I’ve long been fascinated by all the cognitive biases that undermine our self-image as rational creatures. So it’s no surprise that I’m enjoying Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. One theme that interests me is our bias for stories: our beliefs are often more about what makes a good story than a assessment of evidence.
The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they can see even if they can see little.
He argues that we see patterns where none exist, for example crediting players with on winning streaks with being somehow hot-handed, when in fact we’re seeing the results of randomness. He goes on:
Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.
Later in the book he says this:
Caring for people often takes the form of concern for the quality of their stories, not for their feelings.
That strikes me as a powerful insight. It’s why people often lurch into solutions and fixes rather than empathy when dealing with those in distress.