Thursday, 2 August 2007

Distorted Thinking [A series in four parts] followed by a personal commentary. [Part One]

{As you may know I'm really interested in the 'ins and outs' of mental processes and simply adore the paradoxes of Chesterton and the unveiling of modern day fallacies.

I've found an article I wish to relay to you but would really like some feedback; and would appreciate any experiences or examples you've encountered ?

Ok here goes :}

Styles of Distorted Thinking

Here is a list and short description of several common forms of distorted thinking.

Filtering (selectivity):

This is a failure to consider all the evidence in a balanced and objective assessment. It is a failure to consider a neutral, or balanced, point of view. It can have two basic forms.

The first is considering only the negative details and magnifying them while filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation.

The second is taking the positive details and magnifying them while filtering out all the negative aspects of a situation.

In any case evidence that supports your bias is selected, favored, or weighted more heavily than evidence contrary to your bias. Find the realistic balance between the optimistic and pessimistic points of view.

Polarized Thinking (dichotomy, primal thinking):

This is the fallacy of thinking that things are either black or white, good or bad, all or nothing. This fallacy can lead to rigid and harmful rules based on primal thinking, when it is efficient to compress complex information into simplified categories for rapid decision making during times of stress, conflict, or threat.

Polarized thinking can also lead to unhelpful forms of perfectionism. The reality often lies in the sizeable middle ground between these extreme poles.

Recognize and reject the false dichotomy. Find other alternatives that provide a constrictive solution.

A clever Zen master teaches his students to reject a false dichotomy and go beyond polarized thinking with the following challenge.

He places a cup of tea before the student, then says “If you drink that cup of tea, I will beat you with a stick, and if you don't drink that cup of tea I will beat you with a stick.” The student has to reject the false dichotomy, recognize options other than the two presented, and create other alternatives, such as offering the tea to the instructor, or asking his advice, to avoid punishment.


It is incorrect to arrive at a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. This is a common example of the more general fallacy of basing a conclusion on unrepresentative evidence. Consider a broad range of representative evidence before drawing a conclusion. Consider systematic evidence, and dismiss anecdotal evidence.

Mind Reading:

You conclude, incorrectly and without considering other alternatives or testing your assumptions, that you understand how another person is thinking and what their reasons and motives are for taking a particular action.

This is an example of the Fundamental Attribution Error where you incorrectly attribute an action or intent to an agent.

One example of this is drawing a negative conclusion in the absence of supporting information. Focusing only on evidence that supports a negative position, while neglecting to consider alternative positive explanations is the fallacy of not considering representative evidence. It is false to conclude the “he must hate me because he didn't say 'hi' to me.” There are many plausible explanations for why he neglected to say “hi”.


You anticipate an unreasonable disaster based on a small problem. Every scrap of bad news turns into an inevitable tragedy. This is another example of the more general fallacy of basing a conclusion on unrepresentative evidence. Consider a broader range of representative evidence before drawing a conclusion. Strike a realistic balance between optimistic and pessimistic views. Skip the histrionics.

Personalization (Egocentric bias, self-reference):

This is the fallacy of incorrectly thinking that everything people say or do is a reaction to you. It is an egocentric viewpoint where you attribute personal meaning to everything that happens. Face it, you are not really that important nor influential.

This point-of-view often causes the predator to view himself as the true victim; their cause is just and is not to be thwarted. It also often results in a set of self-centered rules.

Attribution Errors:

It is a fallacy to believe you can correctly know a person's intent for behaving as they do. Their actions may or may not be deliberate.

The person may not even be aware of what they are doing. Their actions may or may not be directed at you.

Their actions may have unintended consequences or may result from an accident or chance. It is difficult to determine cause when only effect can be observed. This error is so common and so misleading it has been named the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).

Intentional Stance:

A class of attribution errors is based on the belief that bad things are the result of intentional evil. One example is attributing natural disasters such as drought, floods, and hurricanes to the revenge of supernatural forces.

Personal examples, such as attributing the difficulties faced by the Nazis to the “diabolical Jew”, quickly provide a basis for distrust and hate.

Intent cannot be reliably inferred from behavior.

Pattern Discernment:

We may think we see a pattern that isn't there; the outcomes are simply the result of random events. Or we can think we recognize a pattern that is different what what we actually see.

Control fallacies:

It is a fallacy to mistake what you can change for what you cannot change. Do not underestimate the degree of control you have for your own actions.

You are not helpless, powerless, nor perpetually a victim.

Examine the alternatives you have for taking action and responsibly for your life.

Also do not overestimate your responsibility for the happiness and pain of others. Be realistic in evaluating the power and influence you do and do not have over yourself and others.

1 comment:

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Love all the patterns of thinking! Probably do them all!