In our evolutionary past, whoever thought for too long got killed by the predator’s jaws. So, quick decision-making was rewarded. We are the descendants of such quick decision makers and, therefore, we still have many cognitive biases sitting in our head and we are not conscious of these biases.
In my previous posts, I have written about some biases such as the planning fallacy, overconfidence effect, confirmation bias, halo effect, outcome bias, and affective forecasting. Understanding these biases can help us recognize them in our daily lives and we may, in turn, provide ourselves an opportunity to tune our behavior and perspective. In this post, let us understand some more popular cognitive biases.
Availability Bias is a cognitive bias in which we over weigh the evidence that easily comes to our mind. Our mind assumes that things come easily to our mind because they are more common or frequent in the real world and, hence, should hold more weight in the world. But, this can be grossly misleading. We create a picture of the world using the examples that most easily come to our mind, and it need not represent the reality; in fact, it often doesn’t.
Availability Bias is at the root of many other human cognitive biases and culture-level biases. An example of an availability bias is how we quickly form an opinion about a city or a person based on evidence that immediately occurs in our mind. ‘Oh! India!, I’ve seen it on TV. It is full of elephants, poverty and rapists.’
The bias is sometimes also rooted from the relative emotion one feels towards the entity. ‘I love New York and I am so comfortable. So, it shouldn’t be nice out there in the west coast then. Definitely not better than NYC.’ The best way to fend off this bias is by spending time with people who think differently than the way you think – people whose experiences and expertise is very different than yours.
Attentional Bias is our tendency of our perception or judgement to be affected by our recurring thoughts. Wikipedia provides an example of attentional bias as: people who frequently think about clothes they wear, pay more attention to the clothes other people wear. We focus our attention only on a few options, while we ignore the rest of the options, to come to conclusions.
Researchers have found that emotional states can highly influence attentional bias. This bias has dramatic impact on the decision-making process of individuals and can lead to wrong decisions. People who have high anxiety or depression levels are more prone to attentional bias.
Often, we pick only a few traits or characteristics of a person or thing and then stereotype the person or thing. For example, we look at a person and think: he is a calm guy, so he won’t know about pubs or he cannot be a salesman. Similarly, some doctors always recommend similar treatments (their favorite treatments) for even different cases.
Social psychologists Tversky and Kahneman have studied several important heuristics and biases and discovered errors associated with their use. Instead of looking at the event in isolation and calculating the probabilities, an individual with representativeness bias will simply ask whether this event seems like other events he has seen before. More often than not, the indiidual will simply recognize an event that is similar to something he has seen elsewhere and conclude, often incorrectly, that this event will be the same, leading us to the wrong kind of thinking. When we see a man running out of a bank, we might assume that he is a robber. What we are doing is using running to represent the activity of robbing. Similarly, if we met someone big, our immediate reaction might be to be intimidated, associating size with aggression.
The below post is influenced by the ideas of Dr. Jonice Webb, a leading psychologist and parental education trainer.
As an individual, we think we know everything about ourselves. But, it can be said with a good degree of certainty that there is a lot that we don’t know about ourselves than what we think we know. There are many things that we don’t know that we don’t know. Unfortunately, we act naïve to think that we are smart and we know everything about ourselves. We don’t appreciate the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know about ourselves. But, it is important to recognize the root-causes of our behaviour and understand and make desirable changes to our behaviour.
Our childhood actually determines a lot of our underlying core emotions and behaviour. Certain things like fight or flight, fear, assertiveness and other core emotions and behavior are influenced heavily by the internal systems you developed in your childhood.
Let’s take an individual who in his or her childhood has often been ignored. Probably, s/he was brought up in a large family of seven children and hence the parents didn’t provide specific attention. Perhaps, his or her father died and his mother was engulfed in her own grief. Perhaps s/he had an autistic elder brother who takes away most of their parents’ attention. Or perhaps his parents are self-centred and paid attention mostly to only what they think and feel. Whatever the reason is, the impact on the child is the same. The child is getting the message: your thoughts and feelings don’t matter. There is specifically nobody who fought for his rights or listened to him in his childhood. He was always given something and was expected to live with it.
With such conditioning, the child will grow into an adult whose default setting is to undervalue and under-attend to his or her own feelings, needs and thoughts. S/he will have difficulty in asking for things, expressing feelings and knowing one’s own needs.
