When things go awry, we often discover that wishful thinking played a role. As we've seen, it can affect our perceptions, our interpretations of those perceptions, the inferences we draw from those interpretations, and our choices of responses. We continue now exploring how it can affect that first stage, our perceptions.
- Sunk cost effect
- The sunk cost effect makes us more likely to continue along lines where we already have investments. With respect to perceptions, it causes us to acquire more information about familiar options, as opposed to options about which we know less. Since our preferences (our wishes) often set priorities, sunk costs tend to curtail acquisition of information about options that are inconsistent with our wishes, even when those options have superior potential. Our wished-for options therefore seem superior if for no other reason than that we know more about them.
- Have you set research priorities according to what you wish were true? Have you invested in learning more about the familiar, or do you set priorities on the basis of objectively assessed potential?
- Sunk time effect
- Given the analogy between time and other finite resources, it's surprising that investigations into a "sunk time effect" have begun so recently. But evidence does suggest its existence. [Navarro 2009] Having spent time investigating what we wish were true, we're more likely to continue along those lines, even when other options are more promising.
- Have you spent so much time on preferred options that you feel you have no time to examine alternatives? Was there an earlier point when you could have considered alternatives?
- Anchoring is the tendency to rely too much on information received first, compared to later arriving information. The first information sets an "anchor." It becomes the standard against which we evaluate all subsequent information. When we gather information in support of our wishes first, as is often done, our wishes can become anchors.
- Imagine how you would have evaluated later-arriving information if it had arrived earlier. Would it have had a different effect then? Would it have changed the questions you asked?
- Dunning-Kruger effect
- The Dunning-Kruger When we set learning priorities based
on our preferred approaches, we bias
our learning in favor of our preferences
and at the expense of possibly
superior alternativeseffect has several consequences. [Kruger 1999] It includes the tendency of people who are less competent to overestimate their own competence, the tendency of the more competent to underestimate their own competence, and everyone's tendency to confuse confidence with competence. The least competent are often the most confident; the least confident are often the most competent. We're less likely to accept advice from cautious experts than from confident ignoramuses.
- Is the substance of the advice you receive truly all that matters? Is the manner of the advisor, whether confident or cautious, a factor in your evaluation of that advice? Is the degree of alignment between that advice and what you wanted to hear completely irrelevant?
We'll investigate how wishful thinking affects our interpretation of data next time. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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For more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, see "The Paradox of Confidence," Point Lookout for January 7, 2009; "How to Reject Expert Opinion: II," Point Lookout for January 4, 2012; "Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual," Point Lookout for August 29, 2012; "Overconfidence at Work," Point Lookout for April 15, 2015; "Wishful Significance: II," Point Lookout for December 23, 2015; "Cognitive Biases and Influence: I," Point Lookout for July 6, 2016; "The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words," Point Lookout for November 16, 2016; and "Risk Acceptance: One Path," Point Lookout for March 3, 2021.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Breaking the Rules
- Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who
break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: II
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions
of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool
called the Johari window.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Wishful Significance: II
- When we're beset by seemingly unresolvable problems, we sometimes conclude that "wishful thinking"
was the cause. Wishful thinking can result from errors in assessing the significance of our observations.
Here's a second group of causes of erroneous assessment of significance.
- What Keeps Things the Way They Are
- Changing processes can be challenging. Sometimes the difficulty arises from our tendency to overlook
other processes that work to keep things the way they are. If we begin by changing those "regulator
processes" the difficulty can sometimes vanish.
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Project Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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