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Introduction to Psychology Cognitive Psychology Pop Quiz First off, a very short pop quiz about Russia. The answer will be revealed later in the class. Personality Test Results I have completed the personality analysis from the information you gave me last week.

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introduction to psychology

Introduction to Psychology

Cognitive Psychology

pop quiz
Pop Quiz
  • First off, a very short pop quiz about Russia.
  • The answer will be revealed later in the class.
personality test results
Personality Test Results
  • I have completed the personality analysis from the information you gave me last week.
  • Important: For the next 10 minutes, please do not show or talk to anyone about the results.
  • Read over your results and rate it for its accuracy from 1 (low) to 10 (high).
  • How accurate are they?
  • Roughly about 8 out of 10?
  • Now, would someone like to volunteer to read their results out loud?
your unique results
Your “Unique” Results:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

  • Your personality test results were, of course, all the same. Yet the result still seemed fairly accurate to you individually.
  • Why is this? Humans are highly adapted to see patterns, especially when those patterns relate to us personally. Our functioning depends on it. But sometimes we see “patterns” that are not really there. Most of the time, these false alarms are included in what we call “cognitive biases.”
  • And that is the subject of today’s lesson!
back to the personality test
Back to the Personality Test…
  • In 1948, psychologist Bertram Forer did exactly what I did to you: pretend to do a personality test and then give everyone the same “results.”
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, the average accuracy rating was 8.5.
  • This is now called the Forer Effect.
  • Broadly, it is when a statement is so general it could apply to nearly everybody, but people interpret it as being very uniquely and personally relevant.
  • This is the bedrock of horoscopes, psychics, and many pop-psychology personality tests.
  • In fact, all of the text in your results was made by assembling sentences from different horoscopes.
confirmation bias
Confirmation Bias
  • One way the Forer Effect works is through confirmation bias.
  • This means when people view information, they (unknowingly) focus on what confirms the beliefs they already have.
  • Researchers have found people readily create “tests” to “prove” their ideas; even though the results are often ambiguous, they see the results positively. In contrast, people rarely seek to disprove their beliefs.
  • If you believed the test would be accurate to begin with, you probably thought the results were accurate.
  • But if you were already suspicious of the personality test, you probably realized the results could apply to just about anyone.
confirmation bias8
Confirmation Bias
  • Confirmation bias pervades all aspects of our lives: our political beliefs, stereotypes, personal judgements, and our entire world-view.
  • Of course, psychologists were not the first people to acknowledge Confirmation Bias.
  • "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.“

-Leo Tolstoy

cold reading
Cold Reading
  • What happens when you combine the Forer Effect, Confirmation Bias, and someone with very good social skills?
  • Often, you get what is called Cold Reading.
  • This is when a “fortune-teller” or “psychic” uses well-honed social skills and cognitive biases to create the illusion that they have special abilities.
cold reading10
Cold Reading
  • Firstly, the reader will ask a very general, open-ended question, often to many people.
  • When someone reacts, they focus in on that person.
  • The reader then uses their personal details, facial reactions, and body language to ask leading questions that appear very informed.
  • When cold reading is supplemented with information found out before-hand, this is called hot reading.
  • TV psychics/mediums often plant microphones in the waiting rooms to gather personal details.
  • Let’s see an example of cold reading:

Any questions or discussion

about the Forer Effect,

Confirmation Bias,

or Cold Reading?

cognitive psychology
Cognitive Psychology
  • Cold reading, etc., are only a very small part of cognitive psychology. Cognitive is huge.
  • It examines internal mental processes such as problem-solving, language, memory, etc.
  • Think of it as the mechanics of the mind.
  • Next, let’s talk about heuristics.
  • Heuristics are mental rules people use to make decisions quickly.
  • It can be difficult to avoid using heuristics – they appear to be fairly hardwired.
heuristics representativeness
John W. is 34 years old and single. His interests include reading a wide variety of literature, and occasionally he writes his own poetry. He is not a fan of TV, but does enjoy nature and history documentaries. He prefers small gatherings of friends rather than parties.

Is John more likely to be a university librarian or a lorry driver?

How many university librarians are there in the UK? How many lorry drivers?

If this description matched 50% of librarians and 5% of lorry drivers, John would still be more likely to be a lorry driver, because there are so many more lorry drivers than librarians.

