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.
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.
Population Boom: Charting How We Got to Nearly 8 Billion People
In the next year or so, humanity is expected to pass the 8 billion person milestone. These charts and maps put global population growth into context.
Today, the global population is estimated to sit at 7.91 billion people.
By the end of 2022 or within the first months of 2023, that number is expected to officially cross the 8 billion mark. Incredibly, each new billion people has come faster than the previous—it was roughly only a decade ago that we crossed the 7 billion threshold.
How did we get here, and what has global population growth looked like historically?
In this series of six charts from Our World in Data, we’ll break down how the global population got to its current point, as well as some big picture trends behind the data.
#1: Mapping the Population Over 5,000 Years
New York, São Paulo, and Jakarta were not always bustling metropolises. In fact, for long parts of the history of civilization, it was unusual to find humans congregating in many of the present-day city locations we now think of as population centers.
The human population has always moved around, seeking out new opportunity and freedoms.
As of 3,000 BC, humans could be mainly found in Central America, the Mediterranean, the Fertile Crescent, and parts of India, Japan, and China. It’s no coincidence that that agriculture was independently discovered in many of these same places during the Neolithic Revolution.
#2: The Hockey Stick Curve
For even more context, let’s zoom way out by using a timeline that goes back to when woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth:
From this 10,000-foot view, it’s clear that human population growth started going exponential around the time of the Second Agricultural Revolution, which started in the 17th century in Britain. This is when new technologies and farming conventions took root, making it possible to grow the food supply at an unprecedented pace.
Soon these discoveries spread around the world, enabling population booms everywhere.
#3: The Time to Add 1 Billion
The data and projections in this chart are a few years old, but the concept remains the same:
It took all of human history until 1803 to reach the first billion in population. The next billion took 124 years, and the next 33 years. More recent billions have come every dozen or so.
So why then, are future billion people additions projected to take longer and longer to achieve?
#4: The Growth Rate is Shrinking
Because of demographics and falling fertility rates, the growth rate of the global population has actually been on a downward trend for some time.
As this growth rate gets closer to zero, the population curve has become less exponential like we saw in the first graphs. Population growth is leveling out, and it may even go negative at some point in the future.
#5: The Regional Breakdown
Although the rate of population growth is expected to slow down, there are still parts of the world that are adding new people fast, as you can see on this interactive regional breakdown:
Since 1973, Asia has doubled its population from 2.3 billion to 4.6 billion people.
Comparatively, over the same time frame, Europe has gone from 670 million to 748 million, equal to just an 11% increase.
#6: The Present and Future of Population Growth
Population projections by groups like the United Nations see the global population peaking at around 10.9 billion people in 2100.
That said, there isn’t a consensus around this peak.
Organizations like the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have a different perspective, and they have recently modeled that the global population will top out at 9.7 billion people by the year 2064.
As we climb to surpass the 8 billion mark in the coming months, it will be interesting to see what path humanity ends up following.
Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth
The amount of human-made (or anthropogenic) mass, has now exceeded the weight of all life on Earth, including humans, animals, and plants.
Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth
The world is not getting any bigger but the human population continues to grow, consuming more and more resources and altering the very environment we rely on.
In 2020, the amount of human-made mass, or anthropogenic mass, exceeded for the first time the dry weight (except for water and fluids) of all life on Earth, including humans, animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms.
In this infographic based on a study published in Nature, we break down the composition of all human-made materials and the rate of their production.
A Man-made Planet
Anthropogenic mass is defined as the mass embedded in inanimate solid objects made by humans that have not been demolished or taken out of service—which is separately defined as anthropogenic mass waste.
Over the past century or so, human-made mass has increased rapidly, doubling approximately every 20 years. The collective mass of these materials has gone from 3% of the world’s biomass in 1900 to being on par with it today.
While we often overlook the presence of raw materials, they are what make the modern economy possible. To build roads, houses, buildings, printer paper, coffee mugs, computers, and all other human-made things, it requires billions of tons of fossil fuels, metals and minerals, wood, and agricultural products.
The rate of accumulation for anthropogenic mass has now reached 30 gigatons (Gt)—equivalent to 30 billion metric tons—per year, based on the average for the past five years. This corresponds to each person on the globe producing more than his or her body weight in anthropogenic mass every week.
At the top of the list is concrete. Used for building and infrastructure, concrete is the second most used substance in the world, after water.
|Human-Made Mass||Description||1900 (mass/Gt)||1940 (mass/Gt)||1980 (mass/Gt)||2020 (mass/Gt)|
|Concrete||Used for building and infrastructure, including cement, gravel and sand||2||10||86||549|
|Aggregates||Gravel and sand, mainly used as bedding for roads and buildings||17||30||135||386|
|Bricks||Mostly composed of clay and used for constructions||11||16||28||92|
|Asphalt||Bitumen, gravel and sand, used mainly for road construction/pavement||0||1||22||65|
|Metals||Mostly iron/steel, aluminum and copper||1||3||13||39|
|Other||Solid wood products, paper/paperboard, container and flat glass and plastic||4||6||11||23|
Bricks and aggregates like gravel and sand also represent a big part of human-made mass.
Although small compared to other materials in our list, the mass of plastic we’ve made is greater than the overall mass of all terrestrial and marine animals combined.
As the rate of growth of human-made mass continues to accelerate, it could become triple the total amount of global living biomass by 2040.
Can We Work It Out?
While the mass of humans is only about 0.01% of all biomass, our impact is like no other form of life on Earth. We are one of the few species that can alter the environment to the point of affecting all life.
At the current pace, the reserves of some materials like fossil fuels and minerals could run out in less than 100 years. As a result, prospectors are widening their search as they seek fresh sources of raw materials, exploring places like the Arctic, the deep sea, and even asteroids.
As the world population continues to increase, so does the pressure on the natural environment. It is an unavoidable fact that consumption will increase, but in an era of net-zero policies and carbon credits, accounting for the human impact on the environment will be more important than ever.
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