How To Get Your Own Way

Use Critical Thinking to Influence or to Protect Yourself from Influencers

If you understand how our brains take shortcuts to reach conclusions, then you can create deliberate strategies to get your own way or to defend yourself against those trying to get one over on you. is a Critical Thinking reference site. Written by two former British military intelligence analysts, it aims to help you understand how you can use Critical Thinking-themed "mind games" either to influence others (e.g., sell them stuff, win an argument) or to protect yourself from those playing mind games with you.

It's a war out there! covers the following themes:

What Are Heuristics?

Heuristics are the brain's frameworks for making decisions. Our heuristics are personalized by our experiences. More specifically, the way we make decisions is affected by:
  • Personal biases (assigning importance to the ideas in arguments).
  • Cognitive fallacies (making process errors when considering arguments)
  • Cognitive effects (following tendencies when processing arguments)
These thinking "gremlins" can undermine your decision-making. Understanding them and then deploying them against your "marks [targets]" will make you more persuasive. It will also help you counter the persuasion of those who are using Critical Thinking techniques on you, typically peddlers, politicians, and the press.

Below is a list of common biases, fallacies, and cognitive effects. (All the examples on this site come from How To Get Your Own Way, a book that covers Critical Thinking, body language, statistics, effective writing, and marketing.)

List of Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that occur when making decisions or judgments.

Anchoring anchoring iconWhen making decisions, anchoring is a bias that involves factoring in one piece of information too heavily. Anchoring occurs when a person overly relies on, or anchors to, a specific piece of information. Once the so-called anchor has been established, there is a bias towards the anchor.

Attentional Bias attentional bias iconAttentional bias causes people not to examine all possible outcomes when making judgements. In other words, their attention is on just one or two of the possible outcomes. The rest are ignored. A common type of attentional bias is one in which two conditions can be present (see the example below), meaning there are four possible outcomes. However, those displaying attentional bias will not consider all four.

Availability Bias availability bias iconAvailability bias is the tendency to let an example that comes to mind easily affect decision-making or reasoning. When making decisions or reasoning, the availability bias occurs when a story you can readily recall plays too big a role in how you reach your conclusion.

Better Than Average Bias better than average bias iconIn decision-making and reasoning, better-than-average bias is the tendency to place too much emphasis on your own views.

Choice Supportive Bias choice supportive bias iconChoice-supportive bias is the tendency for a decision-maker to defend his own decision or to later rate it better than it was simply because he made it.

Confirmation Bias confirmation bias iconConfirmation bias is selective thinking where information that confirms a preconception is: (1) automatically noticed (2) actively sought (3) overvalued and (4) accepted without reservation. On the other hand, information that contradicts the preconception is (1) automatically ignored (2) not sought (3) undervalued and (4) rejected out of hand. In summary, Confirmation bias occurs when someone has reached a conclusion and shapes the evidence either knowingly or unknowingly to make it fit. Confirmation bias will also cause people to recall memory selectively or interpret events in a way that supports their preconception.

Contrast Bias contrast bias iconContrast bias is the tendency to promote or demote something in a large grouping after a single comparison with one of its peers.

Distinction Bias distinction bias icon Distinction bias is the tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when assessing them together than you would if you evaluated them separately.

Good Looking People Bias good looking people bias icon In decision-making and reasoning, good-looking-people bias is the tendency to place more weight on the views of good-looking people than average-looking or ugly people.

Groupthink group think icon Groupthink occurs when decisions are made due to the unified nature of decision-makers. It happens when the decision-makers strive for unanimity, and this overrides their motivation to consider alternative views. As a result, independent thinking is lost.

Hindsight Bias hindsight bias icon Hindsight bias is the tendency to think that past events were more predictable than they actually were.

Impact Bias impact bias icon Impact bias is the tendency to overestimate the length or the intensity of future feelings in reaction to either good or bad occurrences.

Mirror Imaging mirror imaging bias icon Mirror imaging occurs when a person or a group is viewed through the lens of the analyst's own environment and experiences, rather than from theirs.

Moral Credential Bias moral credential bias icon Moral-credential bias occurs when someone's history of making fair judgements gives rise to a sense of "free licence" in the future.

Negativity Bias negativity bias icon Negativity bias is the tendency to give more weight to negative experiences or information than to positive ones.

News Media Bias news media bias icon News-media bias is the media's tendency to run stories that are commercially viable, topical, and visually interesting. (While it may sound counter-intuitive, the media's attempt to avoid bias also creates a bias.)

Omissions Bias omissions bias icon Omissions bias is the tendency to judge activity that causes damage as worse (or less moral) than inactivity that causes the same damage.

Reactance Bias reactance bias icon Reactance bias is the tendency to do something different from what someone wants you to do in reaction to a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice. Reactance Bias can occur when you feel pressured to accept a certain view and can lead to a strengthening of resolve for an alternative view, regardless of its relative merits.

