AHA Moments


Progress on my learning of cognitive biases and emotional control

Conscious control of emotion has been a ever-lasting struggle with myself. Many times I find myself in the middle of aftermath of instinctive emotional response, bewildered why it ended up there.

On top of that, in less serious but more common situation, I consistently doubt my judgements of surroundings as my second nature. The world is just so complex and people simply only see things from their own perspective don't we?

Regarding digging deeper into the inner self, there are mainly three schools of approaches.

  1. Religions promise self control and inner peace by enforcing yielding to a higher existence and unquestioned belief. For me the extra complexity of the infallible being and loss of freedom of questioning is not really compatible with the path I've been trekking through.
  2. Spiritual practices without the burden of belief in an being. They are based on heuristic "wisdom" of our own existence from distant past, after the modern packaging for the benefit of commercial gain is stripped. Yoga is most well known and Mindfulness is getting some traction recently.
  3. Psychological studies, of which the study of cognition is most relevant. For the time being this is my go-to solution due to its compatibility with my reasoning system. However I won't rule out practices from the previous two schools, after all more I know of how the brain might work, more I see the limit of consciousness could reach.

"The Blindspots Between Us" is a great book covering the relatively recent findings especially remedies to the issue of cognitive biases. As a happy coincidence it provides an answer to emotion control by explaining the cause behind, hence the awareness of the cause works as a self-triggering reminder when emotion comes.

Specifically, it dubs our two thinking systems as autopilot and intentional system, two minds in one body. Autopilot is the one in charge of spontaneous response but was formed since prehistoric era when survival in the wild is the top priority. Intentional system is the one when you believe you're thinking, the one reading this text, the "I".

However, we, as the intentional system, is oblivious to when and how the autopilot system is working, but only witness the mess left behind after autopilot system has cooled down.

The realisation of that fact helps me to live with the emotion, rather than suppressing it. It takes continuous practice but in the end will work as a defence system that the intentional system will join as soon as possible as a bystander and gradually intervene just by the presence. This approach could be categorised as one strategy of "Emotional regulation". Obviously whoever has been struggled on emotion control knows strategy is never the challenge, training yourself to trigger the strategy is. I believe this is first time I might have found that trigger.

The other thing mentioned is mindfulness meditation. There have been seemly credible studies showing the mental even physical benefit from mindful meditation. I had picked up the habit of practicing 20 minutes of meditation daily but dropped after a while. From my own experience I can't say the practice alone is helping however keeping the habit alone might be a good indicator your intentional system is still in control.

Anyway, it won't be fair if the main focus of the book is not covered, which is:


  • Attribution error: Attribute others' behaviours to personality rather than situations. Attribute self's behaviours the other way around.
  • Bystander effect. The more bystander present, the less likely individual would act. Give out directions directly.
  • etc.


  • Delay reactions
  • Probabilistic thinking, consider the base rate of something happens.
  • Alternative explanation
  • Consider past experience
  • Setting policy
  • Make a commitment
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation