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Cognitive Development



Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision-making, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.


It was once believed that infants lacked the ability to think or form complex ideas and remained without cognition until they learned language. It is now known that babies are aware of their surroundings and interested in exploration from the time they are born. From birth, babies begin to actively learn. They gather, sort, and process information from around them, using the data to develop perception and thinking skills.


Cognitive development refers to how a person perceives, thinks, and gains understanding of his or her world through the interaction of genetic and learned factors. Among the areas of cognitive development are information processing, intelligence , reasoning, language development , and memory.


Historically, the cognitive development of children has been studied in a variety of ways. The oldest is through intelligence tests, such as the widely used Stanford Binet Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test first adopted for use in the United States by psychologist Lewis Terman (1877–1956) in 1916 from a French model pioneered in 1905. IQ scoring is based on the concept of "mental age," according to which the scores of a child of average intelligence match his or her age, while a gifted child's performance is comparable to that of an older child, and a slow learner's scores are similar to those of a younger child. IQ tests are widely used in the United States, but they have come under increasing criticism for defining intelligence too narrowly and for being biased with regard to race and gender.


In contrast to the emphasis placed on a child's native abilities by intelligence testing, learning theory grew out of work by behaviorist researchers such as John Watson (1878–1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), who argued that children are completely malleable. Learning theory focuses on the role of environmental factors in shaping the intelligence of children, especially on a child's ability to learn by having certain behaviors rewarded and others discouraged.


Piaget's theory of cognitive development

The most well-known and influential theory of cognitive development is that of French psychologist Jean Piaget (1896–1980). Piaget's theory, first published in 1952, grew out of decades of extensive observation of children, including his own, in their natural environments as opposed to the laboratory experiments of the behaviorists. Although Piaget was interested in how children reacted to their environment, he proposed a more active role for them than that suggested by learning theory. He envisioned a child's knowledge as composed of schemas, basic units of knowledge used to organize past experiences and serve as a basis for understanding new ones.


Schemas are continually being modified by two complementary processes that Piaget termed assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation refers to the process of taking in new information by incorporating it into an existing schema. In other words, people assimilate new experiences by relating them to things they already know. On the other hand, accommodation is what happens when the schema itself changes to accommodate new knowledge. According to Piaget, cognitive development involves an ongoing attempt to achieve a balance between assimilation and accommodation that he termed equilibration.


At the center of Piaget's theory is the principle that cognitive development occurs in a series of four distinct, universal stages, each characterized by increasingly sophisticated and abstract levels of thought. These stages always occur in the same order, and each builds on what was learned in the previous stage. They are as follows: 


Sensorimotor stage (infancy): In this period, which has six sub-stages, intelligence is demonstrated through motor activity without the use of symbols. Knowledge of the world is limited, but developing, because it is based on physical interactions and experiences. Children acquire object permanence at about seven months of age (memory). Physical development (mobility) allows the child to begin developing new intellectual abilities. Some symbolic (language) abilities are developed at the end of this stage. 


Pre-operational stage (toddlerhood and early childhood): In this period, which has two sub stages, intelligence is demonstrated through the use of symbols, language use matures, and memory and imagination are developed, but thinking is done in a non-logical, non-reversible manner. Egocentric thinking predominates.  Concrete operational stage (elementary and early adolescence): In this stage, characterized by seven types of conservation (number, length, liquid, mass, weight, area, and volume), intelligence is demonstrated through logical and systematic manipulation of symbols related to concrete objects. Operational thinking develops (mental actions that are reversible). Egocentric thought diminishes. 


Formal operational stage (adolescence and adulthood): In this stage, intelligence is demonstrated through the logical use of symbols related to abstract concepts. Early in the period there is a return to egocentric thought. Only 35 percent of high school graduates in industrialized countries obtain formal operations; many people do not think formally during adulthood.


The most significant alternative to the work of Piaget has been the information processing approach, which uses the computer as a model to provide new insight into how the human mind receives, stores, retrieves, and uses information. Researchers using information-processing theory to study cognitive development in children have focused on areas such as the gradual improvements in children's ability to take in information and focus selectively on certain parts of it and their increasing attention spans and capacity for memory storage. For example, researchers have found that the superior memory skills of older children are due in part to memorization strategies, such as repeating items in order to memorize them or dividing them into categories.



As soon as they are born, infants begin learning to use their senses to explore the world around them. Most newborns can focus on and follow moving objects, distinguish the pitch and volume of sound, see all colors and distinguish their hue and brightness, and start anticipating events, such as sucking at the sight of a nipple. By three months old, infants can recognize faces; imitate the facial expressions of others, such as smiling and frowning; and respond to familiar sounds.


At six months of age, babies are just beginning to understand how the world around them works. They imitate sounds, enjoy hearing their own voice, recognize parents, fear strangers, distinguish between animate and inanimate objects, and base distance on the size of an object. They also realize that if they drop an object, they can pick it up again. At four to seven months, babies can recognize their names.


By nine months, infants can imitate gestures and actions, experiment with the physical properties of objects, understand simple words such as "no," and understand that an object still exists even when they cannot see it. They also begin to test parental responses to their behavior, such as throwing food on the floor. They remember the reaction and test the parents again to see if they get the same reaction.


At 12 months of age, babies can follow a fast moving object; can speak two to fours words, including "mama" and "papa"; imitate animal sounds; associate names with objects; develop attachments to objects, such as a toy or blanket; and experience separation anxiety when away from their parents. By 18 months of age, babies are able to understand about 10–50 words; identify body parts; feel a sense of ownership by using the word "my" with certain people or objects; and can follow directions that involve two different tasks, such as picking up toys and putting them in a box.



Between 18 months to three years of age, toddlers have reached the "sensorimotor" stage of Piaget's theory of cognitive development that involves rudimentary thought. For instance, they understand the permanence of objects and people, visually follow the displacement of objects, and begin to use instruments and tools. Toddlers start to strive for more independence, which can present challenges to parents concerned for their safety . They also understand discipline and what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate, and they understand the concepts of words like "please" and "thank you."


Two-year-olds should be able to understand 100 to 150 words and start adding about ten new words per day. Toddlers also have a better understanding of emotions, such as love, trust, and fear. They begin to understand some of the ordinary aspects of everyday life, such as shopping for food, telling time, and being read to.



Preschoolers, ages three to six, should be at the "preoperational" stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory, meaning they are using their imagery and memory skills. They should be conditioned to learning and memorizing, and their view of the world is normally very self-centered. Preschoolers usually have also developed their social interaction skills, such as playing and cooperating with other children their own age. It is normal for preschoolers to test the limits of their cognitive abilities, and they learn negative concepts and actions, such as talking back to adults, lying , and bullying. Other cognitive development in preschoolers are developing an increased attention span, learning to read, and developing structured routines, such as doing household chores.


School Age

Younger school-age children, six to 12 years old, should be at the "concrete operations" stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory, characterized by the ability to use logical and coherent actions in thinking and solving problems. They understand the concepts of permanence and conservation by learning that volume, weight, and numbers may remain constant despite changes in outward appearance. These children should be able to build on past experiences, using them to explain why some things happen. Their attention span should increase with age, from being able to focus on a task for about 15 minutes at age six to an hour by age nine.


Adolescents, ages 12 through 18, should be at the "formal operations" stage of Piaget's cognitive development theory. It is characterized by an increased independence for thinking through problems and situations. Adolescents should be able to understand pure abstractions, such as philosophy and higher math concepts. During this age, children should be able to learn and apply general information needed to adapt to specific situations. They should also be able to learn specific information and skills necessary for an occupation. A major component of the passage through adolescence is a cognitive transition. Compared to children, adolescents think in ways that are more advanced, more efficient, and generally more complex. This ability can be seen in five ways.


First, during adolescence individuals become better able than children to think about what is possible, instead of limiting their thought to what is real. Whereas children's thinking is oriented to the here and now—that is, to things and events that they can observe directly—adolescents are able to consider what they observe against a backdrop of what is possible; they can think hypothetically.


Second, during the passage into adolescence, individuals become better able to think about abstract ideas. For example, adolescents find it easier than children to comprehend the sorts of higher-order, abstract logic inherent in puns, proverbs, metaphors, and analogies. The adolescent's greater facility with abstract thinking also permits the application of advanced reasoning and logical processes to social and ideological matters. This is clearly seen in the adolescent's increased facility and interest in thinking about interpersonal relationships, politics, philosophy, religion, and morality.


Third, during adolescence individuals begin thinking more often about the process of thinking itself, or metacognition. As a result, adolescents may display increased introspection and self-consciousness. Although improvements in metacognitive abilities provide important intellectual advantages, one potentially negative byproduct of these advances is the tendency for adolescents to develop a sort of egocentrism, or intense preoccupation with the self.


A fourth change in cognition is that thinking tends to become multidimensional, rather than limited to a single issue. Whereas children tend to think about things one aspect at a time, adolescents can see things through more complicated lenses. Adolescents describe themselves and others in more differentiated and complicated terms and find it easier to look at problems from multiple perspectives. Being able to understand that people's personalities are not one-sided or that social situations can have different interpretations depending on one's point of view permits the adolescent to have far more sophisticated and complicated relationships with other people.


Finally, adolescents are more likely than children to see things as relative, rather than absolute. Children tend to see things in absolute terms—in black and white. Adolescents, in contrast, tend to see things as relative. They are more likely to question others' assertions and less likely to accept facts as absolute truths. This increase in relativism can be particularly exasperating to parents, who may feel that their adolescent children question everything just for the sake of argument. Difficulties often arise, for example, when adolescents begin seeing their parents' values as excessively relative.


Common problems

Cognitive impairment is the general loss or lack of development of cognitive abilities, particularly autism and learning disabilities. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) describes learning disabilities as a disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. These limitations can show up in many ways, such as specific difficulties with spoken and written language, coordination, self-control, or attention. Such difficulties extend to schoolwork and can impede learning to read or write or to do math. A child who has a learning disability may have other conditions, such as hearing problems or serious emotional disturbance. However, learning disabilities are not caused by these conditions, nor are they caused by environmental influences such as cultural differences or inappropriate instruction.


Parental concerns

As of 2004 it is widely accepted that a child's intellectual ability is determined by a combination of heredity and environment. Thus, although a child's genetic inheritance is unchangeable, there are definite ways that parents can enhance their child's intellectual development through environmental factors. They can provide stimulating learning materials and experiences from an early age, read to and talk with their children, and help children explore the world around them. As children mature, parents can both challenge and support the child's talents. Although a supportive environment in early childhood provides a clear advantage for children, it is possible to make up for early losses in cognitive development if a supportive environment is provided at some later period, in contrast to early disruptions in physical development, which are often irreversible.

If, by age three, a child has problems understanding simple directions or is perplexed when asked to do something simple, the parents or primary caregiver should consult a physician or pediatrician. The child may have a delay in cognitive development. Parents should also consult a healthcare professional if, after age three, their child's cognitive development appears to be significantly slower than their peers.




Autism —A developmental disability that appears early in life, in which normal brain development is disrupted and social and communication skills are retarded, sometimes severely.


Cognition —The act or process of knowing or perceiving. Egocentric —Limited in outlook to things mainly relating to oneself or confined to one's own affairs or activities.


Learning disabilities —An impairment of the cognitive processes of understanding and using spoken and written language that results in difficulties with one or more academic skill sets (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics).


Metacognition —Awareness of the process of cognition.


Schemas —Fundamental core beliefs or assumptions that are part of the perceptual filter people use to view the world. Cognitive-behavioral therapy seeks to change maladaptive schemas.


Stanford-Binet intelligence scales —A device designed to measure somebody's intelligence, obtained through a series of aptitude tests concentrating on different aspects of intellectual functioning. An IQ score of 100 represents "average" intelligence.

BOOKS Bjorklund, David F. Children's Thinking: Cognitive Development and Individual Differences. Stamford, CT: Wadsworth Publishing, 2004. Pica, Rae. Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Development Through Age-Appropriate Activity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. Thornton, Stephanie. Growing Minds: An Introduction to Children's Cognitive Development. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Wadsworth, Barry J. Piaget's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development: Foundations of Constructivism , 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Allyn & Bacon, 2003. PERIODICALS Blumberg, Fran. C., and Lori M. Sokol. "Boys' and Girls' Use of Cognitive Strategy when Learning to Play Video Games." The Journal of General Psychology (April 2004): 151– 58. Dahl, Ronald. "Risk-Taking and Thrill-Seeking." Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow (June 2004): SS6–SS7. Li, Xiaoming, and Melissa S. Atkins. "Early Childhood Computer Experience and Cognitive and Motor Development." Pediatrics (June 2004): 1715–22. Thurber, Christopher A. "I Am. Therefore, I Think: Explanations of Cognitive Development." Camping Magazine (July-August 2003): 36–41. Wacharasin, Chintana, et al. "Factors Affecting Toddler Cognitive Development in LowIncome Families: Implications for Practitioners." Infants & Young Children (April-June 2003): 175–81. Zinner, Susan. "The Role of Cognitive Development in Pediatric Medical DecisionMaking." Global Virtue Ethics Review (January 2004): N/A. ORGANIZATIONS Cognitive Development Society. University of North Carolina, PO 3270, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. Web site: National Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. Web site: WEB SITES Developmental Psychology: Cognitive Development , 2004.

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Cognitive function is a broad term that refers to mental processes involved in the acquisition of knowledge, manipulation of information, and reasoning. Cognitive functions include the domains of perception, memory, learning, attention, decision making, and language abilities.


What is orientation?

Orientation is the ability that allows awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings at all times.

Personal orientation: ability to integrate information regarding personal history and identity.

Temporal orientation: ability to manage information regarding day, time, month, year, holidays, seasons, a time for a certain behavior, etc.

Spatial orientation: ability to handle information related to where one came from, where one is at any specific moment, where one is going, etc.


What is gnosis?

Gnosis is the ability of the brain to recognize previously learned information such as objects, persons, or places collected from our senses. Thus, there are different types of gnosis, one for each sensory modality, and gnosis which combine different sensory modalities.

Visual gnosis: ability to visually recognize various elements and attribute meaning to them (objects, faces, places, colors, etc.).

Auditory gnosis: ability to recognize and differentiate between various sounds.

Tactile gnosis: ability to recognize various objects by touch (textures, temperatures, etc.).

Olfactory gnosis: ability to recognize, by smell, different odors.

Gustatory gnosis: ability to recognize, through taste, different flavors.

Body schema: ability to recognize and mentally perceive the body as a whole and its various parts, development of the movements that can be done with each, and orientation of the body in space.


What is attention?

Attention is the process of directing cognitive resources towards certain aspects of the environment, or towards the execution of certain actions that seem most appropriate. It refers to the state of observation and alertness that allows awareness of what is happening in the environment (Ballesteros, 2000).

In other words, attention is the ability to generate, direct, and maintain an appropriate state of alertness to correctly process information.

There are five different attention processes:

Sustained attention: ability to fluidly maintain focus on a task or event for a prolonged period of time.

Selective attention: ability to direct attention and focus on something without allowing other stimuli, either internal or external, to interrupt the task.

Alternating attention: ability to shift our focus from one task or internal norm fluidly to another.

Processing speed: rate at which the brain performs a task (it evidently will vary according to the task and depending on the other cognitive functions involved therein).

Hemineglect: great difficulty or inability to direct attention towards either side (usually the left), in relation to the body as well as space.

Executive Functions

What are executive functions?

Executive functions are complex cognitive processes necessary for planning, organizing, guiding, revising, regulating, and evaluating behavior necessary to adapt effectively to the environment and to achieve goals (Bauermeister, 2008).

Executive functioning involves abilities and processes vital for daily life such as:

Working memory: system that allows the maintenance, handling and processing of information in the mind.

Planning: ability to generate goals, develop action plans to achieve them (sequence of steps), and to choose the appropriate one based on the anticipation of consequences.

Reasoning: ability to compare results, draw inferences and establish abstract relationships.

Flexibility: ability to generate new strategies in order to adapt behavior according to changing environmental demands.

Inhibition: ability to ignore impulses or irrelevant information either internally or externally when performing a task.

Decision making: ability to decide a course of action after weighing the various kinds of possible options as well as their possible outcomes and consequences.

Time estimation: ability to roughly estimate the passage of time and the duration of an activity or event.

Dual execution: ability to perform two tasks at the same time (they should be of two different types), paying attention to both simultaneously.

Branching (multitasking):ability to organize and optimally perform tasks simultaneously, inter-mixing them yet at all times knowing the status of each.


What is praxis?

Praxis refers to learned motor activity. In other words, praxis is the generation of volitional movement for the performance of a particular action or towards achieving a goal.
Different types of praxis include:

Ideomotor praxis: ability to intentionally make a movement or a simple gesture.

Ideational praxis:ability to manipulate objects through a sequence of actions, which implies the knowledge of the object’s function, knowledge of the action and knowledge of the serial order of the acts leading to that action.

Facial praxis: ability to voluntarily make movements or gestures with different parts of the face (lips, tongue, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, etc.).

Visuoconstructive praxis: ability to plan and make the movements necessary in order to organize a series of elements in space to form a drawing or completed 3-D figures.


What is memory?

Memory is the ability to encode, store, and effectively retrieve previously learned information or past experiences. Memory is divided into two main types:

• Episodic memory: refers to information about events and experiences (where and when).

• Semantic memory: refers to general knowledge.

• Procedural memory: refers to particular actions or a sequence of learned actions, most of which are automatically retrieved without thinking about the action or movement (often difficult to verbalize).


What is language?

Language is a high-level cognitive function that develops processes of symbolization related to encoding and decoding.

According to Lecours et al. (1979), language refers to the production of spoken or written signs that symbolize objects, ideas, etc. in accordance with a linguistic community’s own convention.
Within language there are various functions which can be disrupted:

• Expression: ability to formulate ideas in a meaningful and grammatically correct manner.

• Comprehension: ability to understand the meaning of words and ideas.

• Vocabulary: lexical knowledge.

• Naming: ability to name objects, people or events.

• Naming: ability to name objects, people or events.

• Fluency: ability to produce fast and effective linguistic content.

• Discrimination: ability to recognize, distinguish and interpret language-related content.

• Repetition: ability to produce the same sounds one hears.

• Writing: ability to transform ideas into symbols, characters and images.

• Reading: ability to interpret symbols, characters and images and transform them into speech.

Social Cognition

Joint cognitive and emotional processes, by which we interpret, analyze, remember and use information about the social world. It refers to how we think about ourselves, others and their behavior, social relationships, and how we make sense of all that information and base our behavior accordingly.

Visuospatial Skills

What are visuospatial skills?

Visuospatial skill is the ability to represent, analyze, and mentally manipulate objects. There are two important concepts relating to visuospatial skills:

• Spatial relation: the ability to mentally perceive and manipulate objects in two dimensions.
• Spatial visualization: ability to mentally perceive and manipulate objects in three dimensions



What do we use cognitive functions for?