Self Serving Bias self serving bias icon Self-serving bias is the tendency to take credit for positive outcomes or to lay blame elsewhere for failures. There are two main motivations that lead people to act in this way: (1) They are trying to create a positive image of themselves, or (2) They are trying to preserve their self-esteem.

Status Quo Bias status quo bias icon Status-quo bias is the tendency to favour decisions that maintain the status quo (i.e., the existing state of affairs). Those affected by this bias choose not to divert from established behaviours unless there is compelling incentive to change.

Read more about cognitive biases.

List of Cognitive Effects

Cognitive effects are tendencies that cause thinking errors.

Barnum Effect Barnum effect icon The Barnum effect occurs when people believe that general descriptions are accurate descriptions that relate to them. This occurs most commonly when describing personality traits.

Broken Biscuit Effect broken biscuit effect icon The broken-biscuit effect occurs when a person invents an irrational justification for their actions. Even though the person knows the justification is irrational, it still provides the impetus to carry out the action. It derives its name from the irrational notion that "broken biscuits have no calories", which a dieting person will cite before consuming a broken biscuit (or one with slightly imperfect edging) or breaking one before eating it.

Compromise Effect compromise effect icon When choosing something, the compromise effect is the tendency to avoid an extreme choice. Avoiding an extreme choice is often due to the common perception that extremes attract risk. As the middle ground feels safer, decisions that exclude extremes are made far more readily.

Dunning Kruger Effect Dunning Kruger effect icon The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency for unskilled people to make poor decisions or reach wrong conclusions, but their incompetence prevents them from recognising their mistakes. It links well with the old adage: "Ignorance is bliss." In uncovering this tendency, Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University were partly influenced by this observation: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." (Charles Darwin)

Endowment Effect endowment effect icon The endowment effect describes the tendency to place more value on something you own than something you don't.

Halo Effect halo effect icon The halo effect is the tendency to judge someone positively because of a known positive trait. This can occur regardless of whether the judgement is related to the trait.

Hyperbolic Discounting Effect hyperbolic discounting effect icon The hyperbolic discounting effect is the tendency to show a preference for a reward that arrives sooner rather than later. Studies show that we are likely to discount the value of the later reward more as the length of the delay increases.

Isolation Effect isolation effect icon The isolation effect (also known as the Von Restorff Effect) is the tendency to recall something that stands out in a group and afford it more weighting than its peers. It is named after German psychologist Hedwig Von Restorff, who first documented it in 1933.

Ostrich Effect ostrich effect icon The ostrich effect is the tendency to ignore a dangerous or risky situation. This bias takes its name from the widely held, though completely incorrect, belief that an ostrich will bury its head in the sand when faced with danger. People will demonstrate this kind of behaviour by blotting out a problem from the mind instead of tackling the situation that threatens them.

Rhyme As Reason Effect rhyme as reason effect icon The rhyme-as-reason-effect is a cognitive bias that causes a rhyming statement, observation or saying to be judged more accurate than an equally valid non-rhyming one.

Read more about cognitive effects.

List of Cognitive Fallacies

Cognitive fallacies (or logical fallacies) are errors in reasoning that weaken or invalidate an argument.

Ad Hominem Argument ad hominem argument icon An ad hominem argument (ad hominem is Latin for "to the man") occurs when someone tries to contest a claim by highlighting the negative characteristics or beliefs of the person making the claim rather than contesting the claim itself.

Appeal to Authority Fallacy appeal-to-authority icon The appeal-to-authority fallacy is an error in reasoning that occurs when someone adopts a position because that position is affirmed by a person they believe to be an authority.

Appeal to Flattery Fallacy appeal-to-flattery icon The appeal-to-flattery fallacy is an error in reasoning that occurs when someone adopts a position due to flattery or a compliment presented within the argument.

Base Rate Fallacy base-rate fallacy icon The base-rate fallacy is an error in reasoning that occurs when someone reaches a conclusion that fails to account for an earlier premise usually a base rate, a probability or some other statistic.

Gamblers' Fallacy gamblers fallacy icon The gamblers' fallacy occurs when someone predicts the outcome of a pending random event based on previous random events.

Obfuscation Fallacy obfuscation fallacy icon The obfuscation fallacy occurs when someone adopts a position after hearing, or presenting, an argument containing unnecessarily complex language that either impresses (when it shouldn't), confuses or deceives. "To obfuscate: to make obscure, unclear or unintelligible"

Read more about cognitive fallacies.

See Also

Help Us To Improve

  • Do you disagree with something on this page?
  • Did you spot a typo?
  • Do you know a bias or fallacy that we've missed?
Please tell us using this form
Critical Thinking guru? critical thinking test

Take Our Test.

next up: