People often choose to believe in things that are just not true. We just “survived” the Mayan apocalypse some people really thought was going to be real – to give an example. Here are 11 things that a lot of us believe, but really shouldn’t.

1. [Insert celebrity name here] endorses product X, so it must be good

“Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence . Furthermore, we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. ” says Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice

The experiment

In 1970s well-known social psychologist Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson wanted to examine how students made judgments about a lecturer. They divided students into 2 groups and made them watch 2 different videos of the same lecturer. In one of them the lecturer answered questions in extremely warm and friendly manner, in the other he did the same in a cold and distant manner.

Results

After each group had seen the video they were asked to rate the lecturer on things like physical appearance, mannerism and even his accent. Students who saw the “warm” video rated him more attractive, mannerism more likeable and even his accent more appealing, vice versa for the “cold” video group.

It was the same guy, but just because of how he seemed, completely changed students judgments. After the study had finished, it was suggested to them that how much they liked the lecturer might have affected their evaluations. No luck – most said they liked the lecturer for what he said, not for his individual characteristics. Roger Federer in full Nike gear Image credit

Works everywhere

The effect is well known in the business world as well. Books that have “Harvard Classics” written on the cover can sell for twice the price, adding a well-known designers’ name to a pair of jeans triples the price etc. So the next time you buy designer clothes, or buy a car or even vote for a politician. Ask yourself: are you really evaluating the traits of the product or are you simply thinking of the person endorsing it?

2. How a question is asked does not affect your answer

There’s a disease outbreak expected to kill 600 people if no action is taken. There are two treatment options. Option A will save 200 people. Option B gives a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved.

What will you do?

Would you rather guarantee that 200 people will be saved or risk killing everyone? According to this study, most people will choose A. It’s better to guarantee survival of 200 people.

But what if we change the way the question is asked? Instead of saying that 200 people will be saved, 400 will be killed for sure. With option B that gives us one-third probability that no one will die and two-thirds probability that 600 will die.

How will you respond now?

The trouble, from a rational standpoint, is that the two scenarios are identical. All that’s different is that the question is restated to emphasize the 400 certain deaths from Option A, rather than the 200 lives saved. It shows that how a question is asked dramatically affects the answer, and can even lead to a contradictory answer.

To figure this out, most people have the intelligence if you tell them something like “think logically” or “consider all the possibilities.” But unprompted, they won’t bring their full mental faculties to bear on the problem.

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3. Cheap is an absolute value

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Imagine that you are shopping in one of the Armani shops. You look around and find a t-shirt that you like. The price is 150$ – is it cheap or not?

It doesn’t seem cheap, so you look around some more and find another shirt you like. The price? 75$. Now that is cheap! Or at-least that’s what you think and on some level you are right – comparing in to the one costing 150$ it is. So you happily buy it, convinced that you got a good price for it. Now comparing that price to practically any other t-shirts price – it’s way too expensive, but at that store at that time it seemed a good deal.

Anchoring

That is anchoring at work and we have covered it before in the pricing experiments post. Science Daily describes anchoring as:

The common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. During decision making anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor.

So next time you see a „bargain“ on literally anything. Think twice, flip open your smartphone and do a bit of price research. Often times you’ll be amazed by your own stupidity.

4. You think you’re in control

In the 1970′s, Ellen Langer, a researcher from UCLA, demonstrated evidence for a phenomenon she called the illusion of control. Illusion of control is the tendency for human beings to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.

Fun with numbers…

In her research, among others, one experiment involved a lottery with numbers drawn at random. In it participants of the experiment believed they had more control over the outcome if they chose their numbers rather than having them randomly assigned. They believed that choosing the numbers is the key to success – what they failed to take into account is that numbers are drawn at random during a lottery. So whether you choose the numbers or they were randomly assigned to you – it didn’t change the outcome one bit.

…and with cards

In another experiment participants were willing to bet almost double the amount of money in a card game if their opponent seemed nervous and unstable. If the opponent was well dressed and confident the bets were smaller. Like if the appearance of the players makes any difference on their ability to play the game. Just to be clear – it doesn’t.

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5. “I’m a morning person, so I should do creative work in the morning”

Well, not quite. A new research done by Mareike Wieth and Rose Sacks finds otherwise . Researchers asked 428 students to tackle two different types of creativity tests. One measuring their insight ability (kind of problem solving which requires a leap into the unknown), the second their ability to solve analytical problems (doing you taxes).

Morning persons and night owls

Wieth and Sacks found that those who identified themselves as morning persons actually did better on “insight”-based problem solving—tasks that required original thinking—in the evening. Night owls’ performance was the opposite, with more of their “aha!” moments coming earlier in the day. So your best bet is to test, test, test. Just because you think you do your best work in [insert time of day here] doesn’t mean that’s always the case.

Try working on different tasks on different times of the day and note down how well you’re doing. Later compare results and choose the time that works best for you.

6. If something takes hard work, it must be worth it

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Imagine you are trying to join a group or a club. It’s extremely hard to get membership – they make you jump through many hoops and you have to complete a series of different tasks. At the end of all this, you get in. Now you’re a member of that group/club.

Because of the sheer amount of work you had to do just to get in, you value your membership even more. Unfortunately, the club you worked so hard to get into turns out to be average, at best.

