Common Human Fallacies

A guide to understanding and overcoming cognitive biases

By Prajwal Basnet  |  Oct 2 2023  |  11 minute read

image of john wooden


I've faced it countless times: that sinking feeling in my gut when I find myself agreeing to something I never wanted to do, all due to clever manipulation. So, This blog is the result of a cumilation journey into understanding common human follies - the psychology of misjudgement.

After vicariously reading articles, blogs, and books i have found terribly smart people make totally bonkers mistake by failing to pay heed to it.

The mind of a man at once and at same time is both the glory and the shame of universe. ~ pascal

To craft this blog, I wrestled to find the idea that is so simple - that have passed the generation- and idea that came from fundamental concept. My purpose is straightforward: to provide individuals with a practical guide on common human fallies, enabling them to steer through life's complexities skillfully, and avoiding the pitfalls most people face in life like journey of one-legged man strugglling in an ass-kicking contest.


Understanding the significance of getting incentives right is a most important lesson, as they are the force that drives the world. Or in other words,

Never, ever, think about something else when you should be thinking about the power of incentives.

For example: We don't go to barber and ask if we should have a haircut or not because on saying “no” the barber will have nothing to gain so his incentives would be to say “yes”.

One of the important consequence of this superpower is “Incentives caused bias”. This can drive a decent fellow driven by incentives (consciously or subconsciously) to drift into immoral behaviour in order to get what he wants. Another example is when Xerox couldn’t understand why its new machine (better than old) was selling poorly. Later, they found out that the commission arrangement with the salesman gives large incentives to push the inferior machine to customers. The salesman rationalised the bad behaviour and harmed customer inorder to maximise their sales, so we can see what this can lead to.

In workplace, both the employees and employers are prone to these superpowers. This has lead to many catastrophic disaster and at the same time created systems like cash registers, double book keeping etc. Many honest human being - especially employees -has willingly or unwillingly done fraud, And generalised the behaviour (repeat behaviour that works). This is best summed as “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing”. So the general antidote for this is

  • Fear professional advice when it is good for advisor.
  • Create a huge gap between honest and dishonest. Meaning, " Do the right thing, rather than smart things."
  • Crush your chearish belif.

If you start early trying to have a perfect one in some simple thing like honesty, you're well on your way to success in this world.


The most brilliant use of this tendency is done by the ISCON(Hare krishna society). Their society was funded by their principal and donation by society member. When they were expanding in America, their philosophy was not catching positive feeling of americans. The average american considered the Hare-krishna weird and was reluctant to donate money.

Ben Franklin Did not said honesty was best moral, he said it was the best policy.

Then, They switched to a fund-raising tactic that made it unnecessary for target persons to have positive feelings toward the fund-raisers. The new strategy still involves the solicitation of contributions in public places with much pedestrian traffic (airports are a favourite), but now, before a donation is requested, the target person is given a “gift”—a book (usually the Bhagavad Gita), the Back to Godhead magazine of the Society, or, in the most cost-effective version, a flower. This benefactor-before-beggar strategy has been wildly successful for the Hare Krishna Society, producing large-scale economic gains and funding the ownership of temples, businesses, houses, and property in 321 centres in the United States and overseas. In fact, they got so much success that many airport started baning them.

The automatic tendency of humans to reciprocate both favours and disfavors has long been pervasiveness in human culture. Our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honoured network of obligation. Not only it is seen in human, it can also be seen with social animals.

Salesman or smart people have understood these and have used this tendency to their advantage, so to demonstrate this professor Dennis Regan of Cornell University setup an experiment. participants evaluated paintings alongside an assistant, Joe, who secretly worked for the researcher. In one scenario, Joe spontaneously bought them both Coca-Cola during a break, while in another, he returned empty-handed. Later, Joe asked participants to buy raffle tickets from him for a chance to win a prize. Those who received the Coke favour were significantly more likely to purchase tickets, revealing the power of reciprocity: people tend to feel obliged to return a favour. This simple experiment illustrates how the reciprocity rule can be effectively employed in various situations.

Understanding the power of reciprocity, the wise employer like sam walton (founder of walmart) tried to oppose reciprocate-favor of employee engaged in purchasing by not letting purchase agent accept hot dog from vendor. Similarly, we are also ingrained to reciprocate hate. Now that we know, how -if cleverly done- reciprocity can exchange unfair exchanges. Contrarily, it is equally difficult to know whether such offer is honest or whether it is the initial step in an exploitation attempt.

The antidote to this folly is to first find out if its tricks or honest favour. Even if you cannot reject the favor remember that the favours are to be met with favours; it does not require that tricks be met with favours.


I decided to start summary with a general observation of our social animal. The limitation inherent in evolution development of the nervous system cells that control behaviour. Each turkey, like human, is compromised of living physical structure plus behaviour algorithm in its nerve cell. Naturally, these animals learns little from experience and rather rely on their stimuli and are programmed to respond in certain way. For example: Turkey mother, solely, rely on her baby “cheep-cheep” sound. If not, mother will ignore or sometimes kill it.

