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Description: We would all like to think that we are well aware that politicians sometimes play fast and loose with the numbers related to issues and that we are not likely to be fooled by them when they do. The reality, however, is that we buy more of what we hear politicians say about the numbers or statistics behind issues both than we should AND than we think we do. Why might that be? Once you have your hypotheses in order, read through the article linked below for a concise overview of a number of lines of research that addresses these questions.

Source: 3 reasons people fall for politicians lies about statistics, Mack Clayton Shelly, II, The Conversation.

Date: February 28, 2019


Article Link:

There are lies, damned lies and statistics and a huge debate about just where THAT quote was first offered ( Being able to think critically about statistics is as important as being able to think critically about research findings that are reported or sometimes just tossed around by people trying to convince us of something.  We do not generally do very well with numbers and particularly with probabilities which are at the heart of statistics. In addition, we do not think logically about the information we review when we try and inform ourselves about an issue. Instead, we are likely to suffer from confirmation bias where we are more likely to note and remember information that supports rather than challenges our previous beliefs (even or especially when they were already less than fully informed). And lastly, the less we know about something the more we are likely to overestimate what we know about that subject. The Dinning-Kruger effect can get us into all sorts of trouble (for more about that listen to the podcast linked in the Further Reading Section below). What should we do about this? Well, spend some time reflecting on what it means to think critically would be a good start!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What sorts of things get in the way of our avoiding being led around by politicians’ playing fast and loose with numbers (statistics)?
  2. Thinking about each of the reasons suggested for why we are led along by politicians mis-use of numbers and come up with one or two things we could do or try and do to avoid or reduce being misled.
  3. Are there any good (adaptive) reasons for why we do the sorts of things outlined in the article?

References (Read Further):

David Dunning on the Dunning-Kruger Effect, The Current Podcast, CBC radio (at time stamp 1:51:51)

Anderson, Jenny (2016) Americans are spectacularly bad at answering even the most basic math questions,

Peters, E., Västfjäll, D., Slovic, P., Mertz, C. K., Mazzocco, K., & Dickert, S. (2006). Numeracy and decision making. Psychological science, 17(5), 407-413.

Peters, E. (2012). Beyond comprehension: The role of numeracy in judgments and decisions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1), 31-35.

Wheeler, Gregory, “Bounded Rationality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Heshmat, Shahram (2015) What is Confirmation Bias?

Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1121.