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FYS 100: Baranes: Cognitive Biases and Logical Fallacies

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias is the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Through this bias, people tend to favor information that reinforces the things they already think or believe.

Examples include:

  • Only paying attention to information that confirms your beliefs about issues such as gun control and global warming
  • Only following people on social media who share your viewpoints
  • Choosing news sources that present stories that support your views
  • Refusing to listen to the opposing side
  • Not considering all of the facts in a logical and rational manner

There are a few reasons why this happens. One is that only seeking to confirm existing opinions helps limit mental resources we need to use to make decisions. It also helps protect self-esteem by making people feel that their beliefs are accurate.

People on two sides of an issue can listen to the same story and walk away with different interpretations that they feel validates their existing point of view. This is often indicative that the confirmation bias is working to "bias" their opinions.

The problem with this is that it can lead to poor choices, an inability to listen to opposing views, or even contribute to othering people who hold different opinions.

Cognitive Biases

What Are Logical Fallacies?

What Are Logical Fallacies?

Fallacies are false arguments used to persuade through appeals to emotion or prejudice and through the use of misleading statements rather than appeals to logic, demonstrable facts, and reason.

Types of Fallacies

Types of Fallacies

Ad Hominem...two silhouette stick figures boxing

Ad hominem

Attacking the character or motives of the person who has stated an idea rather than attacking the idea itself.

Example: Don’t listen to Bob about unicorns, Bob is stupid & ugly.

Appeal to Authority--Black gavel ready to strike the black sound block

Appeal to authority

Attempting to bolster claims by citing the opinions or testimony of “experts”.

Example:  Pliny the Elder affirmed the existence of unicorns in his catalog of animals, in Natural History.  

Appeal to Emotion - red heart

Appeal to emotion

Appealing to the audience’s emotions rather than to logic or reason for the sake of getting a conclusion accepted (These appeals to emotion are irrelevant to the argument and draw attention away from the real issue. Often, these appeals are appeals to prejudices or fears or desires.)

Example:  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if unicorns existed, so we should believe in them. 

Appeal to Tradition - Drawing of Greek building

Appeal to tradition

Asserting that something is right or good because it is old or has always been believed or done that way (For some reason, the standard for continuing a tradition is usually lower than the standard for making a change).

Example: People have believed for centuries and even written songs about unicorns.

Bandwagon - group of people all saying the same thing

Bandwagon (appeal to the majority)

Attempting to win acceptance for an argument by demonstrating that a large group of people already accept the claim.

Example:  A lot of people believe in unicorns, so they exist. 

Begging the Question - white question mark on grey circle

Begging the question

Stating premises that are at least as questionable as the conclusion to be reached from the premises.

Example: Of course unicorns exist, that’s why people believe in unicorns. 

False Dichotomy - blue and white Yin/Yang symbol

False dichotomy

Positing an either/or scenario.

Example: Either unicorns exist, or there is no magic at all.

Hasty Generalization - silhouette stick figure running

Hasty generalization 

Forming a general rule by examining only a few specific cases that are not representative of all possible cases.

Example: Unicorns must be real because lots of animals have horns, so why not unicorns. 

Post hoc - Green arrow, with a black question mark over it, pointing from Letter A to Letter B with green circle border

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc

Translates to "after this, therefore because of this" - assuming that event A has caused event B simply because event A has occurred before event B.

Example: If unicorns existed, people would believe in them, therefore they exist, because we believe they exist. 

Red Herring - white fish in a blue circle background

Red herring

Introducing irrelevant facts or arguments in an attempt to distract attention from the question at hand. The red herring argument may prove a point.  It doesn’t prove the point at issue.

Example: Why are you wasting time denying unicorns exist when people are homeless.

Slippery Slope - white stick figure falling down a white slope in a blue circle

Slippery slope

Arguing that adopting one policy or taking one action will lead to a series of other policies or actions that are more frightening than the originally proposed policy or action and that, therefore, the proposed policy or action should be avoided.

Example: If we aren’t going to believe unicorns exist, then what else are we not going to believe in?  Horses? People? The Earth?

Straw Man - white scarecrow in blue circle

Straw man

Misrepresenting someone else’s position so that it can be attacked more easily; setting up a straw man (the misrepresented position) that can be knocked down easily and then concluding that the original position has been refuted.

Example: Bob doesn’t want you to believe in unicorns, because he wants you to believe in griffins, which is ridiculous.  Unicorns are real. 

Sweeping Generalization - grey broom sweeping dust

Sweeping generalization

Imposing a comprehensive conclusion without having examined the individual cases.

Example: Animals exist.  Unicorns are animals.