Higher brain functions such as reasoning, memory and attention are essential for a full and independent life. Throughout the day we use the cognitive functions continuously. Our brain uses different cognitive abilities to prepare food, drive or hold meetings, activating different parts of our hemispheres to a greater or lesser extent.

Why are cognitive functions important?

All the activities that we perform require the use of our brain functions, which involves millions of neural connections distributed throughout our brain lobes and the activation of different areas of the brain to adequately deal with our environment and process the information that we obtain through various channels.

How do we use cognitive functions?

Information processing in the human mind is carried out through the cognitive system. The person has an active role in the processes of reception, selection, transformation, processing, recovery and transformation of the information that reaches the brain.

The processing of such information is composed of interrelated cognitive that act together to execute the most complex mental operations. In this way, a cognitive function can be joined or complemented with others to form a higher unit, a cognitive process, on which one can intervene by working on its most basic units (cognitive functions) or on its more elaborate processes (thinking skills).



When do cognitive functions start to deteriorate?

The loss of cognitive abilities is due to the normal process of aging. How we age and how we experience this process, as well as our health and functional capacity, depend on both the genetic structure and the environment that has surrounded us throughout our lives.

In addition, there are other factors that can alter cognitive abilities such as neurodegenerative diseases, neurodevelopmental disorders, intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Also, the consumption of narcotic substances, alcoholism, severe physical or mental trauma, can affect brain activity in an acute or chronic way.

How can we preserve cognitive functions?

It has been shown that deterioration slows down and deficits are milder if we maintain an active and healthy life in stimulating environments and if we continue to work on our abilities through cognitive stimulation practices and exercises.








What Is Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive bias is a systematic thought process caused by the tendency of the human brain to simplify information processing through a filter of personal experience and preferences. The filtering process is a coping mechanism that enables the brain to prioritize and process large amounts of information quickly.

Week 8

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.

The human brain is powerful but subject to limitations. Cognitive biases are often a result of your brain's attempt to simplify information processing.


Biases often work as rules of thumb that help you make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed.

  • Some of these biases are related to memory. The way you remember an event may be biased for a number of reasons and that, in turn, can lead to biased thinking and decision-making.

  • Other cognitive biases might be related to problems with attention. Since attention is a limited resource, people have to be selective about what they pay attention to in the world around them.

Because of this, subtle biases can creep in and influence the way you see and think about the world.

The concept of cognitive bias was first introduced by researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Since then, researchers have described a number of different types of biases that affect decision-making in a wide range of areas including social behavior, cognition, behavioral economics, education, management, healthcare, business, and finance.

Cognitive Bias vs. Logical Fallacy

People sometimes confuse cognitive biases with logical fallacies, but the two are not the same. A logical fallacy stems from an error in a logical argument, while a cognitive bias is rooted in thought processing errors often arising from problems with memory, attention, attribution, and other mental mistakes.

Signs of Cognitive Bias

Everyone exhibits cognitive bias. It might be easier to spot in others, but it is important to know that it is something that also affects your thinking. Some signs that you might be influenced by some type of cognitive bias include:

  • Only paying attention to news stories that confirm your opinions

  • Blaming outside factors when things don't go your way

  • Attributing other people's success to luck, but taking personal credit for your own accomplishments

  • Assuming that everyone else shares your opinions or beliefs

  • Learning a little about a topic and then assuming you know all there is to know about it

When you are making judgments and decisions about the world around you, you like to think that you are objective, logical, and capable of taking in and evaluating all the information that is available to you. Unfortunately, these biases sometimes trip us up, leading to poor decisions and bad judgments.

Types of Cognitive Bias

Learn more about a few of the most common types of cognitive biases that can distort your thinking.

  • Actor-observer bias: This is the tendency to attribute your own actions to external causes while attributing other people's behaviors to internal causes. For example, you attribute your high cholesterol level to genetics while you consider others to have a high level due to poor diet and lack of exercise.

  • Anchoring bias: This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information you learn. For example, if you learn the average price for a car is a certain value, you will think any amount below that is a good deal, perhaps not searching for better deals. You can use this bias to set the expectations of others by putting the first information on the table for consideration.

  • Attentional bias: This is the tendency to pay attention to some things while simultaneously ignoring others. For example, when making a decision on which car to buy, you may pay attention to the look and feel of the exterior and interior, but ignore the safety record and gas mileage.

  • Availability heuristic: This is placing greater value on information that comes to your mind quickly. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future.

  • Confirmation bias: This is favoring information that conforms to your existing beliefs and discounting evidence that does not conform.

  • Functional fixedness: This is the tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. For example, if you don't have a hammer, you never consider that a big wrench can also be used to drive a nail into the wall. You may think you don't need thumbtacks because you have no corkboard on which to tack things, but not consider their other uses. This could extend to people's functions, such as not realizing a personal assistant has skills to be in a leadership role.

  • Halo effect: Your overall impression of a person influences how you feel and think about their character. This especially applies to physical attractiveness influencing how you rate their other qualities.

  • Misinformation effect: This is the tendency for post-event information to interfere with the memory of the original event. It is easy to have your memory influenced by what you hear about the event from others. Knowledge of this effect has led to a mistrust of eyewitness information.

  • Optimism bias: This bias leads you to believe that you are less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to attain success than your peers.

  • Self-serving bias: This is the tendency to blame external forces when bad things happen and give yourself credit when good things happen. For example, when you win a poker hand it is due to your skill at reading the other players and knowing the odds, while when you lose it is due to getting dealt a poor hand.

  • The Dunning-Kruger effect: This is when people who believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. For example, when they can't recognize their own incompetence.

At times, multiple biases may play a role in influencing your decisions and thinking. For example, you might misremember an event (the misinformation effect) and assume that everyone else shares that same memory of what happened (the false consensus effect).

Causes of Bias

If you had to think about every possible option when making a decision, it would take a lot of time to make even the simplest choice. Because of the sheer complexity of the world around you and the amount of information in the environment, it is necessary sometimes to rely on some mental shortcuts that allow you to act quickly.

Cognitive biases can be caused by a number of different things, but it is these mental shortcuts, known as heuristics, that often play a major contributing role. While they can often be surprisingly accurate, they can also lead to errors in thinking.

Other factors that can also contribute to these biases:

  • Emotions

  • Individual motivations

  • Limits on the mind's ability to process information

  • Social pressures

Cognitive bias may also increase as people get older due to decreased cognitive flexibility.

Impact of Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases can lead to distorted thinking. Conspiracy theory beliefs, for example, are often influenced by a variety of biases. But cognitive biases are not necessarily all bad. Psychologists believe that many of these biases serve an adaptive purpose: They allow us to reach decisions quickly. This can be vital if we are facing a dangerous or threatening situation.

For example, if you are walking down a dark alley and spot a dark shadow that seems to be following you, a cognitive bias might lead you to assume that it is a mugger and that you need to exit the alley as quickly as possible. The dark shadow may have simply been caused by a flag waving in the breeze, but relying on mental shortcuts can often get you out of the way of danger in situations where decisions need to be made quickly.

Tips for Overcoming Bias

Research suggests that cognitive training can help minimize cognitive biases in thinking. Some things that you can do to help overcome biases that might influence your thinking and decision-making include:

  • Being aware of bias: Consider how biases might influence your thinking. In one study, researchers provided feedback and information that help participants understand these biases and how they influence decisions. The results of the study indicated that this type of training could effectively reduce the effects of cognitive bias by 29%.3

  • Considering the factors that influence your decisions: Are there factors such as overconfidence or self-interest at play? Thinking about the influences on your decisions may help you make better choices.

  • Challenging your biases: If you notice that there are factors influencing your choices, focus on actively challenging your biases. What are some factors you have missed? Are you giving too much weight to certain factors? Are you ignoring relevant information because it doesn't support your view? Thinking about these things and challenging your biases can make you a more critical thinker.



Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don't line up with your actions. It's an uncomfortable state of mind when someone has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing.

Researchers believe it’s not an automatic feeling we get when we have contradictory beliefs—we experience it only when we’re aware there’s an inconsistency.

What Are The Effects of Cognitive Dissonance?

In the moment, cognitive dissonance can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety. And the degree of these effects often depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much the beliefs mean to that person, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction.

Thanks to the discomfort cognitive dissonance causes, people may rationalize their decisions—even if they go against their beliefs—steer clear of convos about certain subjects, hide their beliefs or actions from others, or even ignore a doctor’s advice. In the end, all of these tactics just help them repeat the behaviors, which they don’t really agree with anyway. 

The Impact on Choices

How Can It Impact The Choices We Make?

Cognitive dissonance can be problematic if you start to justify or rationalize destructive behaviors. Or if you start to majorly stress yourself out by trying to rationalize the dissonance.

Signs of Cognitive Dissonance

What Are The Signs You Might Be Experiencing Cognitive Dissonance?

Signs you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance include:

  • General discomfort that has no obvious or clear source

  • Confusion

  • Feeling conflicted over a disputed subject matter

  • People saying you're being a hypocrite

  • Being aware of conflicting views and/or desires but not knowing what to do with them

How to Ease It

What Can You Do To Ease Cognitive Dissonance?

The good news is, resolving cognitive dissonance can often lead to positive changes. And it’s not always about making huge changes. Sometimes, a little shift in perspective can go a long way towards healthier thought patterns.

To maximize your potential in business and in life, it's crucial to deal with cognitive dissonance before it becomes a major problem.

