Its funny (and extremely bad for my health) how almost every time people around me open their mouth, I can pick up which error in social cognition it is that is operating in their mind. I almost want to hurl a social psychology book in their face and make them talk sense!
But even the hope that if people know about cognitive distortions they will make use of them less, is misguided. Kahnemean, a leading figure in the field says, “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.” Furthermore, being able to identify more cognitive biases in others as compared to oneself is also a cognitive bias! It is called the blind spot bias, and there are high chances that I'm operating with that bias. If you see Wikipedia, which provides a pretty exhaustive list of cognitive distortions, you will almost get the feeling that all that we think and do is fraught with cognitive distortions/biases that it would be outrageous to imagine ourselves capable of rationality!
Mmmm so what exactly are we talking about? Essentially, we human beings take in a lot of information every waking moment of our lives. We are practically bombarded with information- sights, smells, sounds etc., by our sense organs, some of which get us thinking. Now, with the brain being overburdened, it doesn't always analyse every bit of information thoroughly, consider all possible perspectives and then come to a conclusion. It has certain information processing hacks that let it make quick judgement and attributions thus saving us a lot of time and mental effort. The catch is- accuracy is compromised. No wonder that these hacks are called the cognitive biases or cognitive distortions.
Consider this, a very common cognitive bias- the ‘actor-observer effect’- we tend to attribute inner or dispositional causes to others’ behaviour but situational or external causes to our own. For example, if you see a man falling down the stairs, you are likely to fault him for absence mindedness or the like. But, if you fell down, you are likely to look at what made you fall down and explain away the falling because of something in the environment.
Anyways, my above mentioned annoyance has got me thinking how studying psychology has been a double edged sword. On the one hand, it has made me more empathetic as I quite often understand why a person is acting in a certain way and thus don't feel angry, but on the other hand, I notice people's quirks and eccentricities more, stumble upon themes and patterns in how they talk or work, and unwillingly notice what all it is that they are doing wrong. Plenty of food for thought!