Belief, illusion,
rationalization, attribution

Finding mental comfort in pseudo-certainties

In order to overcome the doubt and pain due to uncertainty, people
tend not only to base many decisions on beliefs, but also to invent,
accept or collect explicative stories that seems to prove them /
rationalize them.

Those beliefs can be individual and collective.

They tend to distort decision making.

incentive Reasons or feelings:
          what makes us believe

            and comfort our beliefs on apparent reasons


Uncertainty and pain, please keep out!
But is comfort better than doubt and open mind?

Aspect #1: The uncertain future

Most people hate fog uncertainty. They feel lost in the fog.
This allergy to ambiguities spoils their life, all the more as we live in
a world that brings uncertainty by spades, and which future - and
even current - realities are far from being totally known.
People tend to be afraid of what
they don't know to be afraid of.
That obscure but strong aversion might be the main reason why many
people often prefer to invent or accept any bulb explanation or
prediction
  - even a fanciful story or a fallacious mental construction -
for any situation that could raise a feeling of doubt.

Aspect #2: The embarrassing past or present

Also, sorry for the platitude,

People prefer pleasurable impressions to painful ones.

This addresses as well the past as the future (but we saw above that
to create a story can give the reassuring impression that we can know
the future).

In specific cases when people are not too happy to feel responsible of
failures in which they could have taken a part, they tend to find (self)
justifications
in attributing the (sad) outcome to other people's
behaviors or to the environment
.


We have here "attribution" or "rationalization", a form of belief
among others, as seen in the list of the various forms in a section below.

Aspect #3: Alone or together

Beliefs can be individual or group collective (social learning, groupthink,
paradigms, conformism...).

To share a common belief might give an impression of mastering
situations.

Opportune interpretations
or dangerous beliefs?

To believe in some principles about life, or about the universe, or
about potato cooking:
 loupe reanalyze the roadmap we decided to follow.

As uncertainty dominates, we must normally choose among
various interpretations
so as to face events.
To change those interpretations at any step would paralyze action
or make it erratic.

=>
Thus temporary "opportune beliefs" and "paradigms"
        should not be fully shunned, they are even inevitable so as
        not to stay passive,
nor to zigzag around like a beheaded
        chicken.
Here we have not too rational attitudes that:
   * accepting shallow promises of good outcome,
   * or rallying against something / someone denounced as
     villain.
   more or less dogmatic, on paths that might be sterile or
   even harmful.
   * our thinking,
   * our
decision decision making abilities
   * and finally our
behavior.

Better therefore have an idea of what are the mental biases that can
lead us to false beliefs and dubious explanations.
Here is below a list of the main ones:

The various form taken by those biases

taking as a certain truth something not proven (pseudo-
certainty).
extreme, even fanatical, beliefs that are never questioned
whatever the realities that would oppose them.
A recipe for dogmatism based on the belief that things are
either 
binary true or false (or - in the moral view - either
good or bad), therefore not admitting that most situations
- in social life as well as in the physical universe - are gradual,
complex and multi-sided.

=> Some antidotes are
fuzzy logic or the cursor theory.
Finding an apparently rational / logical explanation for a
behavior which is just instinctive or emotional.
Wrongly giving the credit or the fault for some good or
bad event, to some person or category of people (deification,
demonization, magical thinking, conspiracy theory).
Also attributing to outside factors the good or bad effects 
of our own moves.
giving the credit of some good event chiefly to ourselves.
Mentally rearranging history when an event occurs, by
thinking we knew what phenomena were at play, and that
we predicted what would happen.
This could make us overconfident in our ability to forecast
or  to  make decisions based on our prior beliefs
stereotype, narrow representation, generalization.
Explaining a phenomenon or situation from just one of its
aspects or from poorly related events or phenomena.
This is denying facts that goes against our beliefs and looking
only for
information that support them.

The famous dogmatic or ostrich syndrome
Inventing quickly an bulb explanation (or accepting an
explanation received) for some event we don't fully understand.

Media commentators excel at story telling, for example to tell
why the stock market just rose or fell today.

There can be a tendency, in order not to be considered an
idiot, to utter opinions and explanations on things we are not
in the know and even usually not too much interested about.
relying most of the time on the same routine-like
or simplified modes of analysis and decision
,
even when situations has changed or are different
and
do not fit the "model".
believing that we can mentally influence the future, or that
luck is in our side, or at least that we can attract it via a
superstition-based behavior.
of competence, knowledge, experience, control.
Also some inner attitudes such as optimism or pessimism
might be seen as "generic" beliefs.
Following what the group thinks and do, finding comfort
and apparent certainty in it.
Then, if it was mistake, saying the responsibility was collective
so as not to be identified individually as a player.
Believing any statistic or account just because it is published,
or any scientific-looking mathematical model whatever its
assumptions.
Believing predictions can be made with just one scenario
giving  just one predicted number (growth rate, stock price...)
without looking at the
éventail range of alternative possibilities.

Reference and further readings

More details on those notions are seen in the
behavioral finance glossary
for example belief, illusion, framing, magical thinking
and many others.

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M.a.j. / updated : 12 July 2015
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