Most people like to believe that their self-perception is reality and that their varying beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are always in alignment with one another. Unfortunately, real life is almost never that black and white.

The fact is that almost everyone experiences some level of disconnect in their thoughts at different points in their lives. When that happens, cognitive dissonance can result, causing feelings of discomfort and confusion that can have a variety of negative effects on the person experiencing it.

Dissonance can be reduced by changing existing beliefs, adding new beliefs, or minimizing the importance of the beliefs.

Life can be complicated and our actions and beliefs can be hard to make sense of at times. Being aware of distressing discrepancies is an important first step in addressing them though. Something else to keep in mind—we grow and evolve over the course of our lives so the cognitive dissonance we struggle with today may resolve over time.

What is the simplest way to define cognitive dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is a mental conflict that occurs when your beliefs don’t line up with your actions. It’s an uncomfortable state of mind when someone has contradictory values, attitudes, or perspectives about the same thing.

The degree of discomfort varies with the subject matter, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction. One example is a smoker who knows all too well that nicotine causes lung cancer but takes puff after puff anyway to ease his anxiety in the moment—and then feels a sense of shame. There's some sort of discrepancy between what your values are and what you feel in that moment.


What are the effects of cognitive dissonance?

In the moment, cognitive dissonance can cause discomfort, stress, and anxiety. And the degree of these effects often depends on how much disparity there is between the conflicting beliefs, how much the beliefs mean to that person, as well as with how well the person copes with self-contradiction. Thanks to this discomfort, people may rationalize their decisions (even if they go against their beliefs), steer clear of convos about certain subjects, hide their beliefs or actions from others, or even ignore a doctor’s advice. In the end, all of these tactics just help perpetuate the behaviors, which they don’t really agree with anyway.


Is cognitive dissonance bad?

Cognitive dissonance can be problematic if you start to justify or rationalize destructive behaviors or if you start to stress yourself out by trying to rationalize the dissonance. When cognitive dissonance goes unaddressed, it can not only cause angst, but it can lead to impaired decision-making. On the flip side, however, when cognitive dissonance is properly addressed, it can lead to better decision-making and greater self-awareness.

How do you know if you're experiencing cognitive dissonance?

Signs you might be experiencing cognitive dissonance include: Discomfort of unclear origin, confusion, feeling conflicted over a disputed subject matter, people telling you you’re being a hypocrite, or being aware of conflicting views and/or desires but not knowing what to do with them.


What are some effects of cognitive dissonance?

It may lead us to alter our attitudes to be more consistent. Study participants who complete an uninteresting task have been found to rate the task as more enjoyable if they were first asked to tell someone else it was enjoyable—an effect attributed to cognitive dissonance. Theoretically, dissonance may contribute to a variety of changes in behavior or beliefs.


How do you avoid cognitive dissonance?

There are a variety of ways people are thought to resolve the sense of dissonance when cognitions don’t seem to fit together. They may include denying or compartmentalizing unwelcome thoughts, seeking to explain away a thought that doesn’t comport with others, or changing what one believes or one’s behavior.


Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that people can experience negative consequences when their thought processes, beliefs, values, and actions are in conflict. It's important to note that this phenomenon differs from hypocrisy in one important way. While hypocrisy typically involves people doing things that run counter to their words, most people are aware of those inconsistencies in thought and action. Cognitive dissonance is not usually so obvious to the person experiencing it.

When we define cognitive dissonance, it's important to understand that it often involves a certain level of ambivalence and disconnect between two opposing ideas, beliefs, or attitudes. This often occurs on a subconscious level and can create psychological distress and discomfort as the mind tries to reconcile the conflict to restore psychological harmony. Strong levels of dissonance create more and more discomfort and a psychological need to resolve the disconnect.

Hypocrisy is typically something that only impacts others' perception of you, since most hypocrisy is accompanied by at least some measure of self-awareness. Cognitive dissonance, on the other hand, can impact your sense of identity and self by disrupting the natural harmony that the mind enjoys when thoughts, beliefs, and actions are all in proper alignment.

Cognitive dissonance examples:

To fully understand this phenomenon, it can be helpful to consider some examples of cognitive dissonance. Below are some examples of situations that might lead to this type of psychological disconnect:

  • A person who believes in the value of eating right, but who finds themselves constantly consuming unhealthy food choices, might experience cognitive dissonance each time they make decisions that run counter to their own beliefs.

  • If you believe in the value of balancing your home and work lives but work at a company that requires you to prioritize your employment over your family, your mind may struggle to reconcile that conflict. This can lead to feelings of disconnect that manifest as guilt, job dissatisfaction, and even depression.

  • Disconnects can also arise when your company's values conflict with your own personal beliefs. For example, if you prioritize ethical conduct but your company plays fast and loose with the rules, your mind may struggle to find any sense of balance and harmony.

  • Whenever you encounter new information that conflicts with long standing beliefs, you're likely to experience this type of disconnect. In many instances, people will reject new information in these situations, to avoid the discomfort that cognitive dissonance can cause.

  • Being forced to comply with things that conflict with your values. This can occur when you're asked to perform tasks that you find distasteful, or required to accept some new norm that violates your beliefs.

  • Making any decision that requires rejecting another option. This typically results in some level of cognitive dissonance when the rejected option is perceived as being roughly equal to the accepted choice. Most people respond to this dissonance by creating new reasons to justify their final decision, or new arguments that explain why they did not choose the rejected option.

  • Another example of cognitive dissonance might be seen in instances where an employee's job role is less than clear. If your job role included competing expectations, you would likely feel stress and some measure of confusion as your mind tried to make sense of the situation.

What can cause cognitive dissonance?

There are many things in life that can cause cognitive dissonance, as the world is a complex place filled with an endless array of competing ideas, values, and beliefs. Almost every day, human beings are challenged to make decisions that define their sense of self. That constant need to balance your cognition and values against competing ideas can leave the door open to this type of disconnect. 

Cognitive dissonance can also be involved in situations where you might find yourself placing a higher value on something that you worked hard to obtain. That's often the mind's way of rationalizing the extra money or effort that it took to achieve that goal. It's noteworthy that this phenomenon can even occur if there are more valuable things in your life that you obtained with less effort.

The daily onslaught of information can easily cause cognitive dissonance. It's easy to find data and information that represents almost any point of view and many of those new pieces of information can conflict with existing beliefs.

The impact of cognitive dissonance

When you experience cognitive dissonance, it can have a variety of effects in your life. Obviously, the mental disconnect involved in this type of internal conflict can be unpleasant in the extreme. And when it's left unaddressed, the person suffering from this disconnect can experience a wide range of negative emotions like dissatisfaction with life, self-loathing, anger, frustration, and job burnout. As time goes on, unaddressed cognitive dissonance can have serious effects on mental wellbeing and psychological health.

The good news, however, is that cognitive dissonance can help to motivate you to make positive changes in your life - but only if you learn to recognize its symptoms before they become major problems. If you can recognize those signs and become motivated to make real change, you can learn to process the disconnect, understand its source, and begin to change your beliefs and actions to create a restored sense of mental harmony.

How to tell if you suffer from cognitive dissonance

Before you can properly address cognitive dissonance, you need to be able to recognize it when it begins to take root. To do that, you need to understand the various signs that could indicate that you're suffering from this phenomenon. Some of the more common signs of cognitive dissonance include:

  • A constant need to convince others that your opinion or belief is the only valid way of thinking about an issue

  • A reflexive defensiveness about your decisions and life choices

  • An unwillingness to engage with different ideas and opinions

  • Creeping feelings of anxiety, frustration, or anger when you think about certain ideas or actions that you've taken

  • An inability to receive any criticism of your way of thinking or behavior

  • Finding yourself attempting to justify your actions or opinions, even when no one is questioning them

  • Other people tell you that your actions or statements seem inconsistent with your character

  • Exposure to new ideas causes you to question your life choices

  • You find yourself feeling uncomfortable in situations where you're expected to talk about yourself

  • Any other time when you feel as though your beliefs and actions are out of balance with one another

How to reduce cognitive dissonance

Once you recognize that you might be suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance, you can commit to action that will help you to reduce that disconnect and restore mental harmony. Of course, the mind has certain defenses that will enable it to resolve many types of cognitive disconnect, but you can ensure a more constructive outcome by consciously engaging in that process. The following tips can help you to address the issue:

1.      Practice mindfulness

One of the best ways to deal with cognitive dissonance is to practice mindfulness in your daily life. By focusing on remaining in the moment and being mindful of your own thoughts and beliefs, you can detect possible inconsistencies early enough to deal with them before they become real problems.

2.      Take a step back and clarify your beliefs and values

When you identify potential dissonance in your thoughts, beliefs, or actions, it's important to take time to be as clear as possible about what you believe. What are your values and how do your current thoughts and actions fit within that framework? This process can help to create clarity in your cognition. It can also help when you occasionally challenge your beliefs and values, to ensure that you're on the right path.

3.      Seek out information that could resolve the conflict

If there's a conflict in your thinking, seek new information to help you to identify any incorrect areas of belief. There's no shame in admitting that your thought processes can be improved. In fact, that type of self-awareness can be crucial for growth and development.

4.      Create a plan to make real change

If you identify behaviors or thoughts that need to be changed, create a strategy to achieve that goal. Remember, the objective is to make sure that your various beliefs and actions are all in good alignment and that may require changes in your thinking, your actions at work, or your home life - and sometimes all three.

5.      Get support if you need it

If you're struggling to resolve your cognitive dissonance, discuss the conflicting thoughts with someone you trust. Sometimes, getting an outside opinion can help you to find the clarity you need to move forward with change.

