Re: Common Human Errors

From: Amara Graps (
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 11:56:05 MDT

From: Anders Sandberg <>, Thu, 26 Apr 2001

>I think the far most common errors are those discussed in cognitive
>psychology such as example bias (if you have an example of an event, you tend
>to overvalue how often that event occurs), nonlinear subjective utility
>curves, self-serving bias (I am in control when things go well, it is an
>accident when things go bad) etc. There are piles of fairly simple mental
>mistakes we do almost all the time, and getting rid of them is much work.
>Just learning about them is a first step, but then you have to train yourself
>to detect them and not make them.

Yes, Indeed. The best reference I know describing cognitive
distortion is David Burns': _Feeling Good_. A dense book with
powerful techniques to retrain the mind's old thinking patterns.
This book is about catching cognitive errors which, in turn, have a
large effect on a person's emotional state (read: "depression").

The exercises are really simple, and in fact I do a stupid short cut
alot, which it to do them in my head. However, our mind's thinking
pattern's truly don't change
_unless you take the time to put pen in hand, and write them out on paper_.

(it makes a huge difference to write it out. I don't know why)

So something from the book to familiarize people with these errors.



You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance
falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.

You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so
that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of
ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.

You reject positive experiences by insisting they ``don't count" for
some reason or other.

You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite
facts that convincingly support your conclusion.

        1. Mind Reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting
        negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this out.
        2. Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out
        badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an
        already-established fact.

You exaggerate the importance of things, or you inappropriately
shrink things until they appear tiny.

You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way
things really are: ``I feel it, therefore it must be true."

You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if you
had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to to do
anything. ``Musts" and ``oughts" are also offenders. The emotional
consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward
others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.

This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing
your error, you attach a negative label to yourself. When someone
else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label
to him/her.

You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event which
in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Amara Graps email:
Computational Physics vita: finger
Multiplex Answers URL:
"Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the
future of the human race." -- H. G. Wells

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