Even the most intelligent and empathetic people are plagued by psychological pitfalls that prevent them from fully understanding other people. In fact, we're pretty much hardwired to make mistakes in our judgments of and behavior toward others.
Here, we've rounded up a few cognitive biases that affect our everyday interactions. The scary part is that most of them happen without us even noticing.
When you choose something, say a boyfriend or girlfriend, you tend to feel positive about it, even if the choice has flaws. For example, you may think your dog is awesome — even if it bites people every once in a while — and that other dogs are stupid, since they're not yours.
Curse of knowledge
When people who are well-informed cannot understand the common man. For instance, in the TV show "The Big Bang Theory," it's difficult for scientist Sheldon Cooper to understand his waitress neighbor Penny.
Where people in one state of mind fail to understand people in another state of mind. If you are happy, you can't imagine why people would be unhappy. When you are not sexually aroused, you can't understand how you act when you are sexually aroused.
Fundamental attribution error
This is where you attribute a person's behavior to an intrinsic quality of her identity rather than the situation she's in. For instance, you might think your colleague is a fundamentally angry person, when she is really just upset because she stubbed her toe.
Where we take one positive attribute of someone and associate it with everything else about that person or thing. It explains why we often assume highly attractive individuals are also good people.
We view people in our group more favorably than someone in another group. This bias helps illuminate the origins of prejudice and discrimination. Unfortunately, researchers say we aren't always aware of our preference for people in our social group.
When we believe the world is a better place than it is, we aren't prepared for the danger and violence we may encounter. The inability to accept the full breadth of human nature leaves us vulnerable.
This is the opposite of the overoptimism bias. Pessimists over-weigh negative consequences with their own and others' actions. Those who are depressed are more likely to exhibit the pessimism bias.
The desire to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do, in order to prove your freedom of choice. One study found that when people saw a sign that read, "Do not write on these walls under any circumstances," they were more likely to deface the walls than when they saw a sign that read, "Please don't write on these walls." The study authors say that's partly because the first sign posed a greater perceived threat to people's freedom.
The belief that fairness should trump other values, even when it's not in our interests.We learn the reciprocity norm from a young age, and it affects all kinds of interactions. One study found that, when restaurant waiters gave customers extra mints, the customers upped their tips. That's likely because the customers felt obligated to return the favor.
Our tendency to focus on the most easily recognizable features of a person or concept.For example, research suggests that we often treat "token" minority members of a group as stand-ins for the group as a whole. So if there's one woman on a business team and she performs poorly, we may assume that women in general are poor performers.
Self-enhancing transmission bias
Everyone shares their successes more than their failures. This leads to a false perception of reality and inability to accurately assess situations. It's also why people seem way happier on Instagram than anyone could be in real life.
Status quo bias
The tendency to prefer things to stay the same. This is similar to loss-aversion bias, where people prefer to avoid losses instead of acquiring gains. The authors of one book argue that, in relationships, we often prefer the familiar (staying together) to the unfamiliar (breaking up), even if we're currently unhappy with our partner.
Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the individual. There may be some value to stereotyping because it allows us to quickly identify strangers as friends or enemies. But people tend to overuse it — for example, thinking low-income individuals aren't as competent as higher-income people.