Unit 2 Module 4

The Need For Psychological Science

By Snehita Bonthu, Mia Pyankov, Rukmini Waranashiwar, Neha Yerramreddy

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4-1 How do hindsight bias, overconfidence, and the tendency to perceive order in random events illustrate why science-based answers are more valid than those based on intuition and common sense?

  • While both the unconscious and conscious mind drive our thinking, memory, and attitudes, our unconscious mind has a larger influence. Like jumbo jets, we fly mostly on autopilot.

  • We often underestimate the intuition's perils.

  • Experiments have found people greatly overestimating their lie detection accuracy, their eyewitness recollections, their interviewee assessments, their risk predictions and their stock picking talent.

  • A Nobel Prize winning physicist said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool”

  • A novelist Madeleine L’Engle once said, “The naked intellect is an extraordinarily inaccurate instrument”

Three phenomena—hindsight bias, judgmental overconfidence, and our tendency to perceive patterns in random events—illustrate why we cannot rely solely on intuition and common sense.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight Bias = The tendency to believe, after learning an outcome, that one would have foreseen it.

  • Also known as the “I-Knew-It-All-Along” phenomenon
  • Demonstrated through an experiment in which psychologists told one half of a group that “Psychologists have found that separation weakens romantic attraction. As the saying goes, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. They told the other half the opposite; “psychologists have found that separation strengthens romantic attraction. As the saying goes ’absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Both groups were easily able to imagine both scenarios, and find both views unsurprising.

  • When two opposite findings both seem like common sense there is a problem. Such errors in our recollections and explanations explain why we can’t only rely on our common sense, which is why we need psychological research.

  • Around 100 studies have observed hindsight bias in various countries among children and adults.

  • “good ideas in psychology usually have an oddly familiar quality, and the moment we encounter them we feel certain that we once came close to thinking the same thing ourselves and simply failed to write it down”

  • Good ideas are like good inventions; once created, they seem obvious.


  • We humans tend to think we know more than we do and we are more confident than correct.

  • Knowing the answers tends to make us overconfident (referring to the unscrambling of anagrams) WREAT- WATER, ETRYN-ENTRY, GRABE-BARGE, we probably would have not been able to answer then as quickly as we think we would have due to hindsight bias (the fact that we have already seen the answers)

  • Are we better at predicting social behavior? University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock collected more than 27,000 expert predictions of world events, such as whether Quebec would separate from Canada. His repeated finding: These predictions, which experts made with 80 percent confidence on average, were right less than 40 percent of the time. Even those who erred maintained their confidence by saying they were “almost right.”

Perceiving Order in Random Events

  • In our natural eagerness to make sense of our world: we are prone to perceive patterns. People see a face on the moon, hear satanic messages in music and more.

  • Even in random data we find order, because “random sequences don’t look random”

  • Consider a random coin flip: If someone flipped a coin six times, which of the following sequences of heads (H) and tails (T) would be most likely: HHHTTT, HTTHTH, HHHHHH

    • Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1972) found that most people believe the HTTHTH would be the most likely random sequence although they are all equally likely and unlikely.

  • More Examples include basketball shooting, baseball hitting, and mutual fund stock pickers’ selections. These sequences often don’t look random and so are overinterpreted.

Point to remember: Hindsight bias, overconfidence, and our tendency to perceive patterns in random events often lead us to overestimate our intuition.

4-2 How do the scientific attitudes three main components relate to critical thinking?

The Scientific Attitude: Curious, Skeptical, and Humble

  • Underlying all science is curiosity, a passion to explore and understand without misleading or being misled.

  • Often, science becomes society’s garbage disposal, sending crazy-sounding ideas to the waste heap, atop previous claims of perpetual motion machines, miracle cancer cures, and out-of-body travels into centuries past.

  • It requires a scientific attitude: being skeptical but not cynical, open but not gullible in order to differentiate reality from fantasy, sense from nonsense.

  • “To believe with certainty,” says a Polish proverb, “We must begin by doubting”

  • psychologists approach the world of behavior with a curious skepticism, asking two questions: What do you mean? How do you know?

  • Putting a scientific attitude into practice requires not only curiosity and skepticism, but also humility: an awareness of our own vulnerability to error and an openness to surprises and new perspectives.

Historians of science tell us that these three attitudes: curiosity, skepticism and humility helped make modern science possible.

Critical thinking

  • Critical Thinking = thinking that does not blindly accept arguments and conclusions. It examines assumptions, assesses the source, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, and assesses conclusions.

  • A critical thinker asks questions, recognizes multiple perspectives, expose themselves to news sources, challenges their preconceived ideas and helps clear coloured lenses of our biases.

  • Psychology’s critical inquiry has been open to surprising findings

    • massive losses of brain tissue early in life may have minimal long-term effects

    • Within days, newborns can recognize their mother’s odor and voice

    • After brain damage, a person may be able to learn new skills yet be unaware of such learning

    • Diverse groups—men and women, old and young, rich and middle class, those with disabilities and without—report roughly comparable levels of personal happiness

  • Critical inquiry has convincingly debunked popular presumptions

    • Sleepwalkers do not act out their dreams.

    • Past experiences are not all recorded verbatim in our brains; with brain stimulation or hypnosis, one cannot simply “hit the replay button” and relive long-buried or repressed memories.

    • Most people do not suffer from unrealistically low self-esteem.

    • High self-esteem is not all good.

    • Opposites do not generally attract

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