LW Australia's online hangout results, (short stories about cognitive biases)



In the Australia Mega-Online-hangout; a member mentioned a task/goal of his to write a few short stories to convey cognitive biases.  After a while and a few more goals, someone suggested we actually write the short stories (the power of group resources!).  So we did.  They might be a bit silly, answers are at the very bottom, try to guess the biases.

We had some fun writing them up.  This project was intended to be a story-per-day blog.  feel free to write a short story in the discussion, or comment on how a different cognitive bias might be attributed to any of the stories.

Guess the bias in the short stories:

Cathy hates catching the train.  She hates waiting in line for tickets, she hates lazy people who can't get their wallet out before they get to the front of the line, she hates missing her train because people are disorganised and carry bags of junk around with them, "why are you so disorganised", she said to the woman in front of her, who looks at her in a huff.  As she gets to the front of the line she opens her bag to find her wallet, she looks under her umbrella that she keeps for a rainy day, even though its not rainy today, moves her phone to her pocket so that she can listen to a rationality audiobook when she gets on the train, moves her book away, shuffles the gum around that she never eats, rifles past the dirty tissues and finally pulls out her wallet.  A grumpy man behind cathy in the line mutters, "why are you so disorganised".  Which she knows is not true because she is usually very organised.


Mark always felt like an outcast.  He was always dressing a little wacky, and enjoyed hanging out with people like him. He was especially fond of wearing Hawaiian shirts!  When we was walking in the mall yesterday a man in a suit and holding a clipboard came up to him and started talking to him about donating to charity.  As usual he brushed him off and kept walking.  Today a man in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts; also with a clipboard came up to him and started talking to him about donating to charity.  But that's okay, he was just doing his job.  Mark chatted to him for a few minutes and considered donating.


Mr. Fabulous Fox was in a hurry, he had to get to the Millar farm before Mr. Millar got back. Mr. Fox had never been before but he knew that it would take at least 10 minutes to get there, and he had to guess it would take him at least 20 minutes to grab some chickens and ducks to feed his family. Mr. Fox waited until he saw Mr. Millar drive away to the fair, Mr. Millar would be selling the plumpest hens and the fattest ducks, for a tidy profit, and Mr. Fox could take advantage of that to have himself a bountiful meal.

Mr. Fox dashed out onto the road and made his down the farmyard road, scuttling his way toward the ducks in their pen, he jumped the fence and caught a few, looking forward to snacking on them. Sneaking into the henhouse, Mr. Fox spotted the fattest hen he’d ever seen sitting down the very end of the shack.  He immediately bolted down to catch it, chasing it up and down the wooden floorboards, scattering the other hens and causing a ruckus. 

Catching the Fat Hen had only taken an hour, so it was somewhat of a surprise to Mr. Fabulous Fox when he spotted Mr. Millar, moments before he shot him.


Mike is an extraordinarily compassionate and nice person. He is so nice that someone once said that he used Mike to ground morality. Many people who know Mike concurred, and Alice once observed that ‘Do what Mike Blume would do’ was the most effective practical ethical decision-making algorithm they could think of for people capable of modelling Mike Blume.

One day, Jessica was in trouble. She had to vote on a motion, but the motion was phrased in incredibly obtuse language that she didn’t have time to study. She realized that Mike was also voting, and sighed in relief. Reassured by Mike’s ethical soundness, she voted with him on the motion.  She figured that was better than voting based on the extremely lossy interpretation she would come up with in 10 minutes. Later, when looking at the motion, she realized it was terrible, and she was shocked at the failure of the usually-excellent algorithm!


Eliot walked along the cold, grey road.  The cool  breeze reminded him that it was nearly autumn.  Then, he remembered it: the stock market had recently crashed.  He had taken this walk to get  away from the news stories about the recession on the television at  home.  As he walked, he came across a vending machine.  In the mood for  some simple chocolate comfort, he pitched in some quarters and out came a  sugary snack.  As he ate, he remembered his mother.  She had taken him  in after he lost his job a few weeks ago.  The sweet, woody smell of  coffee drifted past.  Enjoying the smell, he realized that it would give  him energy: just what he needed.  He stopped in at the coffee shop and  ordered a tall coffee, black.  After enjoying the first few sips, he  wandered back into the city.  He watched the cars go past one after  another as he walked, watched them stream up into the distance in a long  traffic jam.  Monday rush hour.  He found it odd, but he wished that he  was in it.  He decided to stop at the video store and rent a few movies  to take his mind off of things.  When it was time to make the purchase,  he was shocked to discover that he didn't have enough money left over  to cover the movie he chose.  He thought to himself "If I'm going to  survive the recession, I had better get control over my spending."

Fred squirrel had long been a good friend to Jean Squirrel, and she hadn't seen him in many years. She decided to visit him to reminisce about their high school days. As she was walking though the forest, looking forward to having acorns with her good friend, she found Fred lying on the ground, unconscious. It was immediately clear that Fred must've fallen out of the tree and hit his head whilst he was storing nuts for the winter. Jean was inclined to think that this was due to his laziness and lack of vigilance whilst climbing around the tree. Obviously he deserved to fall and hit his head to teach him a lesson.

Jean later found out that he'd been hit on the head by a falling bowl of petunias.

Cathy Story
Fundamental Attribution Error, Illusory superiority

Mark Story
Ingroup Bias

Mr. Fox
Planning Fallacy, Normalcy Bias, Optimism Bias?

Mike Story
Halo  Effect (Actually, wouldn't halo effect require you to start with Mike  Bloom's good looks and then make assumptions about his decision-making  based on this?  I think this is not really halo effect.  Is it halo  effect if the positive trait you assume is not *different* from the  positive trait you observed?)

Elliot Story
Denomination Effect, Insensitivity to sample size