The 20 Most Common Cognitive Biases

In laymen's terms, a cognitive bias is a shortcut taken by your brain that leads to illogical conclusions. Cognitive biases arose in the brains of our ancestors, whose environment placed a premium on quick decisions at the cost of accuracy. Today, these biases can still benefit us in certain contexts (e.g. athletic competitions or life and death situations), but can really hurt us in arenas governed by rationality (e.g., one's career or investment decisions). Luckily, 20% of cognitive biases are responsible…

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These Psychological/Personality Factors Predict Success

Yale Professor Amy Chua made big waves in academia with her 2014 book The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. Her theory that three traits--belief in superiority of one's group, feelings of insecurity, and impulse control--explain the greater success of cultural groups such as Mormons, Nigerians, Persians, East Asians and Jews was denounced widely (particularly among Asian americans) for perpetuating the "model minority" stereotype. In 2016, two researchers, Joshua Hart and…

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Why the Human Brain is Shrinking

Fact: our brains are 10% smaller than they were 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Anthropologists and psychologists across the world have advanced various explanations sharing the common threads discussed below. One driver of brain shrinkage they seem to agree on is domesticity. As this theory's lead proponent, Bruce Hood of the University of Bristol, explains: "We have been self-domesticating through the invention of culture and practices that ensure that we can live together." These anthropological shifts obviated the need to hunt for…

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Is Your Reality an Illusion?

Since the dawn of humankind, we've believed that we've been immersed in a continuous flow of consciousness. But that was merely an illusion our brains created according to cognitive neuroscientists at the Swiss National Science Foundation.  Their paper, published earlier this month, is titled "Time Slices," and theorizes that consciousness works much like a movie reel--we rapidly perceive myriad discrete images and our brains splice them together to create what we perceive as consciousness. Because visual processing takes only a few milliseconds,…

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Can Your Academic Major Predict Your Personality Type?

It is well-settled that there are five personality traits: (1) neuroticism; (2) conscientiousness; (3) agreeableness; (4) extraversion; and (5) openness to experience. Each of us has a certain mix of these traits, which determines our overall personality.  For instance, it's no surprise that those who skew towards conscientiousness have long dominated the curves at universities across the country, but depending on their levels of neuroticism, extraversion, etc., they may have had very few friends to tell about…

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Inside the Brain of a Math Wizard

There's no doubt that truly gifted mathematicians think differently than the rest of us. It's often observable during their everyday social interactions. But is there a neuroanatomical explanation for the difference, or is it merely the result of training? Cutting-edge fMRI studies suggest the former. You'll recall from last week's post a discussion of the revelations gleaned from the dissection of Einstein's brain: it was more connective, and had a smaller than average language center  (a.k.a., Broca's…

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Left-Handedness and Genius

Despite stunning scientific advances in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (to name a few), many neurologic phenomena remain unexplained. Take hand dominance. Scientists have been struggling for centuries to explain why, unlike animal populations whose right vs. left limb dominance always follows a 50/50 distribution, nearly 90% of the human population is right-handed. Although the answer is still blurry, the history of how neuroscientists arrived at it--including a dissection of Einstein's brain--is fascinating. As a preliminary matter, it is…

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The Nietzsche Hypothesis: How Failure Fuels Fulfillment

In 1887,  famed philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote as follows: To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures. At first…

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Neuroscience Reveals the Best Time to Take a Test

As you may have already surmised, the best time to take a test is in the morning. This revelation is courtesy of researchers at the Danish National Center for Social Research, who published an enlightening study in February of 2016. The study concludes that "for every hour later in the day, test performance decreases by .9%...however, a 20 to 30 minute break improves average test performance by 1.7%..." The researchers reason that this trend is driven by cognitive…

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Is Your Brain Over the Hill by 30?

Cognitive aging is widely misunderstood. It is true that many cognitive capabilities begin to decline in one's twenties, foremost among them fluid intelligence (the ability to solve novel problems). However, new studies are emphasizing that this is only half of the intelligence equation. The other half--crystallized intelligence--continues to improve all the way into one's seventies. And what's more, new theories are being advanced that fluid intelligence, once thought to be static and genetic, can be amplified through focused…

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