6.      Take care of yourself

Since cognitive dissonance can affect you mentally, it can also play havoc with your physical wellbeing. Focus on your wellbeing to ensure that you maintain the best possible health as you work through this challenge.


Cognitive dissonance can be highly disruptive and can cause many challenges for those who suffer from its effects. Left unaddressed, these cognitive conflicts can hinder you from achieving your true potential in both your personal life and your professional endeavors. By learning to identify potential signs of cognitive dissonance and using simple strategies to overcome any mental disconnect, you can eventually restore your own mental balance and harmony.



Logical Fallacies

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.

Have you ever found yourself using all your energy to prove a point and later you find out that you’re actually wrong?

Actually, a lot of people have. If you’re trying to avoid logical reasoning and using arguments that can’t be easily validated, chances are that you’re using logical fallacies. This means that you’re trying to present inaccurate information as facts.

Logical fallacies are arguments that are based on distorted reasoning. And if someone tries to estimate these arguments logically, they can easily reveal that they are wrong. Considering that logical fallacies are part of our everyday lives, it’s becoming more and more crucial to discover these errors and learn to differentiate them from the truth.

In this section, we’ll review the concept of logical fallacy, discuss the most common types of logical fallacies, and see how they are related to cognitive dissonance.

Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others.


Most academic writing tasks require you to make an argument—that is, to present reasons for a particular claim or interpretation you are putting forward. You may have been told that you need to make your arguments more logical or stronger. And you may have worried that you simply aren’t a logical person or wondered what it means for an argument to be strong.


Learning to make the best arguments you can is an ongoing process, but it isn’t impossible: “Being logical” is something anyone can do, with practice.

Each argument you make is composed of premises (this is a term for statements that express your reasons or evidence) that are arranged in the right way to support your conclusion (the main claim or interpretation you are offering). You can make your arguments stronger by:

  1. using good premises (ones you have good reason to believe are both true and relevant to the issue at hand),

  2. making sure your premises provide good support for your conclusion (and not some other conclusion, or no conclusion at all),

  3. checking that you have addressed the most important or relevant aspects of the issue (that is, that your premises and conclusion focus on what is really important to the issue), and

  4. not making claims that are so strong or sweeping that you can’t really support them.

If you’re having trouble developing your argument, check to see if a fallacy is part of the problem.

It is particularly easy to slip up and commit a fallacy when you have strong feelings about your topic—if a conclusion seems obvious to you, you’re more likely to just assume that it is true and to be careless with your evidence. 

What are fallacies?

Fallacies are defects that weaken arguments. By learning to look for them in your own and others’ writing, you can strengthen your ability to evaluate the arguments you make, read, and hear. It is important to realize two things about fallacies: first, fallacious arguments are very, very common and can be quite persuasive, at least to the casual reader or listener. You can find dozens of examples of fallacious reasoning in newspapers, advertisements, and other sources. Second, it is sometimes hard to evaluate whether an argument is fallacious. An argument might be very weak, somewhat weak, somewhat strong, or very strong. An argument that has several stages or parts might have some strong sections and some weak ones. 

So what do fallacies look like?

For each fallacy listed, there is a definition or explanation, an example, and a tip on how to avoid committing the fallacy in your own arguments.

Hasty generalization

Definition: Making assumptions about a whole group or range of cases based on a sample that is inadequate (usually because it is atypical or too small). Stereotypes about people (“librarians are shy and smart,” “wealthy people are snobs,” etc.) are a common example of the principle underlying hasty generalization.

Example: “My roommate said her philosophy class was hard, and the one I’m in is hard, too. All philosophy classes must be hard!”

Two people’s experiences are, in this case, not enough on which to base a conclusion.

Tip: Ask yourself what kind of “sample” you’re using: Are you relying on the opinions or experiences of just a few people, or your own experience in just a few situations? If so, consider whether you need more evidence, or perhaps a less sweeping conclusion. (Notice that in the example, the more modest conclusion “Some philosophy classes are hard for some students” would not be a hasty generalization.)

Missing the point

Definition: The premises of an argument to support a particular conclusion—but not the conclusion that the arguer actually draws.

Example: “The seriousness of a punishment should match the seriousness of the crime. Right now, the punishment for drunk driving may simply be a fine. But drunk driving is a very serious crime that can kill innocent people. So the death penalty should be the punishment for drunk driving.”

The argument actually supports several conclusions—”The punishment for drunk driving should be very serious,” in particular—but it doesn’t support the claim that the death penalty, specifically, is warranted.

Tip: Separate your premises from your conclusion. Looking at the premises, ask yourself what conclusion an objective person would reach after reading them. Looking at your conclusion, ask yourself what kind of evidence would be required to support such a conclusion, and then see if you’ve actually given that evidence. Missing the point often occurs when a sweeping or extreme conclusion is being drawn, so be especially careful if you know you’re claiming something big.

Post hoc (also called false cause)

This fallacy gets its name from the Latin phrase “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” which translates as “after this, therefore because of this.”

Definition: Assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later—for example, if I register for a class, and my name later appears on the roll, it’s true that the first event caused the one that came later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren’t really related as cause and event. That is, correlation isn’t the same thing as causation.

Examples: “President Jones raised taxes, and then the rate of violent crime went up. Jones is responsible for the rise in crime.”

The increase in taxes might or might not be one factor in the rising crime rates, but the argument hasn’t shown us that one caused the other.

Tip: To avoid the post hoc fallacy, the arguer would need to give us some explanation of the process by which the tax increase is supposed to have produced higher crime rates. And that’s what you should do to avoid committing this fallacy: If you say that A causes B, you should have something more to say about how A caused B than just that A came first and B came later.

Slippery slope

Definition: The arguer claims that a sort of chain reaction, usually ending in some dire consequence, will take place, but there’s really not enough evidence for that assumption. The arguer asserts that if we take even one step onto the “slippery slope,” we will end up sliding all the way to the bottom; he or she assumes we can’t stop partway down the hill.

Example: “Animal experimentation reduces our respect for life. If we don’t respect life, we are likely to be more and more tolerant of violent acts like war and murder. Soon our society will become a battlefield in which everyone constantly fears for their lives. It will be the end of civilization. To prevent this terrible consequence, we should make animal experimentation illegal right now.”

Since animal experimentation has been legal for some time and civilization has not yet ended, it seems particularly clear that this chain of events won’t necessarily take place. Even if we believe that experimenting on animals reduces respect for life, and loss of respect for life makes us more tolerant of violence, that may be the spot on the hillside at which things stop—we may not slide all the way down to the end of civilization. And so we have not yet been given sufficient reason to accept the arguer’s conclusion that we must make animal experimentation illegal right now.

Like post hoc, slippery slope can be a tricky fallacy to identify, since sometimes a chain of events really can be predicted to follow from a certain action.

Here’s an example that doesn’t seem fallacious: “If I fail English 101, I won’t be able to graduate. If I don’t graduate, I probably won’t be able to get a good job, and I may very well end up doing temp work or flipping burgers for the next year.”

Tip: Check your argument for chains of consequences, where you say “if A, then B, and if B, then C,” and so forth. Make sure these chains are reasonable.

Weak analogy

Definition: Many arguments rely on an analogy between two or more objects, ideas, or situations. If the two things that are being compared aren’t really alike in the relevant respects, the analogy is a weak one, and the argument that relies on it commits the fallacy of weak analogy.

Example: “Guns are like hammers—they’re both tools with metal parts that could be used to kill someone. And yet it would be ridiculous to restrict the purchase of hammers—so restrictions on purchasing guns are equally ridiculous.” While guns and hammers do share certain features, these features (having metal parts, being tools, and being potentially useful for violence) are not the ones at stake in deciding whether to restrict guns. Rather, we restrict guns because they can easily be used to kill large numbers of people at a distance. This is a feature hammers do not share—it would be hard to kill a crowd with a hammer. Thus, the analogy is weak, and so is the argument based on it.

If you think about it, you can make an analogy of some kind between almost any two things in the world: “My paper is like a mud puddle because they both get bigger when it rains (I work more when I’m stuck inside) and they’re both kind of murky.” So the mere fact that you can draw an analogy between two things doesn’t prove much, by itself.

Arguments by analogy are often used in discussing abortion—arguers frequently compare fetuses with adult human beings, and then argue that treatment that would violate the rights of an adult human being also violates the rights of fetuses. Whether these arguments are good or not depends on the strength of the analogy: do adult humans and fetuses share the properties that give adult humans rights? If the property that matters is having a human genetic code or the potential for a life full of human experiences, adult humans and fetuses do share that property, so the argument and the analogy are strong; if the property is being self-aware, rational, or able to survive on one’s own, adult humans and fetuses don’t share it, and the analogy is weak.

Tip: Identify what properties are important to the claim you’re making, and see whether the two things you’re comparing both share those properties.

Appeal to authority

Definition: Often we add strength to our arguments by referring to respected sources or authorities and explaining their positions on the issues we’re discussing. If, however, we try to get readers to agree with us simply by impressing them with a famous name or by appealing to a supposed authority who really isn’t much of an expert, we commit the fallacy of appeal to authority.

Example: “We should abolish the death penalty. Many respected people, such as actor Guy Handsome, have publicly stated their opposition to it.”


While Guy Handsome may be an authority on matters having to do with acting, there’s no particular reason why anyone should be moved by his political opinions—he is probably no more of an authority on the death penalty than the person writing the paper.

