Increasingly common phrases are commonly misunderstood

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2014 - 3:25 PM

Formerly used in academic circles, psychological phrases, such as "Google effect," are now more common — and commonly misunderstood.

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You know how sometimes you can’t remember the name of a movie or a beer or a book?

Well, there’s a phrase for that, and it’s not, “Man, I’m getting old.”

It’s called the “Google effect,” which is the tendency to quickly forget information we can readily find online.

These kinds of terms, once the province of social scientists, “have seeped into common parlance,” said University of St. Thomas social psychology Prof. Ryan Bremner. The problem? “People can process them or even use them without understanding what they mean,” he said.

While misusing these idioms doesn’t make us idiots, understanding their meaning can help us better understand ourselves. “Many of these words represent powerful and universal psychological phenomena,” he said, “which, when properly understood, can be highly advantageous in one’s personal and business life.”

So, here’s the lowdown on this lexicon:

Above-average effect: The manner in which most people judge themselves above average on desirable traits. In surveys, 75 to 90 percent of us considered ourselves above average in driving skills and leadership ability. That makes us susceptible to self-serving bias, in which we tend to credit our successes to our abilities and effort, while blaming our failures on bad luck, the difficulty of the task, other people, etc.

Bystander effect: An instance in which individuals fail to offer help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.

Cheerleader effect: The tendency for people to appear more attractive in a group than they do in isolation.

Cocktail party effect: Being able to focus on a single conversation in a noisy room.

Cognitive dissonance: Discomfort caused by holding two conflicting beliefs or exhibiting a discrepancy between a belief and a behavior (e.g., people who smoke even though they know it’s bad for their health).

Confirmation bias: The tendency to search for, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Counterfactual thinking: A tendency to look for facts after an event that would have made an incorrect prediction correct (e.g., people who predicted that Mitt Romney would win the 2012 presidential election might say, “If only that ‘47 percent’ video hadn’t come out, I would have been right”).

False equivalence: A fallacy where there appears to be equivalence between two opposing arguments, when in fact there is none (e.g., presenting as equal two sides of a debate when one is supported by scientific evidence, and the other with little or no evidence).

Gambler’s fallacy: The tendency to think that future probabilities are altered by past events, when in fact they are unchanged (e.g., 10 straight “heads” in a coin toss doesn’t mean “tails” is more likely on the next one).

Groupthink: When the desire for harmony or conformity in a group outweighs the importance of decisions made by that group.

Halo effect: The tendency of the positive effects from one person to boost the perception of an entire group.

Hindsight bias: The belief, which forms after an event, that the chain of events leading up to the event was inevitable when it, in fact, was not. Its sibling, outcome bias, is the tendency to judge a decision based on its outcome instead of on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.

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