In a sense, s/he is growing up receiving the classic, invisible and subtly conveyed message: Don’t value or express your feelings and needs. Why? Because, they won’t be attended and you will end up disappointed yet again. This is the message that completely kills assertiveness in an individual. Growing up, the individual will make a strong internal system that fighting for one’s rights is useless. The individual becomes fine with being the last person in consideration. ‘Oh! I am not so important. It’s okay don’t bother about me.’ ‘It’s okay, I will adjust with this.’
Being assertive is about getting what you deserve. We all have rights to have what we need. Being assertive is not about changing yourself completely; it is about making a better ‘you’. People think being assertive is about bossing around and telling people what to do, nagging people around, and fighting for things. But, that’s wrong!
Being assertive means standing up for yourself, but not to the disadvantage of other people. If one is assertive, one feels able to tell people that something makes one upset, happy, or confused. If we are passive or fearful, we find it difficult to tell people what we want to happen.
Though these core emotions are influenced by one’s childhood, such behavior, when recognized, can be corrected with conscious effort to change. Being assertive will give you the benefit to express your opinions and feel confident in knowing that they are as good as everyone else’s opinions. As Stephen Covey says “Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us.”
The below article is highly influenced by the ideas of the popular Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Scott Peck.
Delaying Gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live. Delaying Gratification is considered to be possibly the single most important factor for life success.
This tool or process of scheduling is learned by most quite early in life, by about five years of age. At the age of five or six, children may start eating the cake first and then the frost. By the age of ten to twelve, children are already able to sit down on occasion without any parental prompting and complete their homework before they watch television or go out to play.
But, some adolescents fall short of this behavior. Some students, despite having average or better intelligence, have poor grades simply because they don’t work. They skip classes or skip school entirely on the whim of the moment. You may see them playing all day; they find it difficult to understand when exactly they should stop pleasure.
Why do some people don’t develop delay gratification?
But, why does this happen? Why do some people develop a capacity to delay gratification, while others don’t? The answer is not absolutely, scientifically known. The role of genetic factors is unclear. The variables cannot be sufficiently controlled for scientific proof. But, most of the signs rather clearly point to the quality of parenting as the determinant.
All children are terrified of abandonment, and with good reason. This fear of abandonment begins around the age of six months, as soon as the child is able to perceive itself as an individual, separate from its parents. For with this perception of itself as an individual comes the realization that as an individual it is quite helpless, totally dependent at the mercy of its parents for sustenance and survival. Most parents, even when they are ignorant, are instinctively sensitive of the child’s fears. ‘You know Mommy and Daddy are not going to leave you behind’; ‘Mommy and Daddy are going to come back to get you’; If these words are matched by deeds, month by month and year by year, then by the time of adolescence the child will have lost the fear of abandonment and will develop a deep inner sense that the world is a safe place. With this inner sense of safety, the child is free to delay gratification of one kind or other, because the child is secure in the knowledge that the opportunity for gratification, like home and parents, is always there when needed.
But many are not so fortunate. A substantial number of children actually are abandoned by their parents during childhood, by death, by desertion, by sheer negligence or lack of caring. Others fail to receive the assurance from their parents. So these children, instead of perceiving the world as a safe place, perceive that the world is a frightening and dangerous place, and they are not about to forsake any gratification in the present for the promise of greater satisfaction in the future, since for them the future holds no value.
In summary, for children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth, and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence. When these gifts have not been proffered by one’s parents, it is possible to acquire them from other sources, but in that case the process of acquisition is invariably an uphill struggle and often unsuccessful.
Today, more so than ever before, using computers, electronics, and the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. We witness a huge proliferation of various smart devices and technologies around us. With the internet of things, we will witness more and more electronic devices becoming internet devices and communicating over the internet protocol. The day is not far when an average household member across the world is going to comfortably control most of the household devices using a dashboard on his or her computer screen or smartphone. The Internet is probably the best invention of mankind, thanks to DARPA!
So, Is everything great in the cyber world?
The answer is ‘No’.
