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.
The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000
Ammonium nitrate is dangerous, and every few years, there’s a new explosion that causes widespread damage. These are some of the biggest ones.
The Biggest Ammonium Nitrate Explosions since 2000
This week, a massive explosion involving ammonium nitrate rocked the city of Beirut, sending shock waves through the media.
This recent tragedy is devastating, and unfortunately, it’s not the first time this dangerous chemical compound has caused widespread damage.
Today’s graphic outlines the biggest ammonium nitrate explosions over the last 20 years.
A Brief Explanation of Ammonium Nitrate
Before getting into the details, first thing’s first—what is ammonium nitrate?
Ammonium nitrate is formed when ammonia gas is combined with liquid nitric acid. The chemical compound is widely used in agriculture as a fertilizer, but it’s also used in mining explosives. It’s highly combustible when combined with oils and other fuels, but not flammable on its own unless exposed to extremely high temperatures.
It’s actually relatively tough for a fire to cause an ammonium nitrate explosion—but that hasn’t stopped it from happening numerous times in the last few decades.
The Death Toll
Some explosions involving ammonium nitrate have been deadlier than others. Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from each blast:
*Note: death count in Beirut as of Aug 6, 2020. Casualty count expected to increase as more information comes available.
One of the deadliest explosions happened in Tianjin, China in 2015. A factory was storing flammable chemicals with ammonium nitrate, and because they weren’t being stored properly, one of the chemicals got too dry and caught fire. The blast killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion dollars in damage.
In 2001, 14 years before the explosion in Tianjin, a factory exploded in Toulouse, France. The accident killed 30 people and injured 2,500. The power of the blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tons of TNT, meaning that 40 to 80 tons of ammonium nitrate would have ignited.
In addition to factory explosions, there have been several transportation accidents involving ammonium nitrate. In 2007, a truck in Mexico blew up and killed over 57 people. Filled with explosives, the truck crashed into a pickup, caught fire, and detonated. The blast left a 60-foot long crater in its wake.
While there have been several ammonium nitrate accidents throughout history, the recent tragedy in Beirut is one of the largest accidental explosions ever recorded, with 157 deaths and 5,000 injuries and counting.
In terms of TNT equivalent, a measure used to gauge the impact of an explosion, it ranks in the top 10 of the largest accidental explosions in history:
Topping the list is yet another ammonium nitrate explosion, this time back in 1947.
Known to history as the Texas City Disaster, the port accident was one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions to occur in history. The explosion killed over 500 people and injured thousands. The impact from the blast was so intense, it created a 15-foot wave that crashed along the docks and caused flooding in the area.
A Resource With Trade-Offs
Despite being dangerous, ammonium nitrate is still a valuable resource. There’s been an increased demand for the chemical from North America’s agricultural sector, and because of this, ammonium nitrate’s market size is expected to see an increase of more than 3% by 2026.
Because of its increasing market size, it’s more important than ever for trade industries to enforce proper safety measures when storing and transporting ammonium nitrate. When safety regulations aren’t followed, accidents can happen—and as we saw this week, the aftermath can be devastating.
Ranked: The Best and Worst Pension Plans, by Country
As the global population ages, pension reform is more important than ever. Here’s a breakdown of how key countries rank in terms of pension plans.
Ranked: Countries with the Best and Worst Pension Plans
The global population is aging—by 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65.
As our aging population nears retirement and gets closer to cashing in their pensions, countries need to ensure their pension systems can withstand the extra strain.
This graphic uses data from the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index (MMGPI) to showcase which countries are best equipped to support their older citizens, and which ones aren’t.
Each country’s pension system has been shaped by its own economic and historical context. This makes it difficult to draw precise comparisons between countries—yet there are certain universal elements that typically lead to adequate and stable support for older citizens.
MMGPI organized these universal elements into three sub-indexes:
- Adequacy: The base-level of income, as well as the design of a region’s private pension system.
- Sustainability: The state pension age, the level of advanced funding from government, and the level of government debt.
- Integrity: Regulations and governance put in place to protect plan members.
These three measures were used to rank the pension system of 37 different countries, representing over 63% of the world’s population.
Here’s how each country ranked:
The Importance of Sustainability
While all three sub-indexes are important to consider when ranking a country’s pension system, sustainability is particularly significant in the modern context. This is because our global population is increasingly skewing older, meaning an influx of people will soon be cashing in their retirement funds. As a consequence, countries need to ensure their pension systems are sustainable over the long-term.
There are several factors that affect a pension system’s sustainability, including a region’s private pension system, the state pension age, and the balance between workers and retirees.
The country with the most sustainable pension system is Denmark. Not only does the country have a strong basic pension plan—it also has a mandatory occupational scheme, which means employers are obligated by law to provide pension plans for their employees.
Adequacy versus Sustainability
Several countries scored high on adequacy but ranked low when it came to sustainability. Here’s a comparison of both measures, and how each country scored:
Ireland took first place for adequacy, but scored relatively low on the sustainability front at 27th place. This can be partly explained by Ireland’s low level of occupational coverage. The country also has a rapidly aging population, which skews the ratio of workers to retirees. By 2050, Ireland’s worker to retiree ratio is estimated to go from 5:1 to 2:1.
Similar to Ireland, Spain ranks high in adequacy but places extremely low in sustainability.
There are several possible explanations for this—while occupational pension schemes exist, they are optional and participation is low. Spain also has a low fertility rate, which means their worker-to-retiree ratio is expected to decrease.
Steps Towards a Better System
All countries have room for improvement—even the highest-ranking ones. Some general recommendations from MMGPI on how to build a better pension system include:
- Increasing the age of retirement: Helps maintain a more balanced worker-to-retiree ratio.
- Enforcing mandatory occupational schemes: Makes employers obligated to provide pension plans for their employees.
- Limiting access to benefits: Prevents people from dipping into their savings preemptively, thus preserving funds until retirement.
- Establishing strong pension assets to fund future liabilities: Ideally, these assets are more than 100% of a country’s GDP.
Pension systems across the globe are under an increasing amount of pressure. It’s time for countries to take a hard look at their pension systems to make sure they’re ready to support their aging population.
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