Category : Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking

Cognitive Bias: Anchoring

Anchoring: According to the principles of anchoring, our brains tend to latch on the first piece of information we receive and then use this as a benchmark to measure everything else against.

Even when you know about anchoring, it’s still very difficult to avoid its effects. Some studies have shown that even arbitrary numbers and completely unrelated numbers can have a huge effect on our judgements. The prime example being Dan Ariely’s study where has asked his audience to write down the last two digits of their social security number and then separately they were asked to bid on a number of items the value of which was unknown. What the study found was that people with higher digits would submit bids that were 60-120 % higher than those with low numbered digits.

In negotiations, whatever is mentioned as the first figure, is the anchor and the negotiators will unconsciously measure every other number in comparison to this. You’ll often hear people say that in a negotiation whoever speaks first loses, but to take advantage of the anchoring effect make sure YOU set the anchor. If you want to sell a product for £200, don’t mention £300 as your starting price, say £400. If you then bring the price down to £200, while intellectually we probably understand what’s going on, our brains can’t really ignore that first figure and you’ll see the new price as a bargain.

It’s also the reason sales work so well, Was £500, Now £150 – wow. Compared to £500, what is £150? The majority of the time, that £150 is what the retailer was planning on charging anyway and the higher Was price is just there to provide an anchor.

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Critical Thinking

Cognitive Bias: Confirmation Bias

Until your experience develops enough to know when you can trust your instincts and challenge you assumptions, you need to learn how to manage it and reduce how often you jump to conclusions.

Our thoughts are tainted by our experiences and our minds are influenced by a myriad of biases and heuristics. By understanding these biases and through deliberate practice, we’re going to learn how to limit their effects on our judgements.

Confirmation Bias


For aspiring superthinkers, the most damaging fallacy is confirmation bias; when gathering and analysing evidence, it’s important to stay objective. If you’ve got absolutely no idea about the situation, then this can be a little easier, but if you’ve already formed a hypothesis, chances are you’ll fall into the trap.

Confirmation bias is when you ignore evidence that proves your hypothesis wrong and only seek or pay attention to evidence that supports your hypothesis.

University students are particularly susceptible to this when writing essays. They often tend to form an argument and then hunt for theories to back up their claims – I know this because I’ve done it myself.

Being aware of confirmation bias and reminding yourself of its existence can on its own make you take a step back, but in the next section, we’ll explore some tools which help you to avoid a blinkered approach.


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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Faulty Deduction

The the last in this series of logical fallacies focuses on the mistakes we all make when making decisions and weighing information.


Ignoring evidenced gained by a scientific approach in favour of firsthand stories or anecdotes.

Example: “My grandfather smoked 40 cigarettes per day, and he lived until he was 100, so why should I stop smoking?”


Assuming that the beliefs or characteristics of an individual apply to the entire group

Example: “The recent terrorist attacks were carried out by Islamic groups. Therefore all Muslims must be terrorists.”


Conversely, assuming that the beliefs of a group apply to an individual member

Example: “Many Conservatives don’t believe in evolution, he’s a conservative, so he must also be a creationist.”

Design Fallacy

Assuming that because something is explained or visualised in a positive way, it must be truer.

Example: “Heaven.”

Gambler’s Fallacy

The assumption that the history of outcomes will affect future outcomes.

Example: “The roulette wheel has landed on Black 5 times in a row, I’m going to bet on Red because it’s bound to be read now.”

Hasty Generalisation

Drawing a conclusion from a narrow sample group.

Example: “I was almost hit today by two middle-aged women, women are terrible drivers.”

Jumping to Conclusions

Coming to a conclusion without considering all the evidence and possibilities.

Example: “He said he was working late, but I know he wasn’t in the office. He must be cheating on me”

Middle Ground

Assuming that because two opposing arguments are valid, that the truth will be found in some middle ground.

Example: “I think the car is worth £1,000, but you think it’s worth £5,000, so let’s meet in the middle at £3,000.”

Perfectionist Fallacy

Only valuing perfection and rejecting any solution which is less than perfect.