Tip: There are two easy ways to avoid committing appeal to authority: First, make sure that the authorities you cite are experts on the subject you’re discussing. Second, rather than just saying “Dr. Authority believes X, so we should believe it, too,” try to explain the reasoning or evidence that the authority used to arrive at his or her opinion. That way, your readers have more to go on than a person’s reputation. It also helps to choose authorities who are perceived as fairly neutral or reasonable, rather than people who will be perceived as biased.

Ad populum

Definition: The Latin name of this fallacy means “to the people.” There are several versions of the ad populum fallacy, but in all of them, the arguer takes advantage of the desire most people have to be liked and to fit in with others and uses that desire to try to get the audience to accept his or her argument. One of the most common versions is the bandwagon fallacy, in which the arguer tries to convince the audience to do or believe something because everyone else (supposedly) does.

Example:Gay marriages are just immoral. 70% of Americans think so!” While the opinion of most Americans might be relevant in determining what laws we should have, it certainly doesn’t determine what is moral or immoral: there was a time where a substantial number of Americans were in favor of segregation, but their opinion was not evidence that segregation was moral. The arguer is trying to get us to agree with the conclusion by appealing to our desire to fit in with other Americans.

Tip: Make sure that you aren’t recommending that your readers believe your conclusion because everyone else believes it, all the cool people believe it, people will like you better if you believe it, and so forth. Keep in mind that the popular opinion is not always the right one.

Ad hominem and tu quoque

Definitions: Like the appeal to authority and ad populum fallacies, the ad hominem (“against the person”) and tu quoque (“you, too!”) fallacies focus our attention on people rather than on arguments or evidence. In both of these arguments, the conclusion is usually “You shouldn’t believe So-and-So’s argument.” The reason for not believing So-and-So is that So-and-So is either a bad person (ad hominem) or a hypocrite (tu quoque). In an ad hominem argument, the arguer attacks his or her opponent instead of the opponent’s argument.

Examples: “Andrea Dworkin has written several books arguing that pornography harms women. But Dworkin is just ugly and bitter, so why should we listen to her?” Dworkin’s appearance and character, which the arguer has characterized so ungenerously, have nothing to do with the strength of her argument, so using them as evidence is fallacious.

In a tu quoque argument, the arguer points out that the opponent has actually done the thing he or she is arguing against, and so the opponent’s argument shouldn’t be listened to. Here’s an example: imagine that your parents have explained to you why you shouldn’t smoke, and they’ve given a lot of good reasons—the damage to your health, the cost, and so forth. You reply, “I won’t accept your argument, because you used to smoke when you were my age. You did it, too!” The fact that your parents have done the thing they are condemning has no bearing on the premises they put forward in their argument (smoking harms your health and is very expensive), so your response is fallacious.

Tip: Be sure to stay focused on your opponents’ reasoning, rather than on their personal character. (The exception to this is, of course, if you are making an argument about someone’s character—if your conclusion is “President Jones is an untrustworthy person,” premises about her untrustworthy acts are relevant, not fallacious.)

Appeal to pity

Definition: The appeal to pity takes place when an arguer tries to get people to accept a conclusion by making them feel sorry for someone.

Examples: “I know the exam is graded based on performance, but you should give me an A. My cat has been sick, my car broke down, and I’ve had a cold, so it was really hard for me to study!” The conclusion here is “You should give me an A.” But the criteria for getting an A have to do with learning and applying the material from the course; the principle the arguer wants us to accept (people who have a hard week deserve A’s) is clearly unacceptable. The information the arguer has given might feel relevant and might even get the audience to consider the conclusion—but the information isn’t logically relevant, and so the argument is fallacious. Here’s another example: “It’s wrong to tax corporations—think of all the money they give to charity, and of the costs they already pay to run their businesses!”

Tip: Make sure that you aren’t simply trying to get your audience to agree with you by making them feel sorry for someone.

Appeal to ignorance

Definition: In the appeal to ignorance, the arguer basically says, “Look, there’s no conclusive evidence on the issue at hand. Therefore, you should accept my conclusion on this issue.”

Example: “People have been trying for centuries to prove that God exists. But no one has yet been able to prove it. Therefore, God does not exist.” Here’s an opposing argument that commits the same fallacy: “People have been trying for years to prove that God does not exist. But no one has yet been able to prove it. Therefore, God exists.” In each case, the arguer tries to use the lack of evidence as support for a positive claim about the truth of a conclusion. There is one situation in which doing this is not fallacious: if qualified researchers have used well-thought-out methods to search for something for a long time, they haven’t found it, and it’s the kind of thing people ought to be able to find, then the fact that they haven’t found it constitutes some evidence that it doesn’t exist.

Tip: Look closely at arguments where you point out a lack of evidence and then draw a conclusion from that lack of evidence.

Straw man

What is a straw man argument?

A straw man argument, sometimes called a straw person argument or spelled strawman argument, is the logical fallacy of distorting an opposing position into an extreme version of itself and then arguing against that extreme version. In creating a straw man argument, the arguer strips the opposing point of view of any nuance and often misrepresents it in a negative light. 

The straw man fallacy is an informal fallacy, which means that the flaw lies with the arguer’s method of arguing rather than the flaws of the argument itself. The straw man fallacy avoids the opponent’s actual argument and instead argues against an inaccurate caricature of it. By doing this, the straw man fallacy is a fallacy of relevance, because with it the arguer doesn’t engage with the relevant components of their opposer’s position. 

How does a straw man argument work?

A straw man argument is constructed by presenting an opposing position as a warped, extreme version of itself. There are a few different ways an individual might turn a reasonable argument into a straw man:

  • Oversimplifying it: An arguer might regurgitate a complex or layered issue as a simple, black-and-white one.

  • Focusing on just one part of the opposing argument: By doing this, the arguer ignores the various factors at play and, similar to oversimplifying the opposing argument, presents a tiny sliver of it as if that sliver were the whole thing.

  • Taking it out of context: For example, an individual campaigning for better pedestrian safety measures might say, “cars are dangerous,” and their opponent could turn this into a straw man by claiming the campaigner thinks cars should be banned.

  • Presenting a fringe or extreme version of an opposing argument as the mainstream version of it: For example, one might create a straw man by claiming that all vegans are opposed to all forms of animal captivity, including pet ownership.

Straw man arguments are used in a few different ways. In a live debate, one might be used in an attempt to back the opposing debater into a corner and force them to defend an extreme or unpopular take on their position. In a piece of writing, a straw man argument makes it easy for the writer to make their position look rational and appealing. By doing this, though, the writer is giving readers a biased look at the issue they’re discussing. When readers aren’t familiar with the topic, this can give them the wrong idea and prevent them from developing well-reasoned opinions on it. And when readers are familiar with the topic, it can make the writer look foolish and cause readers to take their position less seriously. 

When and why is the straw man fallacy used?

You’ve probably seen and heard straw man arguments in webcomics, on podcasts, on talk radio, in blog posts, and on television. They often appear in political rhetoric. You might have even used them yourself, even without realizing it. 

People use straw man arguments for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s to turn the opponent into a boogeyman that’s easy to rally supporters against. Other times, it’s due to a genuine misunderstanding of an opponent’s position. Keep both of these points in mind when you find yourself having to counter a straw man argument.

The easiest way to identify a straw man argument is to determine whether an argument sounds too simple or extreme to be true.


Take a look at these statements:

  • My opponent hates animals and doesn’t care how many will be displaced by his project. 

  • Our new principal wants to ban everything that’s fun. 

  • Their only priority is to make more money for their shareholders. 

See how all of these statements contain simple statements that lack nuance?

That’s a key characteristic of a straw man argument. In reality, the opponent in the first statement might be focused on his project’s development and prioritizing it over ecological concerns, but that doesn’t mean he hates animals. The principal in the second statement might be making changes at their school, but to say they want to ban everything fun shuts down any opportunity for productive dialogue in the conversation about these changes. And in the third statement, the company being discussed very well might prioritize keeping up their shareholders’ earnings —but it’s highly unlikely that’s their only priority. 

How to counter a straw man argument

To counter a straw man version of your position, restate your position in the clearest, most definitive language possible. The clearer you are, the more difficult it is for your opponent to distort your works or take them out of context. This works as a straw man prevention strategy as well as a straw man rebuttal strategy. 

When you’re actively being misrepresented by a straw man, stay calm and try to avoid straw-manning your opponent in return or letting your argument devolve into other fallacies, like the tu quoque fallacy (wherein you accuse your opponent of the same wrongdoing you yourself are accused of). Regardless of what you’re responding to, using fallacies in your discourse only undermines your position. Here are more effective ways to counter a straw man argument:

  • Asking your opponent to elaborate on their claim: Depending on the claim, ask them where they got their data or how they came to that conclusion based on what you’ve said and done.

  • Pointing out that your opponent is misrepresenting you: Simply call it what it is: a straw man argument. 

Red herring

Definition: Partway through an argument, the arguer goes off on a tangent, raising a side issue that distracts the audience from what’s really at stake. Often, the arguer never returns to the original issue.

Example: “Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do. After all, classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well.” Let’s try our premise-conclusion outlining to see what’s wrong with this argument:

Premise: Classes go more smoothly when the students and the professor are getting along well.

Conclusion: Grading this exam on a curve would be the most fair thing to do.

When we lay it out this way, it’s pretty obvious that the arguer went off on a tangent—the fact that something helps people get along doesn’t necessarily make it more fair; fairness and justice sometimes require us to do things that cause conflict. But the audience may feel like the issue of teachers and students agreeing is important and be distracted from the fact that the arguer has not given any evidence as to why a curve would be fair.

