You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

You Are Not So Smart is a good, easy-to-read introductory book on how our minds misinterpret things due to our irrationality.

Each chapter breaks down a specific bias we have because of how our minds are wired.

The whole idea of the book is to teach us these biases so we understand them and can make better decisions.

Some of the common biases he mentions are confirmation bias, anchoring effect, hindsight bias, groupthink, strawman fallacy, conformity and many more. There are 46 in total.

Overall, it's an entertaining psychology book that does a pretty good job explaining the ways we delude ourselves by giving some practical examples on how we make mistakes because our minds are irrational.


Be careful. People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things… well, new things aren't what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don't want to know that man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds... Not news but olds, telling people that what they think they already know is true.

During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, researcher Valdis Krebs at analyzed purchasing trends on Amazon. People who already supported Obama were the same people buying books that painted him in a positive light. People who already disliked Obama were the ones buying books painting him in a negative light. Just as with pundits, people weren't buying books for the information, they were buying them for the confirmation.

You want to be right about how you see the world, so you seek out information that confirms your beliefs and avoid contradictory evidence and opinions.

There is a 100 percent chance something will be there, be anywhere, when you look; only the need for meaning changes how you feel about what you see.

Normalcy bias is a state of mind out of which you are attempting to make everything OK by believing it still is. Normalcy bias is refusing to believe terrible events will include you even though you have every reason to think otherwise. The first thing you are likely to feel in the event of a disaster is the supreme need to feel safe and secure. When it becomes clear this is impossible, you drift into a daydream where it is.

Believing you understand your motivations and desire, your likes and dislikes, is called the introspection illusion. You believe you know yourself and why you are the way you are. You believe this knowledge tells you how you will act in all future situations. Research shows otherwise. Time after time, experiments show introspection is not the act of tapping into your innermost mental constructs but is instead a fabrication. You look at what you did, or how you felt, and you make up some sort of explanation than you can reasonably believe. If you have to others, you make up an explanation they can believe too. When it comes to explaining why you like the things you like, you are not so smart, and the very act of having to explain yourself can change your attitudes.

The tendency to react more rapidly and to a greater degree when considering information you are familiar with is called availability heuristic. The human mind is generated by a brain that was formed under far different circumstances than the modern world offense a daily basis. Over the last few million years, much of our time spent with fewer than 150 people, and what we knew about world was based on examples from our daily lives.

In both studies [conducted by Tversky and Kahneman,] they showed the more available a bit of information is, the faster you process it. The faster you process it, the more you believe it and the less likely you become to consider other bits of info. When you buy a lottery ticket, you imagine yourself winning like those people on television who get suddenly famous when their numbers are chosen, because people who don't win don't get interviewed. You are far more likely to die in a car crash on the way to buy the ticket than you are to win, but this information isn't as available. You don't think in statistics, you think in examples, in stories.

"The stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."

Meaning comes from within. Your mind is preorganized to notice order, even when the order is defined by your culture and not your synapses.

[J. E. Littlewood, a mathematician at Cambridge University,] said the average person is alert for about eight hours every day, and something happens to the average person about once a second. At this rate, you will experience 1 million events every thirty-five days. This means when you say the chances of something happening are one in a million, it also means about once a month. The monthly miracle is called Littlewood's Law.

Confirmation bias - You see what you want to see and ignore the rest. When what you want to see is something meaningful, you ignore all the things in the story of your life that are meaningless. Apophenia isn't just seeing order in chaos, it is believing you were destined to see it.

Success is often greatly influenced by where you were born, where you grew up, the socioeconomic status of your family, and random chance.

Pg 112 -115 Public goods game

You have a need for other people to like and admire you. and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worried and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

Everything around you says something about your personality. Cultivating an incomparable self either through consumption or creation is not something you take lightly. Yet somewhere between nature and nurture, we are all far more similar than we think. Genetically, you and your friends are almost identical. Those genes create the brain that generates the mind from which your thoughts spring. Thus, genetically, your mental life is as similar to everyone else's as the feet in your shoes. Culturally, we differ. Our varying experiences in our varying environments shape us. Still, deep below. we are the same, and the failure to notice this can be exploited.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy tried to overthrow Fidel Castro with a force of 1,400 exiles. They weren't professional soldiers. There weren't many of them. Cuba knew they were coming. They were slaughtered. This led to Cuba getting friendly with the USSR and almost led to nuclear apocalypse. John F. Kennedy and his advisers were brilliant people with all the data in front of them who had gotten together and planned something incredibly stupid. After it was over, they couldn't explain why they did it.