Just like the real world, the internet world too has both the good guys and the bad guys. Initially, when the Internet was smaller in scale, there was no big incentive for doing bad things on the internet. But, as more and more key sectors like banking services, government services, defense command, military, aviation, energy, private and public enterprises and others have adopted internet in their daily work, the incentive to become bad has become huge today. Your credit card details can be robbed by a 14 year old expert cyber criminal (computer hacker) sitting in Mexico or a country’s key defense plans can be stolen by expert hackers recruited by enemy states.
In fact, let’s look at some of the major cyber crimes in the last few years to understand how common and how big these attacks have become.
1. Heartland Payment Systems
Heartland Payment Systems is the fifth largest payment processing company in the United States. It processes debit card, credit card, e-commerce and mobile payment solutions to its customers. In 2008, the company’s networks were infected with a spyware and cyber criminals retrieved 134 million credit card numbers and related information, costing the company $140 million dollars in damages.
Stuxnet is the name of a famous worm virus that attacked the controllers controlling the nuclear reactor in Iran in 2010. It is said that this attack was done by the United States and Israel together to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is an excellent example of how various state actors can be behind the attacks and how states can be victims of attacks on crucial infrastructure.
3. Sony Playstation network
In 2011, 74 million playstation accounts and debit/credit card related information was stolen by an unknown group of hackers. The cost of the damage is estimated at about $1 to $2 billion dollars.
During the 2013 Thanksgiving, Target suffered a massive security breach that resulted in 70 million credit card and debit card numbers stolen throughout the United States. Losses from the damage went into millions of dollars.
Just a few weeks back in May 2014, eBay has announced that all its customer information has been hacked. eBay made requests to all its customers to change the password and account details.
Many major companies like Google. Citigroup, Facebook, and Twitter have been victims of cybercrime in the past few years. The attacks are not only targeted at big companies, but also targeted across all types of companies. The problem is: most companies don’t recognize that they are being hacked, and companies that realize that they are hacked do not go public in fear of losing company reputation.
A McAfee study estimates that cyber attacks cause a $1 trillion annual loss to the global economy. There are speculations that many attacks are done or funded by governments of various countries. Today, cyberspace has become the fifth mode of warfare, after land, sea, air and space. Most countries today agree that they are in a cyber warfare situation. It is clear that the 21st century may not witness a conventional war, especially with many nuclear powered countries, but there will be some deadly cyber wars between countries to damage the business, economy, and critical infrastructure of the state. So, most countries are getting very serious about cyber security and are considering cyber security as a top national security threat.
The Global Situation
According to the analyst firm, Alix Partners, globally cyber security is going to grow from $60 billion in 2011 to $120 billion in 2017 with a CAGR growth of 11 percent. Currently, the U.S. and Western Europe contribute to the majority of this market, but APAC and Rest of the World (ROW) are expected to show strong growth for the cyber security market.
There is also a paradigm shift among startup investors and venture capitalists. Startup investors are aggressively looking for cyber security startups and cyber security is now a hot area for startup investments. There have been some high profile (billion dollar) mergers and acquisitions too in this space.
1. Intel acquired McAfee for $7.6 billion
2. Cisco acquired SourceFire for $2.7 billion
3. IBM acquired Trusteer for $1 billion
With rise in more sophisticated attacks, the companies too are upping the game quickly. Traditionally, companies used to install an anti-virus and a firewall and think that they are secure. The various security solutions installed in the company such as a firewall, data protection, application security, and network security used to work independently and not talk to each other. Cyber criminals have exploited these gaps in security solutions for destructive purposes.
Today, security solutions are becoming more integrated, leading to unified threat management solutions. Security solutions across various layers of security are talking to each other to build a strong security framework.
The Indian Situation
Following the emerged markets, India too is gearing up to build its offensive and defensive capabilities in cyber security. The Government of India (GOI) has taken some serious steps towards setting up the cyber security infrastructure in the country. Some of the key steps are:
1. GOI has released a cyber security policy and has setup some key nodal agencies to initiate and monitor the cyber security activity in both public and private sector enterprises.
2. GOI has setup a joint working committee to invite private players (global and domestic) to bring the global security standards and to set up the infrastructure in India.
3. India is also encouraging research and development through academic and government institutions to develop indigenous security solutions.
Though the Indian security market is only about $200 million dollar plus, it is expected to witness strong growth of 15-16% in the coming years, especially with the Government of India taking huge initiatives towards security.