The experiment illustrated by animal behaviourist M.W Fox involving a mother turkey and a stuffed polecat. For a mother turkey, a polecat is a natural enemy whose approach is to be greeted with squawking, pecking, clawing rage. Indeed, the experimenters found that even a stuffed model of a polecat, when drawn by a string toward a mother turkey, received an immediate and furious attack. When, however, the same stuffed replica carried inside it a small recorder that played the “cheep-cheep” sound of baby turkeys, the mother not only accepted the oncoming polecat but gathered it underneath her .

We, humans, also rely on mere association like past success, scarcity, recent incidents etc. For example: if a man had good experience buying high price item he will think high price products are always good. Knowing this, some seller will often raise its price significantly hoping some quality-seeker buyer will be tricked. Another example will be: If you asked what people fear most after 9-11 incident most people will respond terrorist attack. However, there is significant less deatg from terrorist attack than car accident. Or man gambles in casino and wins. Then. This correlation causes him to try the casino again.

To avoid this folly:

  • Carefully examine each past success - considering accidental factors.
  • Weigh risk and reward before making decision.
  • Think about second and heigher order affect - consequence of consequence.


Humans are social animals who live in limited size dominance hierarchies, wherein he tended to respect and to like and cooperate with his own hierarchies members while displaying considerable trust and dislike for competing man not in his own hierarchies. Due to our follow-the-leader tendency it had lead to different form of atrocities. For Eg; roughly half of the adolf hitler army was composed of believing catholics.

looking at the affect of world war II, Stanley Milligarm decided to do an experiment to determine how far authority figure could lead ordinary people into gross misbehaviour.His experiment found that sixty-five percent of his subjects, ordinary residents of new heaven, were willing to give apparently harmful electric shocks to a pitifully protesting victim, simply because scientific authority commanded them to, despite the fact that the victim did nothing to deserve punishment. Also, this is the reason that very sensible people will do very foolish thing if dominant figure (authority) wishes to do.

After looking the fallacies of this tendency, it is always better to pay attention to ignore certain really foolish order from the authority in workplace. The best antidote would be to use checklist and always ask 5 w(who, what, where, when, why).


“The five most dangerous words in business are: ‘Everybody else is doing it.'”

“Monkey-see, monkey-do” is the old phrase that reminds of how strongly one wish to do something, or have something, just because others does or has it. For instance, Television executives religiously employ the laugh track that their audience or their most talented actors find distasteful. The simple answer is canned merriment causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier. In addition, some evidence indicates that canned laughter is most effective for poor jokes. Or finding a way to exit games in the stadium by following the crowd.

The social-proof has been ingrained in our behaviour because of our way of living. We use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behaviour. We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. This social-proof not only lead to action by others but also inaction. In the presence of doubt, inaction by others lead to inaction of oneself. Thus, There are so many examples that bystanders lead to the death of a victim during an accident. Even if their victim life can be saved with simple action, we choose not to take any action by watching others.


Human are curious by nature. we have an underlying need to understand the reasons behind most things. When we know the why, we are more likely to:

  • Comply with a request.
  • Remember something.
  • Complete a task successfully.

This force is so strong that even meaningless or incorrect information can increase compliance with the order and request. This is perfectly demonstrated by the Havard psychologist Ellen Langer in her experiment. First, she approached first person waiting on the long queue in front of photocopier. Then asked “Excuse Me! May I use Xerox machine?”. That would probably infuriate lot of people. In the second part, Again, she approached first person in queue and asked “Excuse Me! May i use Xerox machine because i am in rush” . This time most people give into her request and allowed her to go ahead.

However, other thing to note is identify the difference between reason and twaddle. For example: honeybee normally goes out and finds nectar and then comes back and does a dance that communicates to the other bees where the nectar is. The other bees then go out and get it. Well, some scientists, clever like B. F. Skinner, decided to see how well a honeybee would do with a handicap. They put the nectar straight up. Way up. Well, in a natural setting, there is no nectar a long way straight up, and the poor honeybee doesn't have a clue how to communicate. You might guess that this honeybee would come back to the hive and slink into a corner, but she doesn't. She comes into the hive and does an incoherent dance. Therefore, one should be able to recognize the difference between when people are twaddling and when they are providing a valid reason.

Similarly, when communicating it is always good idea to provide valid reason. Infact, Carl Braun who used to designed great oil refineries used to ask every employee to answer 5w when communicating in their company. Otherwise, fired next time. So, The antidote for this is to ask 5w? (who, what, where, when, and why).


This blog highlights the need for critical thinking, the ability to question authority when necessary, and the importance of considering the reasons behind actions and requests. It underscores that while these biases can lead to irrational behaviour and poor decision-making, they can also be harnessed for positive outcomes when understood and managed correctly. Ultimately, the insights provided here serve as a valuable guide for individuals striving to make more informed and rational choices in both personal and professional sphere.