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Understanding Cognitive Biases

Understand how your brain’s efficiency shortcuts can leave you with a biased view of the world and learn how to combat these tendencies in your everyday life.
Understanding Cognitive Biases is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 13.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Undervalued Course Given today's political and social climate, this is a very topical course in human thought and rationality/irrationality. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me that is that all individuals are biased to some extent, some more than others. We all have them. And sometimes they're useful. But more often than not cognitive biases lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, and plain irrationality. I learned a lot from this course and I highly recommend it to everyone - regardless of your field of expertise, education, or experience.
Date published: 2023-09-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Biased about Bias I purchased this course hoping I might get interaction tips. I counted four useful "tips" in 12 hours of lectures. Unfortunately, the course is more condemning than useful. By the time you have finished this course, “bias” has become nearly synonymous with “thinking”. So let’s define bias: Readily available Internet definitions confirm that active Prejudice is integral to the term “bias". From an elite dictionary, bias is: “the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing IN AN UNFAIR WAY (emphasis added), because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment”. A psychology journal defines bias as: “a tendency, inclination or PREJUDICE (emphasis added) toward or against something or someone.” Swan opens Lecture 1 (=L1) with multiple definitions of “bias”: “...a preference in favor of - or against – any thing, person, or group" OR "a systematic error: an error that’s predictable (that) leads to an incorrect assumption or behavior, and affects future decisions and judgments. OR "efficient ways for humans to think about the world." Later he openly adds PREJUDICE to his definition of bias. POV (“Point of View") and prior experience are no longer seen as beneficial to social complexity but demoted to bias/prejudice. Unfortunately, reality suggests that we will never be "errorless" and not understanding all life's interstices doesn’t justify Swan's viewpoint. STUFF: Though I love compassionate front line psychologists who try to help truly desperate people, academic psychologists can create puffery and error. Examples: 1.) The human tendency to find patterns is not "finding patterns" but “paradolia"…pointless puffery to non-psychologists. 2.) The IKea effect (L4) “means we fall in love with it because we built it”. Swan says his family is in love with a box because they built it, but the “IKea effect" is an ad manipulation. He loves his family and their shared life. Building, however, is not about loving STUFF…it's about the beauty of learning/sharing new skills. As Socrates said [TGC's “Understanding the Universe” by Filippenko (L1]): “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of the vessel.” ODD CONCLUSIONS: 1.) Some quoted studies are no better than Freud's debunked (L17) theories. Worse, many "errors" made by study respondents occurred when the study was a set-up for a pet theory. Example: L9 in a "study" authors forced to write pro- (or anti-) Castro articles resulting in audiences who had a "knee jerk" reaction (bias) that the forced author was pro (or anti-) Castro. Of course, the flip-side explanation is that the forced authors did what many did in college to pass politically charged courses: they wrote excellent articles meant to deceive and they were successful. College Profs also take the bait so the study wasn’t even necessary. If the forced student admitted the lie, his Prof might flunk the deceiver. This would correctly place the attribution error on the deceit, not the deceived. 2.) L18’s conclusion about conservative’s “reliance on prior beliefs" doesn’t mention that conservatives tend to “think before they act” and that most brand-new ideas create unexpected complications when no balancing discussion is allowed. TGC’s "The Great Debate" by Pangle brilliantly shows how such discussion (feared by many unipolar colleges) is beneficial. 3.) L21 wrongly describes serious college student vulnerability to COVID 19. On Ohio’s official COVID 19 website, their risk was statistically insignificant. The dangers of isolation were real. SUMMARY: Much of what Swan discusses is not bias but rather a person's malleable POV based on prior experiences. Physicians learn that if they approach everyone’s POV with humility, we help them. But if every imperfect POV is labeled as a (prejudicial) bias rather than a necessary part of being human, we forget that, unlike Freud, the Garbage Man’s POV (though few care about his bias or paradolia) makes modernity possible. L11’s Conjunction Fallacy; L12's reverse Hindsight (closing comments); L14’s dangers of conformity desire and Forer effects; and L20’s Social Desirability sections may justify purchasing the course.
