Logical Fallacies

Posted: January 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

I REALLY wanted to talk about this subject in class, and probably will on Tuesday.  This is one of my favourite aspects of my field of study as it contributes to a lot of cognitive dissonance and conspiratorial thinking.  Well, contributes in the way that not being aware of them makes for more pattern finding.  Time to get my nerd on…

This is a great web page with some of the most popular logical fallacies we encounter: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ .  Quick and handy, this guide will explain as well as include some real-life examples.

If you’re still reading this (and I know you’re not), here is a giant list I made for a blog back in 2011. I used to have a lot of these memorized.  I still know the more popular ones, and am quick to throw them out on the internet where they go to waste and die alone and cold.


With all due respect to Michael Shermer, who dedicated an EXCELLENT chapter of his book The Believing Brain to this very idea (and I will be referencing a lot), I find that biases are something that people should be made aware of sooner rather than later (he talks about it in the later part of the book). Biases can unfairly change the way we see data, interpret facts, or rationalize things that are untrue.  This can have a huge impact on our lives.  I want it to be known that I do not think ALL of these can be avoided, nor do I say I never fall victim to them.  It cannot be avoided.  However, when rationalizing things in our everyday life, we should take special care to make sure we’re not fooling ourselves before we fool anyone else.  Please note that some of the reference numbers are out of order, I added a few at the last minute.

Anchoring Bias: Relying too heavily on a past preference or one piece of information (1).  Say you are apartment hunting, and the place you are looking at must have a large area for dinner.  With this bias, you would overlook price, area, view, other room sizes, apartment benefits (pool, gym, etc), and neighbors for this one piece of information you desire.

Appeals to Ancient Wisdom: Holding a belief or idea because of its longevity.  People who believe astrology is true based on how long it has been around and unchanged for so many years fall victim fallacy.  Science changes all the time with new technologies, so this belief should be questioned and looked at (8).

Attribution Bias: Attributing a different cause for your belief or success than you attribute for others.  Situational Attribution Bias (PAS) is someone getting the results from environment.  Disposition Attribution Bias is the result of hard work or determination, a personal trait.  Mary gets a raise at work, and the reason is not disclosed to the public. Did she get this because she was lucky and has connections or was it because of her intelligence and determination? It also works as a self critique.  Shermer also debates for two others in this category: Intellectual (own beliefs being ration) and Emotional (others beliefs being related to emotion) Attribution Biases.  Intellectual Attribution Bias would say that you believe in a particular religion because it best explains the cosmos, but others for comfort and fear of death (Emotional Attribution Biases).  In fact, in the studies he performed, this is what people believe (1).

Authority Bias: Valuing someone else’s opinion over another based on a position of authority.  Think of all those times you asked your mom for something, and she replied with, “No!”  You ask why, and she replies with “Because I said so!”  This is the authority bias.  This also holds true for other family members, teachers, religious figures, coaches, bosses, etc (2).

Availability Heuristic:  Assigning probability to something from our immediate surroundings.  We apply this effect strongly when we have an emotional connection to the phenomena in question.  Then, we generalize these conclusions upon what we make choices on. Ever run late to a dinner, meeting, or work?  You will begin to notice how the universe has it in for you, because all of a sudden every light you hit is red.  This is nothing new, but when you are going to the store or have no emotional tie-in with your trip, the colour of the lights is something you don’t notice (1).  Another great example is that bees kill more people a year than sharks, but we have a Shark week and not a bee week, as we hear more about sharks and less about bees.

Bandwagon Effect:  Believing something within a given group because of the social reinforcement behind it (1). Look no further than sports.  The Miami Heat, Tim Tebow, and all the people who got behind the Tampa Bay Rays to overcome the Boston Red Sox in baseball this past season are all great examples.

Barnum Effect:  Taking general or false statements and applying them to something specific.  A zodiac sign claiming you are a go-getter, and relating it to passing on a nap in order to work on a blog for two hours (3).

