Archive for March 23rd, 2012

March 23, 2012

Confirmation Bias

uriah heep

Confirmation bias is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about gun control, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.

Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series), and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

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March 23, 2012

Semmelweis Reflex

ignaz by Ron Randall

The Semmelweis reflex is a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.

The term originated from Ignaz Semmelweis, who discovered that childbed fever mortality rates could be reduced ten-fold if doctors would wash their hands (we would now say disinfect) with a chlorine solution between having contact with infected patients and non-infected patients. His hand-washing suggestions were rejected by his contemporaries.

March 23, 2012

Tilting at Windmills


Tilting at windmills is an English idiom which means attacking imaginary enemies. The word ’tilt,’ in this context, comes from jousting. The phrase is sometimes used to describe confrontations where adversaries are incorrectly perceived, or courses of action that are based on misinterpreted or misapplied heroic, romantic, or idealistic justifications.

The phrase derives from an episode in the novel ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes. In the novel, Don Quixote fights windmills that he imagines to be giants. Quixote sees the windmill blades as the giant’s arms, for instance.

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March 23, 2012


liars poker

Bad Beat

Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive. This term is closely associated with ‘steam’ and some consider the terms equivalent, but ‘steam’ typically indicates more anger and intensity. Placing an opponent on tilt or dealing with being on tilt oneself is an important aspect of poker. It is a relatively frequent occurrence due to frustration, animosity against other players, or simply bad luck. Experienced players recommend learning to recognize that one is experiencing tilt and avoid allowing it to influence one’s play.

The most likely origin of the word ’tilt’ is as a reference to tilting a pinball machine. The frustration from seeing the ball follow a path towards the gap between the flippers can lead to the player physically tilting the machine (in an attempt to guide the ball towards the flippers). However, in doing so, some games will flash the word ‘TILT’ and freeze the flippers, causing the ball to be lost. The metaphor here being over-aggression due to frustration leads to severely detrimental gameplay.

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March 23, 2012

Selective Perception


Selective Perception is a broad term to identify behavior where people tend to ‘see things’ based on their particular frame of reference. Selective perception may refer to any number of cognitive biases in psychology related to the way expectations affect perception.

For instance, several studies have shown that students who were told they were consuming alcoholic beverages (which in fact were non-alcoholic) perceived themselves as being ‘drunk,’ exhibited fewer physiological symptoms of social stress, and drove a simulated car similarly to other subjects who had actually consumed alcohol. The result is somewhat similar to the placebo effect.

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March 23, 2012

Hostile Media Effect

us media bias

The hostile media effect refers to the finding that people with strong biases toward an issue (partisans) perceive media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality.

Proponents of the hostile media effect argue that this finding cannot be attributed to the presence of bias in the news reports, since partisans from opposing sides of an issue rate the same coverage as biased against their side and biased in favor of the opposing side. The phenomenon was first proposed and studied experimentally by Robert Vallone, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper.

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March 23, 2012

Empathy Gap

Thinking Feeling

A hot-cold empathy gap is a cognitive bias in which a person underestimates the influences of visceral drives, and instead attributes behavior primarily to other, nonvisceral factors. The term was coined by psychologist and behavioral economist George Loewenstein. He argued that human understanding is ‘state dependent.’ For example, when one is angry, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one to be happy, and vice versa; when one is blindly in love with someone, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one not to be. The implications of this were explored in the realm of sexual decision-making, where young men in an unaroused ‘cold state’ fail to predict that when they are in an aroused ‘hot state’ they will be more likely to make risky sexual decisions, such as not using a condom.

The empathy gap has also been an important idea in research about the causes of bullying. In one study examining a central theory that, ‘only by identifying with a victim’s social suffering can one understand its devastating effects,’ researchers created five experiments. The first four examined the degree to which participants in a game who were not excluded could estimate the social pain of those participants who were excluded. The findings were that those were not socially excluded consistently underestimated the pain felt by those who were excluded.

March 23, 2012

Illusion of Transparency

The illusion of transparency is a tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which their personal mental state is known by others. Another manifestation of the illusion is a tendency for people to overestimate how well they understand others’ personal mental states. This cognitive bias is similar to the illusion of asymmetric insight.