Date published: 2023-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid Content, Exceptional Presentations Professor Swan did an outstanding job organizing the extensive literature on human cognitive biases. His lectures were clear, concise with dashes of humor. He ended every lecture with practice advice on how to avoid the harmful effects of biases and strengthen personal performance. This was one of the best of the forty or so Great Courses I have acquired over the years. I strongly recommend the course for everyone as it is accessible and nicely paced.
Date published: 2023-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye-Opening! Back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth, my first graduate psych course was "bias-heavy." I was never so bored in my life! It was a combination of the prof droning along in a monotone voice with a forced smile intermittently and the lack of solid research such as currently exists today. When I saw this course pop up on Wondrium's new releases, my first instinct was to pass it by. But curiosity got the better of me, so in I jumped. Halfway through the first lecture, I was hooked! The sheer amount of research that is now available is mind-boggling. But it was Professor Swan that sold me. He is passionate not only about his subject but about teaching as well. He was everything my original prof was not and what was once a drudge was a now a joy. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the course guidebook. Few go into the course in such depth. I seldom spend much time among the pages of course guides but this one I read cover to cover! I hope we see more of Professor Swan in the future!
Date published: 2023-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First time leaving a Review I have been a long time customer of GC but this is my first review, so please be gentle! I thought the course was really very well designed—it flowed very smoothly from concept to concept. The instructor’s delivery was superb! Understanding the area of cognitive biases is becoming increasingly important for everyone if we want to move forward together as a diverse nation.
Date published: 2023-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First time leaving a review..... I have been a long-time customer of TGC and this is the first time I have left a review--so please be gentle. I thought this course was very well designed and the delivery was superb. I am sure Dr. Swan is a very engaging professor in class. Well done!
Date published: 2023-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So interesting thanks to the lecturer I gave it four stars because he lost me on a lot of the explanation of statistics in bias but otherwise the course was well laid out, he's very knowledgeable and excited about his subject. I will be looking to see if he's written any books. I wish Wondrous would let us buy the workbooks because only reading it online is a bit of a pain.
Date published: 2023-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights into Cognitive Bias Outstanding course! Professor Alexander Swan does a noble job of presenting insights into our cognitive bias. Extremely thought provoking and the learner cannot help doing some introspection as the lectures are viewed. Dr. Swan is natural and fluid in his delivery of the deep and rich cognitive bias concepts and research. I thoroughly enjoyed all 24. lectures. The professor's energy and passion for the subject is mesmerizing. I have been a Great Courses/Wondrium student/learner since 2002 and place this professor and course in the top tier of the probable (I may be biased) over 1000 courses watched. I highly recommend this course and look forward to Professor Swan's future courses.
Date published: 2023-03-09
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As you read this sentence, your brain has just processed about 20 million bits of information. And yet, that astonishing number just isn’t enough to get you through your day. Consequently, your brain takes some shortcuts, including cognitive biases—when the brain fills in gaps of solid, reliable information with a lot of guesswork for efficiency’s sake. In Understanding Cognitive Biases, Dr. Alexander B. Swan uses examples from psychology experiments, history, politics, movies, TV, comics, social media, and more to illustrate dozens of cognitive biases that affect us all and shows you how to combat them for a clearer, more accurate view of the world.


