A lesson in cognitive bias

On Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister rather lost it. She railed against MPs for not bowing down before the maw-like vortex that is her Brexit strategy.

Theresa May’s statement betrayed a catalogue of cognitive biases. It’s like every entry in the text book was replaced with the same case study. Here’s a list:

Illicit transference/Fallacy of division: May attributed the (dishonourable) problems of the whole of Parliament to individual MPs, when in fact the problems are an emergent effect of individuals acting, as they each believe, honourably (for the most part).

By blaming them individually for the collective problems, she can only possibly alienate them because they cannot act other than as individuals and will feel justifiably insulted to be blamed for the fact that their personal efforts have not resolved a crisis in which May herself has more of a leadership role than any of them.

Self-serving bias and Belief bias: I must be right, therefore all these MPs must be wrong.

Hostile attribution bias: It’s not all about you, Theresa.

Sunk cost fallacy/irrational escalation: Sticking with her deal even though further effort in that direction is patently a bad investment of the available resources.

Valence effect and Ostrich effect: Never mind the consequences, it’s my deal or no deal.

Reactive devaluation: Nobody else can possibly have a solution, particularly if they oppose her politically. Given that (a) ever fewer people support her politically, and (b) offering an alternative solution is opposing her politically, this is particularly (self-)destructive.

Semmelweiss Reflex: She has created her own paradigm in her head around her deal and rejects all evidence that it will never pass through Parliament.

False consensus effect: She has no better idea than anyone else what ‘the will of the people’ is – Do they want her deal? What’s their attitude to MPs’ opposition to it? –  but she sees everything through the lens of an assumption that the voters agree with her.

Transferred motivation reflex: She blames MPs for playing games, when in fact her own handling of Parliament has been nothing but hedging and edging to get her deal through. (This reflex is also more commonly known as ‘shameless hypocrisy’.)

Overconfidence effect, naive realism, mind projection fallacy… I could go on.

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