In 2008, Lawrence Williams and John Bargh conducted a study where they had people meet strangers. One group held a cup of warm coffee, and the other group held iced coffee. Later, when asked to rate the stranger's personality, the people who held the warm coffee said they found the stranger to be nice, generous, and caring. The other group said the same person was difficult, stand offish, hard to talk to. In another round of research subjects held ether a heating pad or a cold pack and then were asked to look at nous products and judge their overall quality. Once they had done this, the experimenters told them they could choose a gift to keep for participating or they could give the gift to someone else. Those who held the heating pad chose to give away their reward 54 percent of the time, but only 25 percent of the cold pack group shared. The groups had turned their physical sensations into words, and then used those words as metaphors to explain their perceptions or predict their own actions.

In another of the researchers' studies people pretending to buy a car who sat in hard-backed chairs haggled more and expected better bargains than did those who sat in cushioned ones. The chair was hard, so they drove a hard bargain.

When shopping for a car, you know it isn't a completely hones transaction. The real price the dealer can charge you and still make a profit is surely lower than what the dealer is asking for on the window sticker, yet the anchor price is still going to affect your decision. As you look over the vehicle, you don't consider how many factories the company owns, how many employees they pay. You don't pore over engineering diagrams or profit reports. You don't consider the price of iron or the expensive investments the manufacturer is making in safety testing. The price you are willing to pay has little to do with these considerations because they are as far from you at the point of purchase as the population of Uzbekistan. Even if you've done some research online, you don't know for sure exactly what the car is worth or what the dealer paid for it. The focus instead is the manufacturer's suggested retail price, and no matter how unrealistic it is, you can't help but be tethered to it. Any discussion of price has to start at that anchor.

If you move to a nice car or a big house, a nice computer or an expensive smartphone, you become anchored and find it difficult to move back down later, even if you should. [I haven’t tested this theory but I believe that there is one way that people will acceptably move down and that is when the lesser product is free]

Remember this study when you are in a negotiation- make your initial request far too high. You have to start somewhere, and your initial decision or calculation greatly influences all the choices that follow, cascading out, each tethered to the anchors set before.

You believe with confidence your eyes capture everything before them and your memories are recorded versions of those captured images. The truth, though, is you see only a small portion of your environment at any one moment. Your attention is like a spotlight, and only the illuminated portions of the world appear in your perception.

Human eyes aren't video cameras, and the memories formed aren’t videos.

The world outside your head and the world inside it are not identical. The information flowing into consciousness from your eyes is not only limited by your attention, but also edited before it arrives. Once there, it mixes like paint with all the other though and perceptions swirling inside your cranium. The way you feel the culture you grew up in, the task at hand, the chaos of technology and society - it all creates a granular, busy visual world.

Pg 236-239 "The Moment” - Khaneman

You don't naturally think in statistical, logical, rational terms. You first go to your emotional core and think of people in terms of narratives and characters that match your preconceived notions of the sort of people you have been exposed to in the past or have imagined thanks to cultural osmosis.

The buildup to an experience can completely change how you interpret the information reaching your brain from your otherwise objective senses. In psychology, true objectivity is pretty much considered to be impossible. Memories, emotions, conditioning, and all sorts of other mental flotsam taint every new experience you gain. In addition to all this, your expectations powerfully influence the final vote in your head over what you believe to be reality. So when tasting a wine, or watching a movie, or going on a date, or listening to a new stereo through $300 audio cables-some of what you experience come from within and some comes from without. Expensive wine is like anything else that is expensive: The expectation it will taste better actually makes it taste better.

The mind struggles to make sense of the world. You are always aware of the minds of others and are always searching for an explanation as to why people are behaving the way they do... You seem like a different person at work than at home, a different character at a party than you are when you're with your family. On paper, this seems like common sense, but you easily forget about the power of the setting when judging others. Instead of saying, "Jack is uncomfortable around people he doesn't know, thus when I see him in public places he tends to avoid crowds," you say, "Jack is shy." It's a short cut, an easier way to navigate the social world. Your brain loves to take shortcuts. It is easy to ignore the power of the situation. Seeing people through the lens of their situation is one of the foundations of social psychology, where it is referred to as attribution theory.

People are not good at heart, Zimbardo says, but because their environment encourages it. Anyone, he believes, is capable of becoming a monster if given the power and opportunity.

When you interpret your loved one's coldness as his or her indifference to your wants and needs instead of as a reaction to stress at work or problems ricocheting in your loved one's own heart, you've committed the fundamental attribution error. When you vote for someone because that person seems likable and approachable, and ignore how much of their persona is contrived for the sake of votes, it's the same error at work. You commit it again when you assay friendliness as sexual interest, or poverty as the result of laziness. When you look for a cause for another person's actions, you find it. Rarely, though, do you first consider how powerful the situation is. You blame the person, not the environment and the influence of the person's peers. You do this because you would like to believe your own behavior comes strictly from within. You know this isn't true though. You shift from introvert to extrovert, from brainiac to simpleton, from charismatic to impish-depending on where you find yourself and who is watching.

The fundamental attribution error leads to labels and assumptions about who people are, but remember first impressions are mostly incorrect.