Measuring Perceptions of Uncertainty
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Measuring Perceptions of Uncertainty

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What is the difference between an event that is probable and one that is highly likely?

The two terms seem mostly interchangeable, but each individual’s interpretation is actually highly subjective. That means that when stakes are high, such as for the intelligence community or for high-ranking government officials, a slight misinterpretation in the meaning of these phrases could be a matter of life and death.

Sherman Kent and the CIA

Sherman Kent, often described as the “father of intelligence analysis”, was a CIA analyst that recognized the problem of using imprecise statements of uncertainty. Particularly, Kent was jolted by how policymakers interpreted the phrase “serious possibility” in a national estimate about the odds of a Soviet attack on Yugoslavia in 1951. After asking around, he found that some thought this meant a 20% chance of attack, while others ascribed an 80% chance to the phrase. Most people were somewhere in the middle.

Inspired by Kent’s work, a later study asked 23 NATO officers to assign actual numbers to terms like “probably”, “almost certain”, “little chance”, “unlikely”, and other words of estimated probability.

The results were fascinating:

NATO Officer study

Interpretations are all over the map. The words are not precise to begin with, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that people attribute meaning to these phrases based on their personalities, backgrounds, and prior experiences. Context also matters.

How Do We Interpret These Terms?

Although the consequences are less severe for us civilians, we are stuck in the same quandary today.

We’re almost certain a deal will go through, or there’s little chance a candidate will win the presidency. People interpret these terms differently, and these small differences still impact our lives.

Reddit user zonination set out to recreate the poll to see if perceptions of words today matched up with data from the study inspired by Sherman Kent. The results below are very similar, and can help us communicate more clearly, particularly when the stakes are high.

Perceptions of Uncertainty Words

The same idea was also taken a step further, to look at potential misunderstandings that can occur when we use phrases instead of hard numbers.

For example, one person’s a few is another person’s several:

Perceptions of Numbers

If you want to communicate with precision, it’s best to use numbers or specific odds.

Otherwise, be aware that a term like “improbable” can have a considerable range of interpretations – from 0% to 50% – depending on who you are talking to!

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Misc

24 Cognitive Biases That Are Warping Your Perception of Reality

The world isn’t as it seems—here are some of the most important cognitive biases that are messing with how you think the world works, and why.

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We are each entitled to our own personal world view.

But unfortunately, when it comes to interpreting information and trying to make objective sense of reality, human brains are hard-wired to make all kinds of mental mistakes that can impact our ability to make rational judgments.

In total, there are over 180 cognitive biases that interfere with how we process data, think critically, and perceive reality.

Flawed Human Reasoning

There is no simple way to get around these basic human instincts, but one thing that we can do is understand the specific mistakes we make and why.

Today’s infographic comes to us from School of Thought, a non-profit dedicated to spreading critical thinking. The graphic describes 24 of the key biases that warp our sense of reality, providing useful examples along the way.

24 Cognitive Biases That Are Warping Your Perception of Reality

At the beginning of the infographic, you may have noticed illustrations of two gentlemen.

In case you were wondering, those happen to represent Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two of the leading social scientists known for their contributions to this field. Not only did they pioneer work around cognitive biases starting in the late 1960s, but their partnership also resulted in a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.

Biases Distorting Reality

Here are some of the biases we found most interesting from the list:

Declinism:
You remember the past as better than it was, and expect the future to be worse than it is likely to be. This is an interesting one, since statistically this is one of the most peaceful and prosperous times in history—yet the 24-hour news cycle rarely reflects this. (For a good example how the world is improving, see these six charts)

Just World Hypothesis:
Your preference for a just world makes you presume that it exists. Of course, it’s much more uncomfortable to think that the world is unfair, but by understanding this you will make more accurate judgments about people and situations.

Belief Bias
If a conclusion supports your existing beliefs, you’ll rationalize anything that supports it. In other words, instead of willingly looking at new information, we are primed to defend our own ideas without actually questioning them.

Framing Effect:
Context and delivery can have a big impact on how a story is interpreted. We must have the humility to recognize that we can be manipulated, and work to limit the effect that framing has on our critical thinking.

