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When Our Brain Is On Autopilot

There are five notable occasions when our brains rely on autopilot thinking and the biases and fallacies that come along with it:

  • When we have too little information, like meeting someone for the first time. We make assumptions based on a few data points (aka stereotyping).

  • When we have too much information. Feeling overwhelmed leads to autopilot thinking for many reasons. The biggest benefit is the unconscious mind is so much faster than conscious analysis. Unfortunately, when we are unable to filter information properly, we can be led to making decisions based on the wrong data points.

  • When we are emotionally aroused. We all know that anger, grief, elation, excitement and physical attraction can make us feel temporarily “out of our mind.” Why do you think casinos have so many buzzers, bells, movement and lights (not to mention free drinks)? Those impressive buildings weren’t built on our good decision-making.

  • When we are pressed for time. Most game shows employ time pressure because it makes for more interesting viewing. Intelligent contestants often offer ridiculous answers or freeze altogether. In real life, the results of decisions made under time pressure may not be so funny.

  • When we are afraid. Fight or flight? This is a powerful one because fear is hardwired into us. Fear both keeps us alive and holds us back. See my upcoming post titled, What Are You Afraid Of? for a deeper dive into fear.

These occasions are often used as tools of influence. Take a moment to remember a time when you were persuaded to do something you didn’t want to do. Was a technique utilizing one of these five occasions employed?

Agents of influence will try to activate your autopilot thinking in order to manipulate you. When you recognize one of these five tactics… proceed with caution. Turn on your analytical thinking by asking why: Why is there too little or too much information? Why am I in such a state of arousal? Why don’t I have more time? What am I afraid of?

I thought this was a timely post because, for the next year or so, politicians will use these five autopilot triggers to influence you to vote for them. Hopefully, you will now recognize them and understand them for what they are: tools of influence.

I’ll discuss specific techniques that agents of influence use to exploit these five autopilot triggers in future posts. Until then, be aware.


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by the Seven Deadly Sins of Decision Making & Influence

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