Believability Bias: Believing an argument based on the believability of the outcome (1).  In a court case, there might be two examples given on Peter’s involvement in a killing.  One outcome has a few twists and turns leading to conclusion A.  The second is more direct, leading to conclusion B. Assuming both are equally probable, more people will tend to move to conclusion B.

Bias Blind-Spot: This is a bias attributed to being able to see bias in others’ view but not your own.  This is a straight forward idea that doesn’t make sense.  When one person is able to see biases, they tend not to see them in everything, just everyone else.  Not being able to look inward whilst looking outward at others is the Bias Blind Spot (4).

Clustering Illusion:  Creating patterns in clusters of events that seem like randomness is not a factor, but it actually is.  Think about basketball and the Hot or Cold Hand.  Does this actually happen?  In a study of two years of Boston Celtics free throws, Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky “found that when a player made his first shot, he made the second shot 75% of the time and when he missed the first shot he made the second shot 75% of the time. Basketball players do shoot in streaks, but within the bounds of chance. It is an illusion that players are ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ (5).”

Confabulation Bias: “The tendency to conflate memories with imagination and other people’s accounts as one’s own (1).”

Conformation Bias: This can be called the mother of all biases.  Seek and you shall find is another way to think of it (8).  This comes into being when someone already has an idea of what they are looking for or want to prove before and/or doing their said investigation.  The results that are gathered as a result of falling victim to this bias reinforce the believed idea, creating conformation(1).  Looking for variations in fossil records will yield less biased results than studies looking to prove or disprove dinosaurs through variation.  Thus, causing a deeper seeded belief in respect to how you feel about the T-Rex.

Consistency Bias: Recalling pervious feelings or behaviors as resembling them presently, moreso than they already do (1).  The best way I can think of this is in its reverse, with people arguing about how religious our country is and always has been.  200 years ago more people went to church less often.

Either/Or Fallacy: Reasoning your beliefs into limited groups.  An example is pro-life/pro-choice.  There is gray or wiggle room in the middle, but the idea presented in this framing suggests you are one or the other.  You are either pro-choice, or you are pro-life (8).

Endowment Effect: The more closely we hold a belief, the more we have invested in it.  Which means the less likely we will give it up (1).  This is rampant in religious circles.  The longer you hold to the disbelief for evolution, the less likely you will ever realize it exists.

Expectation Bias/Experimenter Bias: “Errors in a research study due to the predisposed notions or beliefs of the experimenter(6).”  In the Island Universe Theory, people believed that nebulae were other universes that existed just outside our solar system.  In their studies, they pointed to limited numbers of facts, whilst ignoring big blocks of other facts (which tied into the other notion that nebulae were pockets of stuff inside our solar system (1).

False Consensus Effect: Believing that a held idea has more backing and support than the idea in direct opposition.  In a study, students asked others if they would carry an Eat at Joe’s sign.  The ones who said yes believed 62% would also say yes. Those who said no believed 67% would say no (7).

Framing Effect: Drawing different conclusions based on how information is framed (1).  Ruscio puts it well with his examples. Which feels larger to you, the difference between $0 and $1 million, or the difference between $100 million and $101 million.  Supposing you have little money, which of these draws a stronger emotional reaction: Gaining $1,000 or losing $1,000.  These two examples show the effect perfectly. $0-$1 million feels like a lot more of a gain, but both examples are a gain of one million.  The other has a stronger pull to the negative, as we feel it to be more of a loss (8).

Halo Effect: Taking one good attribute and applying it to all attributes.  The example given by Change Minds is great, in concludes that just because someone looks like a rock star doesn’t mean they can sing, play an instrument, dance, are a sexfigure, etc (9).

Herd Bias: Adhering and joining the sides and beliefs of someone in a group in order to avoid conflict (1). Anyone who has been in a band knows this well. You have an objection to a riff or song in a setlist, but go along with it to make everyone else happy.

Hindsight Bias: Reconstructing something from the past to make what fits your belief.  Think of “Hindsight is 20/20, or that we know what should have been done in comparison to what was done (1).  Look no further than Monday Morning Quarterbacks. “I think that the New York Giants should have ran this play!”.  South Park captures this perfectly with Captain Hindsight.

