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50 Cognitive Biases in the Modern World

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50 Cognitive Biases in the Modern World

50 Cognitive Biases in the Modern World

Cognitive biases are widely accepted as something that makes us human.

Every day, systematic errors in our thought process impact the way we live and work. But in a world where everything we do is changing rapidly—from the way we store information to the way we watch TV—what really classifies as rational thinking?

It’s a question with no right or wrong answer, but to help us decide for ourselves, today’s infographic from TitleMax lists 50 cognitive biases that we may want to become privy to.

In the name of self-awareness, here’s a closer look at three recently discovered biases that we are most prone to exhibiting in the modern world.

Automation Bias

AI-infused applications are becoming incredibly good at “personalizing” our content, but will there come a time when we let algorithms make all of our decisions?

Automation bias refers to the tendency to favor the suggestions of automated systems.

Take Netflix, for example. Everything we see on the platform is the result of algorithms—even the preview images that are generated. Then, to harness the power of data and machine learning, Netflix categorizes its content into tens of thousands of micro-genres. Pairing these genre tags with a viewer’s history allows them to assign several of over 2,000 “taste profiles” to each user.

And while there’s nothing wrong with allowing Netflix to guide what we watch, there’s an enormous sea of content standing by. Estimates from 2015 claimed it would take nearly four years to watch all of Netflix’s content. Thousands more hours of content have since been added.

If we want to counter this cognitive bias, finding a new favorite series on platforms like Netflix may require some good old-fashioned human curiosity.

The Google Effect

Also known as “digital amnesia”, the aptly named Google Effect describes our tendency to forget information that can be easily accessed online.

First described in 2011 by Betsy Sparrow (Columbia University) and her colleagues, their paper described the results of several memory experiments involving technology.

In one experiment, participants typed trivia statements into a computer and were later asked to recall them. Half believed the statements were saved, and half believed the statements were erased. The results were significant: participants who assumed they could look up their statements did not make much effort to remember them.

Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.

– Sparrow B, et al. Science 333, 777 (2011) 

Our modern brains appear to be re-prioritizing the information we hold onto. Notably, the study doesn’t suggest we’re becoming less intelligent—our ability to learn offline remains the same.

The IKEA Effect

Identified in 2011 by Michael Norton (Harvard Business School) and his colleagues, this cognitive bias refers to our tendency to attach a higher value to things we help create.

Combining the Ikea Effect with other related traits, such as our willingness to pay a premium for customization, is a strategy employed by companies seeking to increase the intrinsic value that we attach to their products.

For instance, American retailer Build-A-Bear Workshop is anchored around creating a highly interactive customer experience. With the help of staff, children (or adults) can assemble their stuffed animals from scratch, then add clothing and accessories at extra cost.

Nike also incorporates this bias into its offering. The footwear company offers a Nike By You line of customizable products, where customers pay a premium to design bespoke shoes with an extensive online configurator.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with our susceptibility to the Ikea Effect, understanding its significance may help us make more appropriate decisions as consumers.

What Can We Do?

As we navigate an increasingly complex world, it’s natural for us to unconsciously adopt new patterns of behavior.

Becoming aware of our cognitive biases, and their implications, can help us stay on the right course.

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12 Ways to Get Smarter in One Infographic

Highlighting and breaking down the 12 most useful and universal mental models that will make you smarter and more productive.

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12 Ways to Get Smarter in One Infographic

View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

The level of a person’s raw intelligence, as measured by aptitude tests such as IQ scores, is generally stable for most people during the course of their adulthood.

While it’s true that there are things you can do to fine tune your natural capabilities, such as doing brain exercises, solving puzzles, and getting optimal sleep—the amount of raw brainpower you have is difficult to increase in any meaningful or permanent way.

For those of us who constantly strive to be high-performers in our fields, this seems like bad news. If we can’t increase our processing power, then how can we solve life’s bigger problems as we move up the ladder?

The Key: Mental Models

The good news is that while raw cognitive abilities matter, it’s how you use and harness those abilities that really makes the difference.

The world’s most successful people, from Ray Dalio to Warren Buffett, are not necessarily leagues above the rest of us in raw intelligence—instead, they simply develop and learn to apply better mental models of how the world works, and they use these principles to filter their thoughts, decisions, strategies, and execution.

This infographic comes from best-selling author and entrepreneur Michael Simmons, who has collected over 650 mental models through his work. The infographic, in a similar style to one we previously published on cognitive biases, synthesizes these models down to the most useful and universal mental models that people should learn to master first.

Concepts such as the 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle), compound interest, and network building are summarized in the visualization, and their major components are broken down further within the circle.

Mental Model Examples

Example #1: Pareto’s Principle (80/20 Rule for Prioritization)

In a recent Medium post by Simmons, he highlights a well-known mental model that is the perfect bread crumb to start with.

The 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle) is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who was likely the first person to note the 80/20 connection in an 1896 paper.