Tip: Try laying your premises and conclusion out in an outline-like form. How many issues do you see being raised in your argument? Can you explain how each premise supports the conclusion?

False dichotomy

Definition: In false dichotomy, the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place. But often there are really many different options, not just two—and if we thought about them all, we might not be so quick to pick the one the arguer recommends.

Example: “Caldwell Hall is in bad shape. Either we tear it down and put up a new building, or we continue to risk students’ safety. Obviously we shouldn’t risk anyone’s safety, so we must tear the building down.” The argument neglects to mention the possibility that we might repair the building or find some way to protect students from the risks in question—for example, if only a few rooms are in bad shape, perhaps we shouldn’t hold classes in those rooms.

Tip: Examine your own arguments: if you’re saying that we have to choose between just two options, is that really so? Or are there other alternatives you haven’t mentioned? If there are other alternatives, don’t just ignore them—explain why they, too, should be ruled out. Although there’s no formal name for it, assuming that there are only three options, four options, etc. when really there are more is similar to false dichotomy and should also be avoided.

Begging the question

Definition: A complicated fallacy; it comes in several forms and can be harder to detect than many of the other fallacies we’ve discussed. Basically, an argument that begs the question asks the reader to simply accept the conclusion without providing real evidence; the argument either relies on a premise that says the same thing as the conclusion (which you might hear referred to as “being circular” or “circular reasoning”), or simply ignores an important (but questionable) assumption that the argument rests on. Sometimes people use the phrase “beg the question” as a sort of general criticism of arguments, to mean that an arguer hasn’t given very good reasons for a conclusion, but that’s not the meaning we’re going to discuss here.

Examples: “Active euthanasia is morally acceptable. It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.” Let’s lay this out in premise-conclusion form:

Premise: It is a decent, ethical thing to help another human being escape suffering through death.

Conclusion: Active euthanasia is morally acceptable.

If we “translate” the premise, we’ll see that the arguer has really just said the same thing twice: “decent, ethical” means pretty much the same thing as “morally acceptable,” and “help another human being escape suffering through death” means something pretty similar to “active euthanasia.” So the premise basically says, “active euthanasia is morally acceptable,” just like the conclusion does. The arguer hasn’t yet given us any real reasons why euthanasia is acceptable; instead, she has left us asking “well, really, why do you think active euthanasia is acceptable?” Her argument “begs” (that is, evades) the real question.

Here’s a second example of begging the question, in which a dubious premise which is needed to make the argument valid is completely ignored: “Murder is morally wrong. So active euthanasia is morally wrong.” The premise that gets left out is “active euthanasia is murder.” And that is a debatable premise—again, the argument “begs” or evades the question of whether active euthanasia is murder by simply not stating the premise. The arguer is hoping we’ll just focus on the uncontroversial premise, “Murder is morally wrong,” and not notice what is being assumed.

Tip: One way to try to avoid begging the question is to write out your premises and conclusion in a short, outline-like form. See if you notice any gaps, any steps that are required to move from one premise to the next or from the premises to the conclusion. Write down the statements that would fill those gaps. If the statements are controversial and you’ve just glossed over them, you might be begging the question. Next, check to see whether any of your premises basically says the same thing as the conclusion (but in different words). If so, you’re probably begging the question. The moral of the story: you can’t just assume or use as uncontroversial evidence the very thing you’re trying to prove.


Definition: Equivocation is sliding between two or more different meanings of a single word or phrase that is important to the argument.

Example: “Giving money to charity is the right thing to do. So charities have a right to our money.” The equivocation here is on the word “right”: “right” can mean both something that is correct or good (as in “I got the right answers on the test”) and something to which someone has a claim (as in “everyone has a right to life”). Sometimes an arguer will deliberately, sneakily equivocate, often on words like “freedom,” “justice,” “rights,” and so forth; other times, the equivocation is a mistake or misunderstanding. Either way, it’s important that you use the main terms of your argument consistently.

Tip: Identify the most important words and phrases in your argument and ask yourself whether they could have more than one meaning. If they could, be sure you aren’t slipping and sliding between those meanings.

So how do I find fallacies in my own writings?

Here are some general tips for finding fallacies in your own arguments:

  • Pretend you disagree with the conclusion you’re defending. What parts of the argument would now seem fishy to you? What parts would seem easiest to attack? Give special attention to strengthening those parts.

  • List your main points; under each one, list the evidence you have for it. Seeing your claims and evidence laid out this way may make you realize that you have no good evidence for a particular claim, or it may help you look more critically at the evidence you’re using.

  • Learn which types of fallacies you’re especially prone to, and be careful to check for them in your work. Some writers make lots of appeals to authority; others are more likely to rely on weak analogies or set up straw men. Read over some of your old papers to see if there’s a particular kind of fallacy you need to watch out for.

  • Be aware that broad claims need more proof than narrow ones. Claims that use sweeping words like “all,” “no,” “none,” “every,” “always,” “never,” “no one,” and “everyone” are sometimes appropriate—but they require a lot more proof than less-sweeping claims that use words like “some,” “many,” “few,” “sometimes,” “usually,” and so forth.

  • Double check your characterizations of others, especially your opponents, to be sure they are accurate and fair.

There are even more Fallacies then explained in the text.

Check all these out!





 Types of Arguments and Their Importance

While many people associate the term, "argument," with a negative connotation, arguments are actually a regular part of the workplace and other areas of a person's life. Arguments are used to negotiate as well as to determine the best solution for a particular issue. They can also be used to determine the extent of truth there is in a certain claim or hypothesis.

There are several different types of arguments, and each type is used in different scenarios. In this section, we'll explore why it's important to know the different types of arguments and take a look at each type in depth.

Why is it important to know the types of arguments?

Understanding the different types of arguments is important because it allows you to determine which type is most appropriate in a given situation. There are a number of different types of arguments, including causal arguments, narrative arguments and evaluation arguments. Each has a different purpose, and using the right type of argument for the given situation will ensure you get your point across in a clear and confident manner.

There are a few primary reasons why an argument may occur.

These reasons include:

  • To solve a problem or make a judgment

  • To defend or explain an action or stance

  • To communicate your point of view and way of thinking to a person or group

Being skilled at arguing requires excellent communication and logic skills. These skills will also help you decide which type of argument is most fitting for the situation.

Type of arguments

The following are the primary types of arguments used in daily life:

1. Causal argument

A causal argument is a type of argument used to persuade someone or a group of people that one thing has caused something else. This type of argument focuses on how something occurred and how a problem arose as a result of that occurrence.

This argument type is important because it helps people determine the reasons why certain things happen and to make clear the cause to ensure it doesn't happen again. For example, arguing why climate change is occurring allows individuals to explore potential causes and come to an agreement on those causes.

2. Rebuttal argument

A rebuttal argument is centered on refuting an idea or belief that has been present up until this point in time. This type of argument often involves including why a particular idea or belief is flawed and how you feel it can be fixed or changed. Most rebuttal arguments include a statement of the counterargument, a statement regarding your position and how it's different from the counterargument and evidence to support your position.

3. Proposal argument

A proposal argument is one in which a person proposes a particular solution to a specific issue. This argument should include the establishment of a problem, the details of the proposal and reasons why the proposal is a good idea. For example, an employee may make a proposal argument that proposes a new way to increase customer retention rates.

4. Evaluation argument

An evaluation argument is an argument that is used to evaluate whether a particular element is "good" or "bad." For this argument to work, those participating in the argument must first come to an agreement as to the criteria of "good" and "bad." For example, you may make a list of the most widely recognized standards or protocols for judging a particular issue.

5. Narrative argument

A narrative argument is an argument in which an individual states their case by telling a story that illustrates a point directly related to the argument. Unlike other arguments which rely solely on figures and facts, narrative arguments allow individuals to use a narrative to express their stance on a particular issue. For example, an employee may describe their experience with another company's customer service representatives to make a stance on a change the employee wants to make in their own company's customer service approach.

6. Toulmin argument

The Toulmin argument was developed by Stephen E. Toulmin and is an argument that is composed of six different parts: claim, grounds, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal and backing. In this argument, the claim is what the arguer wishes to prove; the grounds of the argument are the facts and evidence that support the claim; the warrant is what links the grounds to the claim; the backing is additional warrant support; the qualifier is used to show that the claim does not always apply to all situations and the rebuttal is acknowledging that there are other valid viewpoints for the claim.

7. Rogerian argument

A Rogerian argument is an argument used to determine the best possible solution to a particular issue based on the interests and needs of all parties involved. This type of argument is used to help those with opposing viewpoints reach a common ground by allowing them to look at a situation from a different perspective. In a Rogerian argument, both parties acknowledge the opposition and build trust by identifying each others' merit.

8. Classical Western argument

A classical Western argument is used to persuade a group of people of the validity of an argument and/or reveal the truths that define or affect the argument. This is a basic type of persuasive argument and typically includes five different components: an introduction, narration, confirmation, refutation, and a conclusion.

Classical arguments are often used when an individual or group wants to be more aggressive or direct, or when someone wants to establish power with another individual or group. Many people who use the classical argument wrap up their conclusion by incorporating appeals to the audience's motivations, values and feelings to help them identify with the argument.

Behavioral science is, at its core, the why and the what of human decision-making. It aims to help people become more aware of or engage in something and can be applied not only to external audiences but internal ones too. Behavioral science provides insights into the cognitive biases and nuances of human behavior, which can be leveraged for your communications strategy.

Speaking Ethically

and Avoiding Fallacies


What comes to mind when you think of speaking to persuade?

