books, Psychology

Jumping to Conclusions

Arguably, one of the best chapters from Thinking, Fast and Slow is the one where Kanheman explains why we tend to jump to conclusions. 

It is a phenomenon that all of us experience on a daily basis when forming opinions about people or issues based on limited information, often clouded by existing beliefs and at times during conversations when we don’t listen properly before engaging. 

Kanheman offers the following insight into why jumping to conclusions can be a double-edged sword. 

“Jumping to conclusions is efficient if the conclusions are likely to be correct and the costs of an occasional mistake acceptable, and if the jump saves much time and effort. Jumping to conclusions is risky when the situation is unfamiliar, the stakes are high, and there is no time to collect more information. These are the circumstances in which intuitive errors are probable, which may be prevented by a deliberate intervention of System 2.” 

The tendency to believe in certain ideas based off on your belief system is an attribute of System 1. The act of unbelieving, so to speak, i.e. refuting the belief is an act of System 2. It has been shown that a busy System 2 means that people are more likely to fall for false information. This effect can be clearly seen as a direct consequence of media-frenzy, where System 2 is fatigued trying to process information from multiple sources, while System 1 is being misled into accepting incorrect news. 

Jumping to conclusions is responsible for a host of other cognitive biases such as the confirmation bias and the halo effect. 

Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for positive evidence that supports an underlying belief while overlooking and rationalizing our dismissal of contrary evidence. It is confirmation bias that often leads to polarization and second order effects that arise from it. 

The learning here is that our primitive minds are susceptible to accepting any information that feeds our existing beliefs. We need to be vigilant and allow for skepticism when considering information, especially when it contrasts with our own beliefs. 

This apocryphal saying attributed to Socrates would be a good way to conclude this blog. 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

While there are many interpretations of this statement, the reader is free to form his/her own, keeping in mind its intention of inspiring epistemic humility. 

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