The Broken-Biscuit Effect

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Broken-Biscuit Effect?

The Quick Answer

In Critical Thinking, the broken-biscuit effect is the tendency to invent an irrational justification for an action.

The Broken-Biscuit Effect: The Art of Justifying Our Decisions

The broken-biscuit effect, also known as rationalization bias, reveals our tendency to rationalize and justify our decisions and behaviours, even when they contradict evidence or conflicting beliefs. This cognitive bias stems from our desire for coherence and consistency, leading us to create post hoc explanations that align with our pre-existing beliefs and values. It gets its name from the absurd rationalization that broken biscuits have no calories, which provides the impetus to snack.

Rationalization is the mental process of inventing logical reasons to justify our decisions or behaviours after the fact. When faced with cognitive dissonance, the discomfort caused by conflicting beliefs, we engage in rationalization to alleviate the dissonance. By constructing justifications that align with our existing beliefs, values, or self-image, we reduce the discomfort and maintain consistency.

Examples of the broken-biscuit effect can be observed in decision-making, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes towards controversial issues. In decision-making, we may rationalize choices that contradict our long-term goals or values. For instance, someone committed to a healthy lifestyle may justify indulging in a high-calorie dessert by saying, "I've been doing well with my diet, so I deserve this treat."

In interpersonal relationships, we may rationalize our own behaviour or the behaviour of others. When behaving rudely, we might say, "They provoked me first" or "I was just having a bad day" to protect our self-image. Rationalization influences our attitudes towards controversial issues, as we selectively interpret information to align with our pre-existing beliefs.

To counteract the broken-biscuit effect, cultivating self-awareness and critical thinking is crucial. Recognizing when we engage in rationalization and questioning our justifications helps us evaluate decisions objectively. Seeking feedback and being open to constructive criticism challenges our self-generated reasons.
What is the broken biscuit effect?

Easy Definition of the Broken-Biscuit Effect

If you make up a daft reason for doing something, you are using the broken-biscuit effect on yourself.

Academic Definition of the Broken-Biscuit Effect

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.

An Example of the Broken-Biscuit Effect

We're getting our taxes back, innit?

broken biscuit riots The first two weeks in August 2011 saw the worst rioting in London for a generation, with running street battles, widespread looting, and buildings, cars and buses being set alight. When Sky News reporter Mark Stone stopped two 16-year-old girls coming out of an electrical store with a handful of looted electronic gadgets, he asked "Why are you doing this?" They answered "We're getting our taxes back."

To me, the girls didn't really look like employed types (based on age), but, on the assumption they were, why did they think they were owed a return of tax? Two other girls of a similar age answered the same question with "It's the government's fault. It's the conservatives. Conservatives? Er, whatever. It's the government, innit?" Another answered, "I don't know, but it's good though."

Well, at the least the last answer was rational. The other two answers (taxes and government) were examples of the broken-biscuit effect. This was people making up irrational justifications to do exactly what they wanted to do.

A Practical Application of the Broken-Biscuit Effect

Defend against yourself

broken biscuit diet Understanding the broken-biscuit effect will help you combat it. For example, if you know you shouldn't eat that last cake, but you're "concerned" it'll only go to waste, you are subjecting yourself to the broken-biscuit effect. It's also the reason most diets start on a Monday morning. It allows the dieter to do what they want until then.

If you're aware that you're tricking yourself, it will strengthen your resolve to counter it. I'm not saying it's 100% effective. I mean, I have no broken biscuits or cakes nearing their sell-by dates in my fridge. They're all scoffed. But I probably had more of a mental tussle with myself than most people would before I did the deed.

Besides, my two Jack Russells love broken biscuits and just-in-date cakes. Crikey, that might be the broken-biscuit effect by proxy.

So, if you're the sort of person who at the last minute decides to have "one for the road", bear in mind that's just you subjecting yourself to the broken-biscuit effect.

Summary of the Broken-Biscuit Effect

If you think someone has created an irrational justification to provide the impulse to act (particularly if the justification comes just moments before the deed), tell them they have tricked themself with the broken-biscuit effect.

Critical Thinking Test

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