Ad Hominem as a Cognitive Bias

Ad hominem is one of the more common informal fallacies, but I have decided that it is also a significant cognitive bias. A cognitive bias is a mode of thought that speeds analysis but tends to lead to errors. A famous one is the availability heuristic, the tendency to make judgments on available information rather than seeking fuller information. For example, I might decide to adopt a new diet because I've seen it depicted favorably in television shows and news programs. Those positive depictions are available without further work. However, further study might show that the new diet was much more questionably beneficial, or even harmful.

Another famous one is the confirmation bias, in which I am inclined to approve information that supports what I already believe to be the case (and to discount evidence that suggests I might be wrong). This one is a very powerful bias that affects everyone, no matter how careful a thinker they may be. It is very difficult to correct for it.

The ad hominem bias, another heuristic bias, which I am proposing works like this: it is easier to understand a known individual's bad qualities than to understand a complex situation in which they are involved. If a bad quality attributed to the known individual can reasonably be inferred to be the cause of a bad but complex situation, the ad hominem heuristic occurs when you make that easy move.

The ad hominem cognitive bias is similar to the availability heuristic in that it works on information that is already available, partly in order to avoid the difficulty of understanding the complex situation. However, it is also similar to confirmation bias in that you believe the bad attribution you yourself are making just because you already believe the person is bad. It is more complicated than the other two, however, in that -- because this is your own attribution, and you therefore believe it -- the new, probably false belief gets filed as further evidence of the bad quality of the person you dislike or hate. The ad hominem heuristic thus contains a feedback loop in which it strengthens itself the more often it occurs; and since it is a cognitive bias and thus likely to lead to error, that means you tend to drift further and further away from what is really true.

In extreme cases, all the problems in your world can end up seeming to be the fault of this one pernicious individual. If only he (or she) could be removed, the improvement would be systemic and massive. This kind of belief can justify many sorts of extreme conclusions, or even violence against the hated individual.

Perhaps it has a name already.


douglas said...

Excellent. I can think of a couple of people I'd like to read this.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ad hominem is also a social cue, and thus works to convince people who are taking social cues from the environment about what opinion to have. That sounds terrible, but is quite common. Fitting in with the group you deal with every day is a useful thing, and we are wired to prefer that. I read Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy make the point that it is very practical to have the political and social beliefs of those around you, especially as the odds are your vote will count for little. We slowly accommodate to the views of profession, or neighborhood, or family, or school. If we are aspirational we start taking on the views of those we would like to become part of.

It is easy to stand against the crowd when we believe we have another crowd that will accept us and reward us for that. It is very hard when you have no one in your corner, even at a distance.

Ymar Sakar said...

I did not find solo work hard or harder. It mostly just took longer. Every thought and source. Since nobody else was qualified to assess cw2, i had to be my own critic or d advocate. Nobody else qualified. History helped.

It is actually easier with nobody in my corner. Nobody means nothing to gain or lose. True objectivity. Same applies to humanity.

Ymar Sakar said...

I eventually became grateful for the isolation and reactions to my person.

It gave me license to cut all in two. I would have hesitated for society s sake otherwise.

It also saved me from being red flagged and becoming a red smear on the road. Hi clinton mafia. Hi nsa. Hi ds. I know the ai is watching at least.

When my blog started getting more hits, i made sure to stop posting. I knew ibstinctively that crazy loners are unimportant. Those tharlt know too much end up like epstein or clinton associates. Welcome to your accident.

It prov8ded good cover. Being thought as crazy. Trum is like me. If you attack first, bridge is burned. But if leftists had treated trum well, they would have got benefits. Either way, trum is fine.

The key difference is the intuitive empath ability. I easily notice hostility and enmity even if you try to hide it online with few words or politeness. Trum however needs to be told about mattis or comey first.