Psychologist Elizabeth Newton created a simple test that she regarded as an illustration of the phenomenon. She would tap out a well-known song, such as ‘Happy Birthday’ or the national anthem, with her finger and have the test subject guess the song. People usually estimate that the song will be guessed correctly in about 50 percent of the tests, but only 3 percent pick the correct song. The tapper can hear every note and the lyrics in his or her head; however, the observer, with no access to what the tapper is thinking, only hears a rhythmic tapping.

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March 23, 2012

Computer-mediated Reality

mediated reality

Computer-mediated reality refers to the ability to add to, subtract information from, or otherwise manipulate one’s perception of reality through the use of a wearable computer or hand-held device. Typically, it is the user’s visual perception of the environment that is mediated.

This is done through the use of some kind of electronic device, such as an EyeTap device or smart phone, which can act as a visual filter between the real world and what the user perceives. Computer-mediated reality has been used to enhance visual perception as an aid to the visually impaired: mediated reality was achieved by taking a video input stream that would have normally reached the user’s eyes, and computationally altering it into a more useful form.

March 23, 2012

Thatcher Effect

thatcher effect

The Thatcher effect is a phenomenon characterized by difficulty detecting local feature changes in an upside down face, despite identical changes being obvious in an upright face. It is named after British former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on whose photograph the effect has been most famously demonstrated by Peter Thompson of the University of York (UK) in 1980. The effect is thought to be due to psychological processes involved in face perception which are tuned especially to upright faces. Faces seem unique despite the fact that they are very similar. It has been hypothesized that we develop processes to differentiate between faces that rely as much on the configuration (the structural relationship between individual features on the face) as the details of individual face features, such as the eyes, nose and mouth. When a face is upside down, the configural processing cannot take place, and so minor differences are more difficult to detect.

This effect is not present in people who have some forms of prosopagnosia, a disorder where face processing is impaired, usually acquired after brain injury or illness. This suggests that their specific brain injury may damage the process that analyses facial structures. Rhesus monkeys also show the Thatcher effect, raising the possibility that some brain mechanisms involved in processing faces may have evolved in a common ancestor 30+ million years ago. The basic principles of the Thatcher Effect in face perception have also been applied to biological motion. The local inversion of individual dots is hard, and in some cases, nearly impossible to recognize when the entire figure is inverted.

March 23, 2012

Perceptual Adaptation

reversing goggles

Perceptual adaptation is the means by which the brain accounts for the differences that the subject may witness, particularly alternations in the visual field. For example, if an individual’s visual field is altered forty five degrees left, the brain accounts for the difference allowing the individual to function normally. The brain plays a crucial role in the inner workings of vision. The world that one perceives is processed via the brain. Images sensed through the eyes is relayed to the visual cortex of the brain, and if vision is altered slightly, the brain accounts for the difference and will allow one to perceive the world as ‘normal.’ Over time, the brain processes even acute difference as normal.

Psychologist George M. Stratton was intrigued by the idea of perceptual adaptation. Because the retina receives images upside down, he was intrigued to see what happens when the brain receives an image that is right side up. Stratton conducted experiments in the 1890s in which he wore a reversing telescope for 21½ hours over three days. To his disappointment, his vision was unchanged. After removing the glasses, ‘normal vision was restored instantaneously and without any disturbance in the natural appearance or position of objects.’ Determined to find results, Stratton wore the telescoping glasses for eight days straight. By day four, his vision was upright (not inverted). However on day five, images appeared upright until he concentrated on them; then they became inverted again.

March 23, 2012



Dorodango is a Japanese art form in which earth and water are molded to create a delicate shiny sphere, resembling a marble or billiard ball. The phrase is derived from ‘doro’ (‘mud’) and ‘dango’ (a round dumpling, created from pressed rice flour). Making the basic dorodango is a traditional pastime for school children.

More recently the process has been refined into the art of the ‘hikaru’ (‘shining’) dorodango, which has a glossy or patterned surface. The core of the ball is made of basic mud, and further dusted with finer-grained soil before the water is drawn out through various methods- even sealing the ball inside a plastic bag and letting the water evaporate and then condense. Once the ball is fully tempered and hardened, it is polished by hand and displayed.