Alexander B. Swan

Understanding cognitive biases will help you think critically about your own thoughts and behaviors.


Eureka College

Alexander B. Swan is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Eureka College. He earned a PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and received the Contribution to Excellence in Teaching Award while a graduate student there. His research focuses in part on how biases contribute to pseudoscientific beliefs and behaviors. He has published or copublished several articles, and he is the creator and host of the CinemaPsych Podcast, which reflects his love for combining film and psychology in his teaching.

By This Professor

Understanding Cognitive Biases
Understanding Cognitive Biases


Why We’re Blind to Our Own Biases

01: Why We’re Blind to Our Own Biases

Discover why it’s so easy for us to find a blind spot in the reasoning of others, yet so difficult to recognize it in ourselves. Most of us believe our reasoning is always sound and logical. But the evidence shows our thinking is easily affected by even the most seemingly benign changes around us.

18 min
Things We Want to Be True: Confirmation Bias

02: Things We Want to Be True: Confirmation Bias

Explore one of the most well-known and pervasive cognitive biases. We see the effects of confirmation bias in our media, politics, and much more—this tendency for us to only accept information that confirms our existing worldview and to actively reject information that opposes what we already believe to be true.

30 min
We See People In and Behind Everything

03: We See People In and Behind Everything

Learn about biases you have experienced since infancy: pareidolia and anthropomorphism, which are our brain’s tendency to find patterns—particularly faces—in everything around us, and to assign those patterns human characteristics. For most of our evolutionary history, these biases have kept us alive and procreating. But can they also lead us astray?

30 min
We Love It Because We Built It

04: We Love It Because We Built It

Consider our tendency to place a high value on things we’ve built ourselves, referred to as the IKEA effect. The psychological concept of effort justification causes us to value our own efforts more than the job might warrant, as we attempt to avoid the cognitive dissonance that a more honest evaluation could bring.

22 min
Why We Think Differently in Groups

05: Why We Think Differently in Groups

Explore the new set of biases that can develop when individuals must make decisions in a group. Groupthink and group polarization can lead to dire consequences when there is little or no discussion of alternate choices—as evidenced in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

28 min
Learn Better with Cognitive Biases

06: Learn Better with Cognitive Biases

Discover how to use three particular cognitive biases to your own advantage. The testing effect, the generation effect, and spacing effect—which come from our brain’s tendencies to use information in specific ways—can lead to improved information retention, better test scores, and a greater depth of knowledge at any stage of life.

26 min
Expectations Change Results: Observer Bias

07: Expectations Change Results: Observer Bias

See how observer bias can significantly affect the results of activities from scientific experiments to classroom teaching to the entertainment of “talking” animals. You’ll also learn how the double-blind experimental method was developed to specifically combat observer bias and reveal the crucial role it plays in public health.

27 min
Bias Boot Camp for Better Decisions

08: Bias Boot Camp for Better Decisions

Discover the cognitive bias that can help you negotiate more successfully for that next car purchase. Your brain uses the anchoring heuristic—the tendency to use reference points in decision-making—for efficiency. Armed with this knowledge, you might want to forget everything you’ve learned previously about negotiating.

30 min
We Think Others’ Behaviors Are Their Fault

09: We Think Others’ Behaviors Are Their Fault

Was it really your fault that your car scraped the light pole in the parking lot? Discover what’s behind our familiar tendency to attribute negative outcomes of our own behaviors to “circumstances,” while attributing others’ behaviors to their traits and mental abilities. We’ve all done this; or could it be a uniquely Western bias?

30 min
How Memory Is Biased toward Misinformation

10: How Memory Is Biased toward Misinformation

The misinformation effect reflects our tendency to trust our memories implicitly as truth. Actually, they are influenced by our emotions, expectations, culture, and what others have to say about them. Learn how this cognitive bias has negatively affected our criminal justice processes, and what’s being done about it.

26 min
How Fast Thinking Leads to a Great Fall

11: How Fast Thinking Leads to a Great Fall

Evolutionary theory suggests the availability bias and the representativeness heuristic developed when we needed them in order to stay alive. But what about our very different modern lives today? Learn how these heuristics can cause us to assess danger incorrectly and make poor decisions as a result.

26 min
I Knew It All Along: Hindsight Bias

12: I Knew It All Along: Hindsight Bias

The hindsight bias leads us to believe we knew more than we actually did at the time of a specific event, especially one involving danger or tragedy. Learn how new information replaces old information in our memory, making it much more efficient but less accurate, and making us more susceptible to the hindsight bias.

27 min
Even Random Outcomes Lead to Bias

13: Even Random Outcomes Lead to Bias

Given the human desire for control, it can be very disconcerting for us to accept that life is filled with random events. Discover how the gambler’s fallacy and the hot-hand fallacy biases lead us to see cause and effect where none exists—and the poor choices we can make as a result.