We lie to make sense

We try to make sense of the situation, and so we believe and tell ourselves that the club/group is fantastic. We lie to ourselves and others just to make sense of the situation. This is known as cognitive dissonance and was first observed by Festinger and Carlsmith in their 1959 study “Cognitive consequences of forced compliance.” The original study found that students doing a boring task found the task more interesting when paid less to take part.

Our unconscious reasons like this: if I didn’t do it for the money, then I must have done it because it was interesting. As if by magic, a boring task becomes more interesting because otherwise I can’t explain my behavior.

7. If I can dream it, I can do it

We all have fantasies about our future success. It’s only natural to dream happy dreams about how things might go right. We often hear from self-help gurus that this type of happy dreaming is a good source of motivation. If we can picture our future success then this will help to motivate us. Well, research suggests that it might not always be the case.

Expectations vs. fantasies

Fantasies, though, involve imagining something you hope will happen in the future, but experiencing it right now. This turns out to be problematic.Four studies investigated the predictive power of thinking about the future in terms of positive expectations versus positive fantasies.

Expectations are based on past experiences. You expect to do well in an exam because you’ve done well in previous exams, you expect to meet another partner because you managed to meet your last partner, and so on. In the case of getting a job, people who spent more time dreaming about getting a job performed worse. Two years after leaving college the dreamers:

  • Had applied for fewer jobs
  • Had been offered fewer jobs
  • And had lower salaries if they were working.

People who had positive expectations about finding a job did better than those whose expectations were negative.

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8. Brainstorming in groups is an awesome idea

Brainstorming in a group by definition is an creativity technique in which you have a problem that needs solving and you try to solve that by calling a brainstorming meeting. In that meeting the task of the group is to come up with as many possibly ideas/solutions as possible – the idea behind it being that people will feed of each other’s energy and in synergy come up with more and better solutions.

The problem is that it doesn’t always work. Adrian Furnham in his study “The Brainstorming Myth” brings out 3 main reasons why:

  • Because there are other members in a group, people slack off to a frightening degree in group situations like brainstorming
  • Fear of suggesting ideas that might make one look foolish
  • While one person is talking the others have to wait. They then forget or dismiss their ideas

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Simple solution Solution according to the same study is quite simple:

  • People should be encouraged to list ideas before coming to brainstorming sessions.
  • Problems should be broken down and group members should brainstorm components separately.
  • High targets/standards for both quality and quantity of ideas
  • Regular breaks from each other.

But why bother to try and fix brainstorming at all? Why not just send people off individually to generate ideas if this is more efficient? The answer is because of its ability to build consensus by giving participants the feeling of involvement in the process. People who have participated in the creative stage are likely to be more motivated to carry out the group’s decision.

9. I’m so productive, I can do 4 tasks at once!

Advances in technology allow people to do more and more tasks at the same time – so the myth that we can multitask is getting ever stronger. First let’s define what multitasking means. It can mean performing two or more tasks simultaneously, or it can also involve switching back and forth from one thing to another.

A study conducted in 2001 by Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans and David Meyer found that participants lost significant amounts of time as they switched between multiple tasks and lost even more time as the tasks became increasingly complex.

40% productivity loss

Meyer suggests that productivity can be reduced even as much as by 40 perfect when switch between tasks. New research even suggests that college students who frequently text message during class have difficulty staying attentive to classroom lectures and consequently risk having poor learning outcomes. So your best bet is not to multitask but do each task separately – meaning start a new one when the last one is finished and not before.

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10. “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Turns out some people are programmed to learn from their mistakes, while others give up trying, a study found. Learning from your mistakes has everything to with your mind. “This finding is exciting in that it suggests people who think they can learn from mistakes have brains that are more tuned to pick up on mistakes very quickly,” said Jason Moser, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Michigan State University and lead researcher on the project.

The experiment

Participants in the experiment had a task to identify the middle letter of a five-letter series like “KKKKK” or “KKLKK.” In some occasion the middle was the same as te outer ones, in others it was different. After the experiment was done, researchers found out whether people believed they could learn from mistakes or not. The ones who believed they could, did better after making a mistake – in other words, they bounced back successfully from their errors while others didn’t.

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11. Someone else, surely, will help…

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The more people are present at any given situation or an emergency, the longer it takes to respond to the apparent situation/emergency founds this experiment done by J. Darley and B. Latane. This is what PSYblog has to say about the experiment:

Participants were invited into the lab under the pretext they were taking part in a discussion about ‘personal problems’. Participants were talking to a number of unknown others, varying from just one up to four in each of the experimental trials. Because of the sensitive nature of the discussion they were told the discussion would take place over an intercom. In fact this was just a ruse to ensure the participants couldn’t physically see the other people they were talking to. During the discussion one member of the group would suddenly appear to be having an epileptic seizure. The experimenters then measured how long it took for participants to go the person’s aid. They clearly found that the more people were involved in the group discussion, the slower participants were to respond to the apparent emergency.

So the next time you’re in an emergency situation don’t count on other people to help (changes are they are betting on you to go and help) but instead go and freaking help them!

Final words

Our mind is a very powerful tool which is capable of amazing feats. At the same time it can be easily tricked in the heat of the moment into making irrational and straight up stupid decisions. By knowing at least some of the tricks it plays on us we can protect ourselves and make better decisions. In return we can save our time, money, energy and even lifes.

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Post written by Ott Niggulis.