In summary, both globally and regionally, rise in cyber crime, rise in smart devices and computerization, and rise in attacks on national assets are causing cyber security to be a national policy priority. All the governments globally are expediting efforts to secure their cyber borders. While countries like the U.S. and Israel are already seen as champions of cyber security, emerging markets like India, though late to arrive at the scene, are expected to play strong in the coming decade.
Tony Robbins says that humans have six basic needs that sums up all the different types of motivations behind our actions. He says that these needs form the basis of every choice we make in life. The six core needs are:
1. Certainty/Comfort – the need to be safe and comfortable
We all want comfort and much of this comfort comes from certainty. Of course there is no ABSOLUTE certainty, but we want certainty that we can afford a certain standard of living, have a certain amount of safety and security, and lead a healthy life. For most people, money brings in a basic form of certainty.
2. Uncertainity/Variety – the need for physical and mental stimulation
At the same time as we want certainty, we also want variety. Our mind craves for challenges, variety, excitement, adventure, change and novelty.
3. Significance – the need to feel special and worthy of attention or love
Deep down, we all want to be important. We want our life to have meaning and significance. We want to build a sense of importance for ourselves. Different people can opt different ways to achieve it. For example, some people need money to ensure certainty whereas some people need money to feel more self-worthy than others.
4. Connection/Love – the need to be loved and connected to others
It would be hard to argue against the need for love. We want to feel part of a community. We want to be cared for and cared about. Being in love also contributes to the significance or meaning of one’s life.
5. Growth – the need to develop and expand
We constantly want to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. To become better, to improve our skills, to stretch and excel. It may be more evident in some than others, but it’s there in everybody.
6. Contribution – the need to contribute beyond yourself
The desire to contribute something of value—to help others, to make the world a better place than we found it is in all of us. Contribution to life provides a deep meaning and fulfillment about one’s life.
Tony Robbins says that we try to satisfy these needs daily in some manner, but not all of these six needs are equally important for all the people. Most of the times, people identify themselves most closely with one or two of the needs and they try to satisfy these needs in different ways. Most of a person’s decision-making can be understood if one understands their underlying core needs. He asks us to identify the one or two needs that are important to us and understand how we tried to achieve it in the past and how we are trying to achieve it in future, and explore what are the better ways to satisfy those needs.
We all know that a painting or a word ‘beautiful’ can have a different subjective meaning for different people. But, what about colors?
Assuming we both are not color blind and we have perfect vision, do you think we both see a particular color in the same way? Most people would say a thundering ‘Yes’ to this question. But, philosophers and scientists say that they don’t have an answer to this question. But, how can that be? – after all, we both are able to pass the color blind tests and we both can agree that something looks red.
I first bumped into this question when I heard Richard Dawkins mention in an interview that “I cannot know how you see the color Red“. At first, I couldn’t really absorb what is he saying, because I thought that red is the same color (same wavelength of light) for all of us, except for the color-blind people. So, how can somebody with normal vision not see red as red.
But, as I thought more about it, I really understood what he meant. You and I can look at a color and agree that it is ‘Red’, but we cannot understand if your perception of ‘Red’ is the same as my perception of ‘Red’. This is a classic problem of the inability to exchange your experience.
I will try to explain this with an example. Let us say that when I see this text, my mind is actually seeing it as this text and identifies it as the color ‘red’. On contrary, when you see this text, your mind actually sees it as this text and identifies it as the color ‘red’.
Both you and me agree and label correctly that this text is red in color, but how we experience red is very different.
At this point, you might have already understood the reason behind this problem. Colors are nothing but labels for the reality that our mind constructs out of different wavelengths of light. Just because we are agreeing on the label, doesn’t mean we are having the same construction of the reality in our mind.
Nobel Prize winning physicist, Erwin Schrodinger says:
Scientists and philosophers call this individualized experience as Qualia. Dawkins has written a nice post on this topic: Sky-blue-pink. A colour never before seen. He talks about why it is close to impossible to express what a color blue looks like to somebody who has never seen the color blue, and the impossibility to imagine a color that you’ve never seen.
Everything that you experience in life is a construction of your mind and is a self made reality.
Here is a very nice YouTube video on this topic.