29 min
How Con Artists Exploit Our Biases

14: How Con Artists Exploit Our Biases

Discover how the Forer effect, also known as the Barnum effect, plays into our self-validation—a mental operation we all rely on to validate our self-worth. We all like to think we wouldn’t be swayed by Barnum statements. But Elizabeth Holmes’s Theranos debacle and the $2 billion psychic-services industry say otherwise.

24 min
Stereotypes: See the Person, Not the Group

15: Stereotypes: See the Person, Not the Group

Could stereotypes be a form of cognitive bias? Absolutely, as we “efficiently” use the characteristics of an individual to represent an entire group. Learn how our brain’s natural tendency to look for patterns and categories can lead us to stereotype constantly—often creating great harm in the process—and how we can fight against this bias in ourselves.

28 min
Biases from Knowing Too Much or Too Little

16: Biases from Knowing Too Much or Too Little

Explore the Dunning-Kruger effect and the “curse of knowledge,” two biases that affect our accurate assessment of our abilities, including the ability to communicate knowledge to others. Unlike most other cognitive biases, culture plays a strong role in our susceptibility to the Dunning-Kruger effect; the effect disappears in collectivistic societies.

27 min
Is That Memory Mine or Someone Else’s?

17: Is That Memory Mine or Someone Else’s?

Discover the cognitive bias called cryptomnesia, the tendency for a person to falsely identify an idea as one they developed themselves, as opposed to one they heard about from someone else, i.e., a memory. In this heuristic, our brain stores the idea but not the idea’s source—a shortcut that can easily get us in trouble.

27 min
I Believe, Therefore I Think: Belief Bias

18: I Believe, Therefore I Think: Belief Bias

Explore the sources and impacts of belief bias, the tendency to judge arguments on the believability of their conclusions rather than the whole argument. While we all tend to rely on this heuristic to some extent, by learning the technical requirements of a logical argument, we can better assess the validity of what we’re hearing or watching.

30 min
Why Emotional Peaks and Endings Matter

19: Why Emotional Peaks and Endings Matter

The peak-end rule is the cognitive bias that causes us to judge an experience based on how we felt at its most intense moments and at its end. Discover how this heuristic biases us against remembering the more nuanced aspects of any experience, and the effects this can have on our lives.

25 min
We Lie to Be Socially Desirable

20: We Lie to Be Socially Desirable

Trace the evolutionary history of social desirability bias and how it can affect our lives and relationships in numerous ways. Our brain created this heuristic in response to our deep biological need to associate with other members of our species and to bond in various ways. But does it always work to our advantage, and how can we push past it when we want to?

27 min
Why Emotional Gaps Cause Trouble

21: Why Emotional Gaps Cause Trouble

The empathy gap bias is the tendency to disconnect or reduce empathy in situations where it would be expected or typically felt. Explore the cognitive steps required for empathy to occur, and what can happen when those processes don’t occur. What can keep us from understanding why other people might feel the way they feel?

30 min
Only Survivors Tell the Story

22: Only Survivors Tell the Story

Discover the many ways in which survivorship bias affects our daily life. This tendency to focus only on people or objects that have moved past some defined selection process keeps us from understanding a more complex, fuller story. From important personal decisions to business, politics, and military history, the impacts of this cognitive bias can be seen all around us.

29 min
Reactance: You Can’t Watch This Lecture!

23: Reactance: You Can’t Watch This Lecture!

Delve into the reactance bias, our tendency to act in ways that are opposite to established rules, particularly, if we think those rules will reduce our freedom. This is a bias that operates mostly in the dark recesses of our subconscious and can be difficult to recognize until someone else specifically calls out the behavior.

25 min
Status Quo: The More Things Change …

24: Status Quo: The More Things Change …

Explore the status quo bias—our tendency to prefer the current state of affairs in our lives and the world around us—as well as the illusion of control, the false belief that we can influence things over which we actually have no control. Learn how the illusion of control can feed many other cognitive biases, and when the status quo bias might actually be our best rational choice.

24 min