Illusion of Control:  The belief that one can control the outcome of a given event.  In an experiment on betting on correctly guessing a coin toss, people bet more money BEFORE the coin was flipped, rather than after, claiming that once it is flipped and caught, the outcome’s probability is no longer in their favor (10).

Illusory Correlation:  “The tendency to assume that a casual correlation exists between to variables: A form of patternicity (1).”  Being from Utah, I often asked if I am Mormon, or from a family of plural wives, when I leave the state.  This is a result from people hearing about a polygamist Morman from Utah, then learning of another one.

Inattentional Blindness Biases: Missing something in the bigger picture whilst looking for something specific (11).  I’ll let this video speak for itself:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

In-Group Bias: Believing in the views of someone within a group whilst discrediting the views of one in another group (1).  How often do we see this in politics?  Democrats backing something that Obama is pushing, even if it is outside the party lines to the effect of being a Republican idea.

Just-World Bias:  Believing that the world is just, and people will fall victim to What Goes Around Comes Around (2).  Think of Casey Anthony, and if something violent ever happened to her, people would say she got her just desserts. This is an example of Just-World.

Negativity Bias:  Paying closer attention to things that are more negative than positive in personal value.  The glass is half empty, not half full.  The glass is ¼ empty, not ¾ full.  This may also be because we have more electrical activity in our brains when dealing with negative feelings than positive or neutral feelings (12).

Normalcy Bias: Discounting a possibility because it has yet to happen, or has never happened before (1).  In Utah, we are told to prepare for “the big one” because we live on a fault line.  However, most people look past it, as it has never happened before.

Not Invented Here Bias: Adoring your own opinion or belief over someone else’s because it came from you (13).  Again, this is observed in bands regularly.  Claiming a song idea is better based purely on your thinking of it.  Another way to think of this bias is in a group setting.  In a brainstorm session, you might believe your idea is the best, even when it comes under much discussion, debate, and debunking.

Popularity Fallacy: Belief on an idea is based on its popularity level, not its truth.  Acupuncture is thought to be a popular form of healing among many Americans.  However, in the given study, Eisenberg found that less than 1% of the population seek this treatment (8).

Post Hockery: Using the result of a given belief or phenomena to explain a correlation of a prior event.  My favourite example of this is people who claim Nostradamus predicted the Twin Towers collapsing.  He didn’t, he had a vague example of something he predicted or saw, and people are making it fit.  If he did predict it as described, it would have been noted and brought into play before hand.

Primary Effect: Remembering, recalling, and/or applying more value to something one hears or reads first.  “Solomon Asch (1946) asked some people about a person described as envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent. He then asked other people about a person described as intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn and envious. The second group rated the person more highly than the first group. He also found that the second and third items on the list had reduced primacy effects (14).”

Projection Bias: Believing others share the same thoughts or beliefs you hold (2).  For example, “someone who harbors racist ideas while believing that racism is socially undesirable might come to believe that a friend is racist, projecting his or her racism onto the other person (15).”

Recency Effect: Like Primary Effect, it is recalling words or ideas as listed.  If you were to read over this list without looking at the definitions and only the words, you wouldn’t get much past Anchoring, Attribution, and Authority.  More would be remembered at the end of the list than in the middle.(16).

Regression to the Mean: The attributes of something moving away from either end (positive or negative) to the mean of given data (1).  Think of the Madden Curse. The Madden cover is for a player that performs exceptionally well in the year prior.  However, the next season, it seems that the player on the cover has a down or poor year.  Injuries are a normal part of football, and an athlete cannot perform at an amazing level all the time.  The season after tends to represent what is expected (mean, average) of the players at his given position.

Representative Bias:  An event is favoured to happen moreso than it actually happens.  In plain words, stereotyping.  At a party, you meet Ray.  Ray is a single liberal guy who enjoys marijuana, philosophy, bongos, poetry, and loves nature.  Is Ray an electrician or is Ray an electrician and involved with the Greenpiece or Hippie movement?  The terms involved in the second choice seem more likely because there are more terms used to describe Ray available in it, but this is not the case.