In short, it shows that 20% of inputs (work, time, effort) often leads to 80% of outputs (performance, sales, revenue, etc.), creating an extremely vivid mental framework for making prioritization decisions.

80-20 law Pareto's principle

The 80/20 rule represents a power law distribution that has been empirically shown to exist throughout nature, and it also has huge implications on business.

If you focus your effort on these 20% of tasks first, and get the most out of them, you will be able to drive results much more efficiently than wasting time on the 80% “long-tail” shown below.

Power law distribution

Example #2: Metcalfe’s Law (Network Building)

Metcalfe’s Law is one of network effects, stating that a network’s value is proportional to the square of the number of nodes in the network.

From a mental model perspective, this is a useful way to understand how certain types of technology-driven businesses derive value.

If you have a smart grid that is only connected to one power source, that’s alright—but one connected to many different energy sources and potential consumers is much more useful for everyone on the grid. Each additional node provides value for the rest of the connections.

Metcalfe's Law illustrated

This mental model can be applied outside of strict technology or business terms as well.

For example, if you build a personal network of connections, each additional relationship can provide more value to the other people in your network. It’s the same principle that Harvard or other prestigious universities operate on: the more value a student can get from the alumni network, the higher price they can charge for tuition.

It’s hard to compete with a fully formed network at scale, as they create massive economic moats for the owner. Modern social networks and messaging apps like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Snapchat all operate with this in mind.

The Power of Mental Models

These are just two examples of how powerful mental models can be effective in making you think clearer and work smarter.

If you want to be a top performer, it’s worth looking into other mental models out there as well. They can help you better frame reality, so that you can harness your intelligence and effort in the most effective way possible—and it’ll allow you to deliver results along the way.

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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Visualized: The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Learn the stories behind some of the world’s biggest Ponzi schemes in this illustrative infographic timeline.

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The Biggest Ponzi Schemes in Modern History

Some things simply sound too good to be true, but when money is involved, our judgement can become clouded.

This is often the case with Ponzi schemes, a type of financial fraud that lures investors by promising abnormally high returns. Money brought in by new members is used to pay the scheme’s founders, as well as its earlier investors.

The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi, an Italian who became infamous in the 1920s for claiming he could double his clients’ money within 90 days. Since then, numerous Ponzi schemes have been orchestrated around the globe.

To help you learn more about these sophisticated crimes, this infographic examines some of the biggest Ponzi schemes in modern history.

Ponzi Schemes in the 20th Century

The 1990s saw a number of large Ponzi schemes worth upwards of $500 million.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
Belgium1991Moneytron, Jean-Pierre Van Rossem$860M
Romania1994Caritas, Ioan Stoica$1B - $5B
Russia1994MMM, Sergei Mavrodi$10B
U.S.1997Great Ministries International, Geral Payne$500M

In many cases, these schemes thrived by taking advantage of the unsuspecting public who often lacked any knowledge of investing. Caritas, for example, was a Ponzi scheme based in Romania that marketed itself as a “self-help game” for the poor.

The scheme was initially very successful, tricking millions of people into making deposits by offering the chance to earn an 800% return after three months. This was not sustainable, and Caritas was eventually unable to distribute further winnings.

Caritas operated for only two years, but its “success” was undeniable. In 1993, it was estimated that a third of the country’s money was circulating through the scheme.

Ponzi Schemes in the 21st Century

The American public has fallen victim to numerous multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes since the beginning of the 21st century.

CountryDate EndedName of Scheme and FounderValue (USD)
U.S.2003Mutual Benefits Company, Joel Steinger$1B
U.S.2003Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters$4B
U.S.2008Madoff Investment Scandal, Bernie Madoff$65B
U.S.2012Stanford Financial Group, Allen Stanford$7B

Many of these schemes have made major headlines, but much less is said about the thousands of everyday Americans that were left in financial ruin.

For victims of the Madoff Investment Scandal, receiving any form of compensation has been a drawn-out process. In 2018, 10 years after the scheme was uncovered, a court-appointed trustee managed to recover $13 billion by liquidating Madoff’s firm and personal assets.

As NPR reported, investors may recover up to 60 to 70 percent of their initial investment only. For victims who had to delay retirement or drastically alter their lifestyles, this compensation likely provides little solace.

Do the Crime, Pay the Time

Running a Ponzi scheme is likely to land you in jail for a long time, at least in the U.S.

In 2009, for example, 71-year-old Bernie Madoff pled guilty to 11 federal felonies and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. That’s 135 years longer than the average U.S. murder conviction.

Outside of the U.S., it’s a much different story. Weaker regulation and enforcement, particularly in developing countries, means a number of schemes are ongoing today.

Sergei Mavrodi, known for running the Russian Ponzi scheme MMM, started a new organization named MMM Global after being released from prison in 2011. Although he died in March 2018, his self-described “social financial network” has established a base in several Southeast Asian and African countries.

If you or someone you know is worried about falling victim to a Ponzi scheme, this checklist from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may be a useful resource.

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