Perhaps the idea of persuasion may bring to mind propaganda and issues of manipulation, deception, intentional bias, bribery, and even coercion. Each element relates to persuasion, but in distinct ways. We can recognize that each of these elements in some ways has a negative connotation associated with it.

Why do you think that deceiving your audience, bribing a judge, or coercing people to do something against their wishes is wrong? These tactics violate our sense of fairness, freedom, and ethics.

Manipulation involves the management of facts, ideas or points of view to play upon inherent insecurities or emotional appeals to one’s own advantage. Your audience expects you to treat them with respect, and deliberately manipulating them by means of fear, guilt, duty, or a relationship is unethical.

In the same way, deception involves the use of lies, partial truths, or the omission of relevant information to deceive your audience. No one likes to be lied to, or made to believe something that is not true. Deception can involve intentional bias, or the selection of information to support your position while framing negatively any information that might challenge your belief.

Bribery involves the giving of something in return for an expected favour, consideration, or privilege. It circumvents the normal protocol for personal gain, and again is a strategy that misleads your audience.

Coercion is the use of power to compel action. You make someone do something they would not choose to do freely. While you may raise the issue that the ends justify the means, and you are “doing it for the audience’s own good,” recognize the unethical nature of coercion.

Eleven Points for Speaking Ethically

In his book Ethics in Human Communication Johannesen (1996) offers eleven points to consider when speaking to persuade. His main points reiterate many of the points across this chapter and should be kept in mind as you prepare, and present, your persuasive message.

Do not:

  • use false, fabricated, misrepresented, distorted or irrelevant evidence to support arguments or claims

  • intentionally use unsupported, misleading, or illogical reasoning

  • represent yourself as informed or an “expert” on a subject when you are not

  • use irrelevant appeals to divert attention from the issue at hand

  • ask your audience to link your idea or proposal to emotion-laden values, motives, or goals to which it is actually not related

  • deceive your audience by concealing your real purpose, by concealing self-interest, by concealing the group you represent, or by concealing your position as an advocate of a viewpoint

  • distort, hide, or misrepresent the number, scope, intensity, or undesirable features of consequences or effects

  • use “emotional appeals” that lack a supporting basis of evidence or reasoning.

  • oversimplify complex, gradation-laden situations into simplistic, two-valued, either-or, polar views or choices

  • pretend certainty where tentativeness and degrees of probability would be more accurate

  • advocate something which you yourself do not believe in

In your speech to persuade, consider honesty and integrity as you assemble your arguments. Your audience will appreciate your thoughtful consideration of more than one view, your understanding of the complexity, and you will build your ethos, or credibility, as you present your document. Be careful not to stretch the facts, or assemble them only to prove yourself, and instead prove the argument on its own merits. Deception, coercion, intentional bias, manipulation and bribery should have no place in your speech to persuade.

Avoiding Fallacies

Fallacies are another way of saying false logic. These tricks deceive your audience with their style, drama, or pattern, but add little to your speech in terms of substance and can actually detract from your effectiveness. In Table 8.2 below, eight classical fallacies are described. Learn to recognize these fallacies so they can’t be used against you, and so that you can avoid using them with your audience.

1. Red Herring

Any diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue, particularly by relating the issue to a common fear.

It’s not just about the death penalty; it’s about the victims and their rights. You wouldn’t want to be a victim, but if you were, you’d want justice.

2. Straw Man

A weak argument set up to be easily refuted, distracting attention from stronger arguments

What if we released criminals who commit murder after just a few years of rehabilitation? Think of how unsafe our streets would be then!

3. Begging the Question

Claiming the truth of the very matter in question, as if it were already an obvious conclusion.

We know that they will be released and unleashed on society to repeat their crimes again and again.

4. Circular Argument

The proposition is used to prove itself. Assumes the very thing it aims to prove. Related to begging the question.

Once a killer, always a killer.

5. Ad Populum

Appeals to a common belief of some people, often prejudicial, and states everyone holds this belief. Also called the Bandwagon Fallacy, as people “jump on the bandwagon” of a perceived popular view.

Most people would prefer to get rid of a few “bad apples” and keep our streets safe.

6. Ad Hominem

“Argument against the man” instead of against his message. Stating that someone’s argument is wrong solely because of something about the person rather than about the argument itself.

Our representative is a drunk and philanderer. How can we trust him on the issues of safety and family?

7. Non Sequitur

“It does not follow.” The conclusion does not follow from the premises. They are not related.

Since the liberal anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s, we’ve seen an increase in convicts who got let off death row.

8. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

“After this, therefore because of this,” also called a coincidental correlation. It tries to establish a cause-and-effect relationship where only a correlation exists.

Violent death rates went down once they started publicizing executions.


Avoid false logic and make a strong case or argument for your proposition. Finally, here is a five-step motivational checklist to keep in mind as you bring it all together:

1. Get their attention
2. Identify the need
3. Satisfy the need
4. Present a vision or solution
5. Take action

This simple organizational pattern can help you focus on the basic elements of a persuasive message when time is short and your performance is critical. Speaking to persuade should not involve manipulation, coercion, false logic, or other unethical techniques.

What are the characteristics of an ethical speaker?

The characteristics of an ethical speaker are creating a sense of trust with the audience by acting and speaking with integrity. Ethical speakers also respect others by removing bias and prejudice from speeches and ensure all information in a speech is true and cited. The ethical speaker believes in the words they are saying and the message they are sending.

Why is it important to be an ethical speaker?

When public speaking, it is important to ensure the rules of ethics are followed because misinformation, lies, and manipulations can deeply impact society. Lies can undermine the truth, causing issues of mistrust, and hateful words or thoughts can lead to violence and civil unrest.

How can you be a more ethical speaker?

Being an ethical speaker is easy when you follow the five principles: trustworthiness, integrity, respect for others, dignity in conduct, and truthfulness in the message. It's also important to ensure you cite sources if you take information from a website, book, film, or any other form of media.

Audiences are increasingly more savvy and sophisticated. Creating communications that look pretty and appealing isn’t enough to engage audiences, and traditional communications methods and models no longer move the needle. Behavioral science considers the environmental, social, and personal factors that impact how a person chooses to act. 

By using behavioral science principles, you can design your messages to be more impactful and drive greater actions and better behaviors. It is important to start small and build up: begin with a clearly defined target audience, a communications channel strategy (e.g., press releases, speeches, webinars, blog posts, events), and a primary message or call-to-action.

Behavioral science principles include: 

  • Addressing audience needs. If this is a benefit statement, indicate how the change or engagement makes life simpler or saves time. 

  • Highlighting differentiation. If there is a before and after effect, it could increase the likelihood that the communication will resonate with your audience and they will pay attention. 

  • Creating a positive step into the unknown. Asking for changes in behavior and engagement can potentially create barriers, such as fear, uncertainty, and a trust/distrust dynamic. By initially addressing these barriers, audiences are more inclined to engage rather than dismiss. 

  • Enlisting advocates and evangelists. This will help with audience members becoming early adopters and increase the bandwagon effect. 

  • Optimizing value. While value is subjective, it is important that the value proposition communications resonates with your audience in terms of their willingness to change and engage. 

  • Mitigating push versus pull. Sometimes pushing communications does not make up for the pull from your audience. Determine which option by the type of communication. For example, videos and webinars pull; press releases and blog posts push.

Your communications strategy and communications team can help your audience close the intention-action gap, which is the difference between what people know and how people decide to act in the moment. One tool in the communications strategy toolbox is the ability to frame a particular message. You should look for ways to frame their communications to direct and drive emotional engagement and increase your audience’s motivation. 

Finding the right balance

Ensuring that your target audience is receptive to the information you’re putting out there and that the message resonates enough for them to take action, often depends on factors such as timing and a feeling of connection. If the communication proposition highlights shared values, your audience is more likely to understand the difference between intention and action and to make a decision based on that. 

Communications activities should be designed so as to not overwhelm audiences. The message needs to be presented in a way that is simple, direct, and easy to follow. If the message is a graphic, it needs to be grouped and presented in meaningful sections. And in terms of the language you are using in your communications, remember to speak to your audience and not at them. 

Where do we go from here?

Any communications approach that leverages behavioral science needs to acknowledge the possibility of cognitive overload, decision fatigue, and backlash. This is where your overall communications strategy can work in tandem with tactics and activities to mitigate these possibilities. 

The last 18 months have highlighted that we are social creatures by nature. You can integrate a social component to your communications activities to increase the chances of your audience changing their behavior or engaging with the message to take action. You can structure your message so that it highlights how others are already on board. You can also use personalization to get your audience to buy into the message or call to action. 

By adopting a behavioral science approach to your communications strategy, you can enhance behavioral outcomes by improving clarity, relevance, and the impact of your message. This in turn motivates your audience to engage.

As with all communications activities and campaigns, setting goals, identifying what will be measured and how, and where appropriate, reusing and adapting your messages for different channels is essential. Communications that integrate behavioral science principles can move your organization closer to its goals of making an impact in the world.

Reasoning is a cognitive process that involves the construction of logical justifications for actions or decisions.

It’s heavily used in problem-solving and decision-making scenarios, utilising one’s intellectual capabilities to achieve a particular objective.

Understanding and applying reasoning not only guides personal and professional ambitions but also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which are crucial for any field.

Types Of Reasoning

1. Deductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning involves taking a generally true statement and applying it to a specific instance.

This type of thinking could be likened to solving a puzzle. We begin with the bigger picture, which is the general fact, and piece it together, referring to specific details, to draw a conclusion.


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