Start being aware that your brain is full of traps. The mind deceives us

The consequences of thinking too fast. Your mind.

Not everything is what it seems, the mind deceives us and we do not realize it. A simple experiment is enough to prove it. Suppose Steve is a person randomly selected from a representative sample. A neighbor describes him as “very shy and withdrawn, always helpful, but not very interested in people or the real world. Disciplined and methodical, he needs to order and organize everything. He also has an obsession for detail”. Which is more likely Steve to be a librarian or a farmer? Think about it quickly and answer without too much reflection. Perhaps the first answer that comes to mind is that Steve is a librarian. After all, he seems to have the typical qualities of these professionals. However, the correct answer is farmer. In Western countries, such as the United States, there is one librarian for every 20 farmers. If Steve has been chosen randomly, he is most likely to farm the land. Our mind plays tricks on us. Or, rather, we are fooled into thinking fast.

System 2, or conscious, is related to slow thinking, which needs time to elaborate the conclusion. It is activated when attention is full. It is responsible for complex calculations and concentration. It comes into action when system 1 is stuck or when an alert is triggered in us that wakes us up from automatic mode. We all have these two systems, but the funny thing is that system 2 is usually in the background. As Kahneman acknowledges in his very interesting book Think Fast, Think Slow, our brains are lazy out of sheer survival. It consumes about 20% of the glucose and oxygen in our body, even though it accounts for less than 5% of its mass. To avoid excessive consumption, we activate the automatic mode, system 1 or reactive. In other words, we respond and act according to the first thing that comes to mind, without elaborating too much.

This thoughtlessness leads us to label people we see or have just met. We get carried away by their style of dress, their way of being, their sexual proclivities and so many other unconscious biases that prevent us from making more thoughtful and intelligent decisions. Research has shown that people who are driven by system 1 tend to make more selfish, shallower decisions and, of course, use more sexist language. But all is not lost. We have the ability to avoid falling into the arms of the reactive system at the first change. The key is to reflect before making an important decision or when we have met someone. Basically, it is to wake up system 2, to pay more attention. So it’s no wonder that many leading companies seeking diversity and innovation train their employees on how to avoid unconscious bias. We can do this work ourselves, keeping in mind how our brain operates, being aware that it is full of traps. If we apply this learning to Steve’s exercise, it would be worth asking if there are no meticulous farmers. This question would open up new possible answers.