Want to Create More Effective Learning? Use Brain Bias to Your Advantage

Our brains aren’t always as rational as we’d like to think they are. For instance, patients report feeling better after taking sugar pills—even when they know they’re placebos. Wine tastes different to people depending on the colors they see on the label. The best NFL coaches repeatedly run plays that fly in the face of what data says wins games.

How do we explain such irrational quirks of human perception and behavior? Often, the culprit is one or more cognitive biases—mental shortcuts our brains use to process information and make decisions quickly. As the examples above illustrate, sometimes these biases can backfire, causing us to make poor choices or act in ways that don’t entirely make sense.

But let’s not be too critical. Scientists believe that these biases have an adaptive value. Being able to make snap judgements under pressure likely helped our ancestors protect themselves against predators, form safe tribes, and get their basic needs met over the last couple hundred thousand years—just like we do today.

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