the human mind is deemed to be a cognitive miser “due to the tendency of humans to think and solve problems in simpler and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and more effortful ways, regardless of intelligence.” Moulded by affect heuristic, these (judge)mental shortcuts are helpful since they provide effort-reduction and simplification in decision-making to offset or compensate for the limited human capacity to process information comprehensively or exhaustively. Whilst such shortcuts assist people in quickly getting to where they want or need to be, many of the shortcuts can often increase the likelihood, risk and cost of people being sent off course, because people’s judgement and reasoning can be (subtly, surreptitiously or subconsciously) influenced and distorted by people’s affective state and their concomitant experiencing of feelings or emotions, which in turn can make people more partial, irrational, injudicious or susceptible to unscrupulous manipulation, deception or self-justification, and by extension, predisposing them to becoming willing perpetrators or fair victims of Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic, given the prevalence and potency of both in fuelling and exacerbating Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity.
All in all, even though how we process quotations and information that come into our lives may often seem or feel to be a straightforward matter, the quality and quantity of quotations and information involved, and the kind of interactions and situations that we frequently find ourselves in or surrender ourselves to, can sometimes render us (much) more vulnerable to questionable influences or interferences, propelling us to compromise against our better judgement, luring us to act contrary to the better angels of our nature, or worse still, causing us to slip back into bad habits, mental traps and shortcuts that are inherently problematic, intrinsically fallible and logically inadequate, thus invariably leading us astray with flawed assumptions, deductions or conclusions to the point of committing serious fallacies, severe shortcomings, regrettable choices, reprehensible actions, grievous harms or calamitous decisions. Those who disregard or underestimate the roles, risks and impacts of cognitive biases and heuristics do so at their own peril.