Heuristics – Representativeness
heuristics representativeness14
Heuristics – Representativeness
  • This is when people believe that because something appears similar to something else, they must be related.
  • That “similarity” may simply be that the two things share time or space.
  • For example, attractive people in advertising.
  • Also, stereotypes.
  • Also, the misuse of statistics.
heuristics anchoring
Heuristics – Anchoring
  • The anchoring heuristic suggests that when people try to make decisions, they use one piece of information as an anchor, and then use other information to adjust from that anchor.
  • The decision usually ends up being biased towards the anchor.
  • Often, the most obvious piece of information becomes the anchor, even if that obvious piece of information is not very accurate.
heuristics anchoring16
Heuristics – Anchoring
  • Now, back to Russia!
  • In the first question, I gave you an anchor of either 100 or 300 million people.
  • You may not have fully believed the anchor, but your response will likely have been based on an adjustment from the anchor.
  • Those of you who were anchored with 300 million will give higher estimates than those with 100 million.
  • If you are curious, the population is 142 million.
heuristics anchoring17
Heuristics – Anchoring
  • Now, let’s talk about applying this
  • Bargaining – Starting with an extremely low or high price (the anchor) can influence the final amount that is eventually agreed upon.
  • At a party – First impressions can act as anchors. People may decide what they think of another person in the first few minutes, and then only make slight adjustments from that.
  • Marking – Even teachers are subject to heuristics. The first paragraph in a paper can be an anchor; use a great intro and you can use psychology to bias the overall mark in your favour.
heuristics availability
Heuristics – Availability
  • The availability heuristic is also very common.
  • This is when people predict the frequency of an event occurring based on how easily they can bring an example to mind.
  • Questions: At the beach, are you more likely to be swallowed by a sink-hole and buried alive or be killed by a shark?
  • Do more Americans die from homicides and car accidents or diabetes and stomach cancer?
  • Do more Americans die from lightning or tornadoes?
heuristics availability19
Heuristics – Availability
  • You have probably heard that you are more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than once you are in the air.
  • This is true, but part of the reason so many people fear flying (and sharks) is because the risk comes to mind so easily, and is the subject of many stories, tv shows and movies.
  • The more you watch tv, the more likely you are to overestimate the number of police officers, lawyers, and occurrence of violent crime. These are often the focus of tv shows, so they are easy to think of, drawing upon the availability heuristic.
  • This is another reason why learning how to understand statistics is so important!
heuristics summary
Heuristics – Summary
  • Mental shortcuts that help make decisions
  • Fast, but not always accurate!
  • Remember that heuristics serve a purpose – accurate decisions take a lot of time and thought. Decisions that are mostly accurate and quick may be preferable to decisions that are fully accurate and slow.
  • They serve us well most of the time, but we may need to over-ride them (or use them to our advantage!)
heuristics questions
Heuristics – Questions?
  • Any questions or discussion about heuristics?
  • Now we will watch a short video:

  • This video tests how well people pay attention to visual stimuli.
  • You will see two groups of people playing with basketballs – one group in white tops and the other in black tops.
  • Your goal is to count how many passes (both bounced and thrown) are made by the people in the white tops.
  • Please count as accurately as possible and remain quiet during the video.
attention inattentional blindness
Attention – Inattentional Blindness
  • How many times did the people in white pass the ball?
  • Ok, let’s watch the video again.

  • See anything unusual?
  • What you have just experienced is called inattentional blindness
attention inattentional blindness24
Attention – Inattentional Blindness
  • Our eyes take in a massive amount of information, but our brain has limited resources.
  • When we focus on a particular aspect – e.g. a bouncing ball – we may miss something that seems more obvious, such as a gorilla.
  • Importantly, we are not even aware of how much we are missing.
attention inattentional blindness25
Attention – Inattentional Blindness
  • Magicians use this to great effect – they call it misdirection.
  • But there are more serious applications.
  • If you witness an armed robbery, how well could you recognize the robber afterwards?
  • Your attention is likely to be highly focused on the gun – and you may ignore the robber’s face – but you may not be aware that you ignored it.
  • In violent crimes, many witnesses and victims have inaccurate recall of what the perpetrator looked like.
  • Eyewitness misidentification is one of the biggest sources of wrongful conviction.
attention inattentional blindness26
Attention – Inattentional Blindness
  • Can anyone think of any other areas where inattentional blindness applies?
  • What about driving?
  • And surgery? Surgeons have been known to be so focused on the operation that they have amputated the wrong limb!
  • Police on patrol?
  • Soldiers in combat?
attention change blindness
Attention – Change Blindness
  • If a stranger asked you for directions, some people walked between the two of you, and suddenly that person was replaced with another different person, would you notice?
  • Let’s watch some real research:

  • In this study, only half of people noticed!
  • The more difference between the two people, the less often the switch was noticed.
attention change blindness28
Attention – Change Blindness
  • In the study we just looked at young people nearly always noticed when the switch was between other young people – they shared the same ingroup.
  • But when we put our young switchers into an outgroup (construction workers), the rate of noticing dropped from +90% to 35%.

  • The more similar someone is to us, the more attention we pay to their individuality.
  • This is support for the belief that ingroup members often have that outgroup members “all look the same”
attention change blindness29
Attention – Change Blindness
  • Some more examples of inattentional change blindness:
  • In both of these, there is a change in scenery. Can you spot the changes?

attention summary
Attention – Summary
  • We tend to believe we can see what happens before us – but very often we do not.
  • More importantly, we usually do not know what we do not see!
  • There are some pretty major applications.



academic resources
Academic Resources
  • Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1130.
  • Epley, N. & Gilovich, T. (2006). The anchoring and adjustment heuristic: Why the adjustments are insufficient. Psychological Science, 17, 4: 311-319. Full text PDF.
  • Inattentional Blindness:
  • Loads of academic papers on inattentional blindness:
non academic resources
Non-Academic Resources
  • Wiki’s Psychology Portal:
  • Cognitive Psychology Portal:
  • List of cognitive biases:
  • Pseudoscience:
  • The Representativeness Heuristic:
  • The Availability Heuristic:
  • The Gambler’s Fallacy:
  • Change Blindness:
  • Inattentional Blindness:
  • University of Illinois’ Visual Cognition Lab (lots of videos!):