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Cognitive errors: An overview
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Cognitive errors: An overview

We observe the world and think about it but it is very important that we focus on growing our metacognition

Post by BISMA FAROOQ SHEIKH on Thursday, April 20, 2023

First slide

Psychology is the science of behaviour and it scientifically studies everyday observations and human cognitions however we show many biases while thinking and acting without even realising. Some of these are listed below:


Dunning –Cruger effect

The tendency of people with low skills or expertise in a specific area to overestimate their ability or knowledge. They believe they are more efficient and apt. This effect was introduced by David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999. They conducted a study in which subjects were administered a test and they were asked how much they would have scored; they anticipated more correct answers than they actually give. It is because novices lack metacognitive ability; they lack understanding of the nuances and the complexities of the subject matter. For instance when we appear in any competitive exam for the 1st time without preparation we are more confident as compared to when we go fully prepared as goes the saying,  ‘the more you know the more you realise you don’t know”. The opposite of this effect is imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome

It is a specific form of intellectual-doubt; more commonly found among high achievers. They underestimate their knowledge, skills and experience. They seek perfectionism, are victims of analysis by paralysis. They feel they don’t deserve the accomplishments they have made.

Curse of Knowledge effect

The term “curse of knowledge” was coined by economists Colin Cramerer, Lowenstein and Martin Weber in 1989.  It is a cognitive bias in which more knowledgeable and expert persons assume that others already have basic knowledge required to understand. In other words, experts have difficulty in empathising with the challenges that novices struggle with. They unconsciously think it is as easy for others as it is for them.

Fan effect

It is a psychological phenomenon that defines that the more things we learn about a concept, the more time it takes to retrieve during recognition tests and so increases the error rate. For e.g. a student who knows ten cognitive biases will take more time to answer the question related to cognitive biases than the student who has studied only five. Information gets mingled. This effect was introduced by cognitive psychologist, John Anderson in 1974.

Pygmalion effect

It is a tendency among people to perform better when better is expected from them. It has high applications in teaching and parenting. When teachers and parents encourage children and expect success from them; they work hard and succeed. It requires four elements: Proper climate, feedback, input and output. This effect was propounded by Rosenthal in 1976 and hence called Rosenthal effect also. Its opposite is Golem effect.





Golem Effect

It is a tendency among people to perform poor when poor performance is expected from them. For instance when teacher has lower expectations on students; as a result their performance drops as they receive negative feedback only and no encouragement or positive expectation.

Bystander Effect

It is a tendency among people to underestimate the emergency or someone’s need for help when others are present. Everyone thinks that others will help; as a result nobody comes forward quickly. For e.g. ; a man struggling to cross a road on a busy street goes unnoticed.

Flynn Effect

It is an observed rise in intelligence and knowledge among people over time and across generation. For example 5year old of 2022 is more intelligent and knowledgeable than 5year old of 2010. It was propounded by a psychologist, Flynn in 1984.

Hawthorne Effect

It is defined as the alteration/ affectation of behaviour when a person is aware that he/she is being observed. For e.g. we behave in a more conscious and disciplined manner in a park when we realise that someone is observing us.

Barnum Effect

It is a cognitive bias wherein we believe the generic information as if it specifically applies to us. For example believing in horoscopes, quotes on Monday borns; personality of people with my name.

Nocebo effect

It is a tendency to feel negative anticipated outcomes. For example a patient checks the side effects of the prescribed drugs and later starts feeling the same;

Halo effect

It is a phenomenon wherein a person’s judgement towards a particular person or object is biased. He/she assumes that the person possess other good qualities too just because one desirable quality is in them. For e.g; we perceive that good looking teacher/ speaker will be efficient too or for e.g we perceive a social person will be charactered too. Its opposite is horn effect.

Horn effect

It is a tendency to develop negative holistic impression about someone or something due to the presence of one negative or undesirable feature; for instance assuming that the student who talks less knows little, or if a person is reserved assuming that he must be arrogant and unhelpful too.


Take away: We observe the world and think about it but it is very important that we focus on growing our metacognition; about own thinking and learning. We need to reflect whether our thoughts are the resultant of logic or self fulfilling prophecy. We need to ask ourselves is, what I see really there or this is what I choose to see. We need to act like scientists, consistently evaluating our schemas, testing them, revising them in light of new experience.  We need to be open to new experiences. Flexibility and adaptability should be there.  We should introspect as it leads to self insight which is the key to self improvement. In other words, until we reflect over and acknowledge/accept our biases we cannot change; as those who don’t acknowledge or accept denies and try to rationalize their irrationality by all means. Let’s conclude with the famous quote by Carl Rogers: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself, just as I am, then I can change”.



(Author can be mailed at: Email: sheikhbismafarooq@gmail.com)

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