The Curse of Knowledge
Ever try to explain something you know intricately and have worked on for many years? It’s hard, because you’ve internalized everything you’ve learned, and now you forget how to explain it. This bias is similar—you know something inside and out, and what is obvious to you is not to others.

Reactance:
Sometimes we all get the urge to do the opposite of what we’re told. Nobody likes being constrained. The only problem is that when we’re in this situation, there is a tendency to overreact and to throw any logic out of the window.

Spotlight Effect:
Because we each live inside our own heads, our natural focus is on what we’re thinking and doing. We project this onto others, and we overestimate how much they notice about how we look or how we act.

Want to see more on cognitive biases? Here are 188 of them in one infographic.

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Misc

Which Countries Have the Most Similar Values?

Where you’re from greatly influencers how you view the world. Here’s a look at the core values in 94 different countries.

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Country Values

Which Countries Value the Same Things?

Our culture can have significant impacts on our belief systems and our values.

In fact, research has shown that our cultural influences can rewire our brains, which can impact our visual perceptions and how we view the world around us.

Because of this, where we’re from can greatly influence what we prioritize in life. This graphic by Anders Sundell illustrates the primary values of 94 different countries, and highlights which places share similar values.

Methodology

Sundell used data from the World Values Survey, an international survey that interviews hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe.

For the purposes of this graphic, Sundell focused on one specific section of the survey that asked respondents to rate various aspects of their life on a scale of one (very important) to four (not important at all). Six aspects were included: family, friends, leisure time, politics, work, and religion.

From there, Sundell calculated the median score for each country and identified their primary value, then grouped them based on their similarities. On this netgraph, each country is connected to three other countries that share the most similar values.

Generally speaking, countries that prioritize friends and leisure are concentrated on the far left of the graphic, whereas countries that value religion and work fall more to the right.

Each Country’s Primary Values

Interestingly, family came first for all 94 countries—except Indonesia, where religion was considered most important.

Because of this, Sundell identified each country’s primary value besides family, which was much more diverse across the board:

Abbr.CountryContinentPrimary Value (Exc. Family)
AL🇦🇱 AlbaniaEuropeWork
AD🇦🇩 AndorraEuropeLeisure
AR🇦🇷 ArgentinaSouth AmericaWork
AM🇦🇲 ArmeniaAsiaWork
AU🇦🇺 AustraliaOceaniaFriends
AT🇦🇹 AustriaEuropeFriends
AZ🇦🇿 AzerbaijanAsiaWork
BD🇧🇩 BangladeshAsiaReligion
BY🇧🇾 BelarusEuropeWork
BO🇧🇴 BoliviaSouth AmericaWork
BA🇧🇦 Bosnia and HerzegovinaEuropeWork
BR🇧🇷 BrazilSouth AmericaWork
BG🇧🇬 BulgariaEuropeWork
CA🇨🇦 CanadaNorth AmericaLeisure
CL🇨🇱 ChileSouth AmericaLeisure
CN🇨🇳 ChinaAsiaWork
CO🇨🇴 ColombiaSouth AmericaWork
HR🇭🇷 CroatiaEuropeWork
CY🇨🇾 CyprusEuropeFriends
CZ🇨🇿 Czech RepublicEuropeFriends
DK🇩🇰 DenmarkEuropeFriends
EC🇪🇨 EcuadorSouth AmericaWork
EG🇪🇬 EgyptAfricaReligion
EE🇪🇪 EstoniaEuropeFriends
ET🇪🇹 EthiopiaAfricaReligion
FI🇫🇮 FinlandEuropeLeisure
FR🇫🇷 FranceEuropeWork
GE🇬🇪 GeorgiaAsiaWork
DE🇩🇪 GermanyEuropeFriends
GH🇬🇭 GhanaAfricaWork
GR🇬🇷 GreeceEuropeWork
GT🇬🇹 GuatemalaNorth AmericaWork
HT🇭🇹 HaitiNorth AmericaWork
HK🇭🇰 Hong KongAsiaFriends
HU🇭🇺 HungaryEuropeFriends
IS🇮🇸 IcelandEuropeFriends
IN🇮🇳 IndiaAsiaWork
ID🇮🇩 IndonesiaAsiaReligion
IR🇮🇷 IranAsiaWork
IQ🇮🇶 IraqAsiaReligion
IT🇮🇹 ItalyEuropeWork
JP🇯🇵 JapanAsiaLeisure
JO🇯🇴 JordanAsiaReligion
KZ🇰🇿 KazakhstanAsiaWork
KW🇰🇼 KuwaitAsiaReligion
KG🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanAsiaFriends
LB🇱🇧 LebanonAsiaWork
LY🇱🇾 LibyaAfricaReligion
LT🇱🇹 LithuaniaEuropeWork
MO🇲🇴 MacaoAsiaFriends
MY🇲🇾 MalaysiaAsiaReligion
MX🇲🇽 MexicoNorth AmericaWork
ME🇲🇪 MontenegroEuropeWork
MA🇲🇦 MoroccoAfricaReligion
MM🇲🇲 MyanmarAsiaReligion
NL🇳🇱 NetherlandsEuropeFriends
NZ🇳🇿 New ZealandOceaniaFriends
NI🇳🇮 NicaraguaNorth AmericaWork
NG🇳🇬 NigeriaAfricaReligion
MK🇲🇰 North MacedoniaEuropeWork
NO🇳🇴 NorwayEuropeFriends
PK🇵🇰 PakistanEuropeReligion
PE🇵🇪 PeruSouth AmericaWork
PH🇵🇭 PhilippinesAsiaWork
PL🇵🇱 PolandEuropeWork
PT🇵🇹 PortugalEuropeWork
PR🇵🇷 Puerto RicoNorth AmericaWork
QA🇶🇦 QatarAsiaReligion
RO🇷🇴 RomaniaEuropeWork
RU🇷🇺 RussiaAsiaFriends
RW🇷🇼 RwandaAfricaFriends
RS🇷🇸 SerbiaEuropeFriends
SG🇸🇬 SingaporeAsiaFriends
SK🇸🇰 SlovakiaEuropeWork
SI🇸🇮 SloveniaEuropeWork
ZA🇿🇦 South AfricaAfricaWork
KR🇰🇷 South KoreaAsiaFriends
ES🇪🇸 SpainEuropeWork
SE🇸🇪 SwedenEuropeFriends
CH🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEuropeFriends
TW🇹🇼 TaiwanAsiaWork
TJ🇹🇯 TajikistanAsiaReligion
TH🇹🇭 ThailandAsiaWork
TT🇹🇹 Trinidad and TobagoSouth AmericaReligion
TN🇹🇳 TunisiaAfricaReligion
TR🇹🇷 TurkeyAsiaFriends
UA🇺🇦 UkraineEuropeWork
GB🇬🇧 United KingdomEuropeFriends
US🇺🇸 United StatesNorth AmericaFriends
UY🇺🇾 UruguaySouth AmericaWork
UZ🇺🇿 UzbekistanAsiaWork
VN🇻🇳 VietnamAsiaWork
YE🇾🇪 YemenAsiaReligion
ZW🇿🇼 ZimbabweAfricaWork

After family, work was the most valued, with 46 different countries identifying it as their second-highest priority. Friends came second, followed by religion, and then lastly, leisure.

Work

Almost half of the countries on the list perceive work as the most important aspect of their lives, apart from family.

South American countries, in particular, put an emphasis on work, with seven of nine South American countries valuing work over friends and politics. The only outliers on the continent were Chile (leisure), and Trinidad and Tobago (religion).

Friends

Friends were identified as a top priority in 25 of the 94 countries on the list. Europe in particular valued friendship, especially in Norway and Sweden.

While these Nordic countries prioritize their existing friendships, research shows that they aren’t generally keen on making new ones. A global survey found that expats in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark found it extremely difficult to make new friends.

Religion

18 of the 94 countries ranked religion as a top value.

These countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, are predominantly Islamic except for a few. For instance, in Trinidad and Tobago, the largest religious group is Christianity.

Leisure

Only five countries on the list ranked leisure as a top priority—Japan, Canada, Andorra, Chile, and Finland. Finland takes leisure seriously. Its capital, Helsinki, was recognized as the number one city in the world for work-life balance. And Canada’s capital, Ottawa, ranked sixth on the ranking.

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