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9 Psychological Tricks Our Brain Is Constantly Playing on Us That Put Us in Awkward Situations

Cognitive bias describes the typical mistakes we make while thinking. These mistakes can convince us of things that don’t really exist. If you know about these popular mistakes, it will be easier for you to predict situations that will happen to you and you can also stay safe from the tricks that marketers and salesmen use. Their strategies are also based on these psychological effects.

We at Bright Side have read a ton of literature and we want you to know about the tricks our brain can play on us.

1. Yerkes—Dodson law

Aside from other factors, our motivation really influences whether we achieve our goals or not. Of course, if we are not motivated enough, we are not likely to achieve good results. But, according to the Yerkes—Dodson law, if you are too motivated, your productivity drops too.

An athlete that is too motivated by the prize may do a bad job during the competition, and a girl that wants to lose weight so that a guy will like her, may start eating again after she stops dieting. The stress and the high tension make it really hard to achieve the results you want.

They even calculate the optimal level of motivation for different tasks: for difficult tasks, it should be 2-3 points out of 10, for average — about 5, and for simple ones — from 7 to 8.

2. Irwin effect

We think that something good is more likely to happen to us rather than something bad. In 1998, American psychologist, Scott Plous, did an experiment: students were given a list of 42 positive and negative events (illness, buying a house, getting a raise, and so on). Every single one of them was asked to estimate the chances that these things would happen in their lives and not happen to others. People thought that the likelihood of the good events was 15% higher for them that the bad events — and 20% lower than for others.

So, while making decisions, this effect doesn’t allow us to see the big picture. This could explain why we don’t save money for a rainy day, because we don’t believe it will come, or why we can’t leave a toxic relationship, because we overestimate the possibility that our partner will change.

3. Dr. Fox effect

The point of this effect is that the charisma of a lecturer or speaker can hide the insanity of what they are saying. And people will still feel that they’ve learned something. In 1970, in the medical school at the University of California, researchers did an experiment: a professional actor read a scientific article, pretending to be “Dr. Fox.” What he was reading had almost no connection to the topic and it was controversial and unfinished, but the man was very emotional and won the trust of the listeners.

The Dr. Fox effect is used by many business trainers and coaches that don’t have a proper education. They sell their seminars, promising to teach us the rules of personal growth and making money fast.

4. Less-is-better effect

If we are offered 2 things, without a direct comparison between each of them, we are more likely to choose the less valuable one. So, if a guy gives a girl a basket of cheap beauty products, she will think that he is less generous than someone who gives her a Chanel lipstick, even though in the first case, the guy spent more money.

The term less-is-better was coined by Christopher Hsee, professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. He did an experiment with things that were offered separately and people chose the most valuable gift:

  • An expensive scarf ($45) compared to a cheap coat ($55)
  • A set of plates that had 24 plates that were in one piece, compared to a set of 31 plates and several broken ones
  • A small dictionary, compared to a big one in an old cover

5. Denomination effect

We are more likely to pay with small bills and save the big ones. In 2009, this effect was described by Priya Raghubir and Joydeep Srivastava. Students were each given a dollar: half of the group got one dollar bills, and others got 4 quarters. Then, they were offered to either save the dollar or spend it on candy. Students were more likely to spend the coins.

So, in order not to spend all the money you have while shopping, take only the big bills with you.

6. Foot-in-the-mouth

A person that has answered some ordinary question (like, How are you? How are you feeling?) with an ordinary answer (like Fine, I’m alright) is more likely to give a positive answer if they are asked for something. If the person asking the question says something like, “Glad to hear that,” then the person who was asked is under even more pressure.

This phenomenon can be used to psychologically manipulate you. We might already be used to cold calls, when the person calling us knows our name and tries to sell something to us. But this should serve as a reminder to our elderly readers.

7. Contrast effect

The contrast effect is how we see and sense things when they are isolated and when they are being compared to other things. In the 17th century, teacher and philosopher John Locke noticed that if you put your hand in warm water, it may seem to be hot or cold depending on the water your hand was in before.

In psychology, this works for both comparing people who are opposites and comparing ourselves in contrast to other people. For example, a girl that doesn’t play any sports, but is conscious about what she eats may feel unattractive the first time she goes to the gym. But she might feel really attractive and comfortable when going to the beach and comparing herself to regular women.

8. Overconfidence effect

The overconfidence effect is about our tendency to overestimate our abilities and put ourselves into the “above average” category. We are also likely to believe in flattery.

So, a girl who is discussing the fact that she broke up with her boyfriend with her friends may use their words (like “You are perfect” or “You did the right thing”) as an argument to not admit her own mistakes. And a teacher, who is sure that they are right, may not take a student’s words seriously because they are younger and less educated.

9. Low-ball

The low-ball effect is the phenomenon that happens when we agree to something, and later the conditions change, but we still most likely want whatever we agreed to. This effect is often used in sales. In 1978, psychologists Robert Cialdini, John T. Cacioppo, and their colleagues did an experiment. One group of students was offered to take part in an experiment that was scheduled for 7 AM. Only 24% agreed. The other group was not told when they were supposed to come and when 56 % of students agreed, they were told about the early time for the experiment. None of them refused to come and 95% of the students showed up for the experiment that day.

Many people have probably dealt with this phenomenon in stores while paying and finding out that some offer was over and now the price for something was much higher, but they still agree to buy the product.

Have you ever noticed these effects on yourself or others?

Illustrated by Natalia Tylosova for Bright Side