Rosey Retrospection Effect: Remembering our past decisions on being better than they actually were (17).  Think of the time you bought a cellphone from a brand you once owned.  Say you owned a Sony phone, then an iPhone, and Android, and now need a new phone, and you are thinking of a Sony.  Despite all the problems you had with the Sony phone, you decide to go with it because you rationalize all the problems in a positive way.

Self Fulfilling Prophecy: Believing and behaving in ways that confine to expectations.  Think of a football coach who doesn’t want to play the new quartback because he expects he is not ready.  The coach never has him practice with the first unit, and never gets him on the field… until the starting QB gets hurt.  In comes the new guy, and, as expected, does not perform (18).

Self-Justification Bias: Rationalizing acts after the fact to tell ourselves “This was the best choice I could have made.”  It also stands in the face of saying you made the correct choice even in the face of the contrary (1).  This effect can be seen in a study by Jeffery Cohen.  He showed a wellfare bill to Democrats, some were told it was presented by a Democrat, some a Republican, and vice-versa.  When it crossed party lines, the bill was rejected.  When it was within party lines, it was championed (19).

Self Proclaimed Expertise: Expertise derived from agreement from others, or even an opinion, instead of contributing ideas or judgements.  This is seen a LOT in teaching.  A teacher might derive from the course curriculum or teaching style in favour of their own, if called for or not, based on their own disgression (8).

Status Quo Bias:  Opting for whatever we are used to, or sticking to ideas that don’t change.  This is RAMPANT in Facebook changing its layout.  We all complained about it, however we don’t really notice it (however, subject grouping IS annoying).  Another example is seen in organ donation.  If the given position of organ donation is Yes unless otherwise noted in a state, organ donation is higher.  It also works for states whose given position is non-organ donation having a higher rate of non-organ donors (1).

Stereotyping/Generalization Bias: Assuming that a member of a particular group will have certain characteristics, based purely on inclusion of this group (1).  This one is obvious, and I feel needs little addition.

Sunk Cost Bias: Believing a belief because of the money/cost of the given investment (1). I believe the best example of this can be seen in relationships.  Staying with someone who treats you poorly and shows little to no signs of improving because of the time, money, and emotion you have given to this person over an extended period of time.  Or think of how many times you’ve heard a talking head on TV say pulling out of Iraq would be a horrible thing to do, because it would make the deaths of those in the armed forces in the war be in vain.

Trait Ascription Bias: Belief that you are more unpredictable than others.  Poker News Daily has an excellent example of this.  Using people reading other’s poker moves, styles, and/or faces to create a predictable pattern, as to predict their moves.

Wishful Thinking Bias: Believing what seems more appealing rather than believing what is probable.  Just before the Great Depression, Irving Fisher believed stocks were at an all-time high plateau… just before the great crash in 1929 (21).

WHEW!  That was three hours of research all because I love you guys!  I hope you don’t think that this is an all-inclusive list.  There are tons more out there.  However, these are just some of the few that I see on a regular basis.  This does not include examples of how people answer questions in a debate (ad homonym, straw man, etc).  These will be in a future blog, so watch out!

1) The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

2) Cris Evatt’s Biases Blog

3) See my Previous Blog

4) Free Thinker Blog

5) The Skeptics’ Dictionary

6) All Psych Online

7) Changingminds.org False Consensus Effect

8) Ruscio

9) Changingminds.org Halo Effect

10) Virtuailes.com

11) Simons & Chabris

12) Hana Marano’s Our Brain’s Negative Bias

13) The Whiteboard of Life – Lesson 34

14) Changing Minds Primary Effect

15) eHow

16) Wisegeek

17) Psyblog: Ten Costly Cognitive Biases

18) University of Michigan

19) Jeffery Cohen

20) Poker World News

21) Fallacy Files




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