Example: “What’s the point in introducing stricter gun control, criminals will still be able to get hold of guns anyway?”

Relativist Fallacy

Rejecting a claim or idea because of a belief that the truth is relative.

Example: “That might be true for you, but it isn’t for me.”

Sweeping Generalisation

Applying a general rule too widely.

Example: “These boys are disruptive because they were raised by single mothers.”

Undistributed Middle

Assuming that because two things share characteristics that they are the same thing.

Example: “A scientific theory can be unproven. Evolution is a theory; therefore, evolution is an unproven idea.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Cause and Effect

Circular Logic

A conclusion which relies on a premise which is based on the conclusion.

Example: “The Bible is the word of God – I know that because it says it in the Bible and it must be true because the Bible is the word of God.”

Denying the Antecedent

Assuming that a cause is based on the effect when there are multiple possible causes.

Example: “If you get a good degree, you’ll get a good job. If you don’t get a degree, you won’t get a good job.”

Ignoring a Common Cause

Claiming a link between 2 events, when there is a 3rd event which is likely to be the cause.

Example: “During the 60s  there was a sexual revolution, because of that people are dying of AIDS.”

Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Claiming that 2 events that occur together must have a cause-effect relationship and assuming that correlation = cause.

Example: “Smart people wear glasses, so wearing glasses must make you smarter.”

Affirming the Consequent

Assuming that there’s only one explanation for an observation you’ve made.

Example: “Marriage usually results in children, so that’s why marriage exists.”

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

The claim that because one event followed another, it was caused by it. Another cause-effect fallacy.

Example: “Since Obama became president, ISIS has become more powerful. Therefore, Obama has caused the rise of ISIS.”

Two Wrongs Make a Right

If someone is wronged, then another wrong will cancel it out

Example: “They killed 100 of our soldiers, so we need to kill 100 of their soldiers to make it right.”

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Critical Thinking Logic & Reasoning Smart Thinking

Logical Fallacies: Manipulating Content

Converse to attacking a person or group to discredit their argument, manipulating content takes a person’s argument and twists it into something entirely different or to manipulate your argument to make it appear more persuasive.

Confirmation Bias

When you cherry pick evidence which confirms your existing beliefs, but ignore all evidence to the contrary as erroneous or irrelevant.

Example: Paying more attention to the 5 studies which show a link between vaccines and autism than the 1,000+ studies which disprove any link.

Suppressed Evidence

The deliberate neglect of relevant evidence/information which counters your own argument.

Example: “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and so we should invade.” This ignores the reports that show no evidence of such weapons.

Biased Generalising

Using an unrepresentative sample of people to bolster your argument.

Example: “75% of people would vote for Bernie Sanders” Based on a poll only of students.

Ad Hoc Rescue

Trying to protect a belief or idea by revising the argument each time a flaw is found.

Example: “Apart from the freedom to live in any EU country, the millions of jobs it sustains, increased security, strong business links, lower import costs and greater political influence,  what has the European Union ever done for us?”

False Dilemma

Positioning two options as the only two options and deliberately hiding or suppressing alternatives.

Example: “You have to choose between the Republicans or the Democrats.”

Misleading Vividness

By describing a situation in detail, even if that situation is rare or unlikely in order to convince that it is more of a problem that it truly is.

Example: “After gay marriage was legalised, school libraries now stock same-sex literature. This means that primary school children are exposed to gay fairy tales and books which promote a gay lifestyle”.

Red Herring

Intentional introduction of irrelevant material to distract from the argument and alter the conclusion.

Example: “The Prime Minister doesn’t need to disclose his tax returns. After all, there are corporations who have billions of pounds in unpaid tax.”

Slippery Slope

The assumption that a single small step in one direction will lead to an inevitable chain of increasingly worse events.

Example: “If we introduce stricter gun control, the government will be more controlling and we’ll be living in a dystopian country”.


Suggesting a claim or argument that is impossible to prove false, purely because there is no way to check it’s validity.

Example: “He is a Prophet and speaks the message of God.”

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