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You Are Not So Smart Summary

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You Are Not So Smart PDF Summary

So, you think you’re so smart, don’t you?

Well, David McRaney has some horrible news for you:

You Are Not So Smart.

Who Should Read “You Are Not So Smart”? And Why?

You Are Not So Smart covers 48 cognitive biases, most of which you’ve probably already heard about or read in books such as Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.

If you haven’t, then this book is a great introduction; if you have, then read it anyways, because your memory has probably betrayed you in the meantime.

Finally, if you think that you’re a rational human being and that cognitive biases are for suckers – then definitely buy this book; you’ll be surprised how wrong you are.

About David McRaney

David McRaney

David McRaney is an American journalist and psychology aficionado.

As a journalist, he has covered Hurricane Katrina for several newspapers and magazines and has written many other articles for The Lamar Times and The Huffington Post.

However, he owes his fame to his blog YouAreNotSoSmart.com, which served as the basis of this book.

Currently, he works as director of new media for a broadcast television company, for which he has also produced a TV show about the music of the Deep South.

“You Are Not So Smart PDF Summary”

As we have told you quite a few times, your brain is a complex machine which follows a set of all but unbreakable rules.

You Are Not So Smart collects 48 of them – all of them interesting, most of them working in a counter-intuitive manner.

In other words, no matter how smart you think you are, your brain is preprogrammed to tell you lies from time to time, either because that’s what helped your ancestors survive or because you are simply built in an imperfect manner.

Our species may be rightfully dubbed sapiens when compared to other species, but the truth is, writes McRaney, that

there is a growing body of work coming out of psychology and cognitive science that says you have no clue why you act the way you do, choose the things you choose, or think the thoughts you think. Instead, you create narratives, little stories to explain away why you gave up on that diet, why you prefer Apple over Microsoft, why you clearly remember it was Beth who told you the story about the clown with the peg leg made of soup cans when it was really Adam, and it wasn’t a clown.

These lies, these narratives, these little stories are either cognitive biases, logical fallacies, or heuristics. McRaney defines them concisely and illustratively thus:

· “Cognitive biases are predictable patterns of thought and behavior that lead you to draw incorrect conclusions.”
· “Heuristics are mental shortcuts you use to solve common problems.”
· “Logical fallacies are like math problems involving language, in which you skip a step or get turned around without realizing it.”

Let’s look at the 48 of them – selected and thoroughly analyzed by McRaney for his book.

Key Lessons from “You Are Not So Smart”

1.      Priming
2.      Confabulation
3.      Confirmation Bias
4.      Hindsight Bias
5.      The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy
6.      Procrastination
7.      Normalcy Bias
8.      Introspection
9.      The Availability Heuristic
10.      The Bystander Effect
11.      The Dunning-Kruger Effect
12.      Apophenia
13.      Brand Loyalty
14.      The Argument from Authority
15.      The Argument from Ignorance
16.      The Straw Man Fallacy
17.      The Ad Hominem Fallacy
18.      The Just-World Fallacy
19.      The Public Goods Game
20.      The Ultimatum Game
21.      Subjective Validation
22.      Cult Indoctrination
23.      Groupthink
24.      Supernormal Releasers
25.      The Affect Heuristic
26.      Dunbar’s Number
27.      Selling Out
28.      Self-Serving Bias
29.      The Spotlight Effect
30.      The Third Person Effect
31.      Catharsis
32.      The Misinformation Effect
33.      Conformity
34.      Extinction Burst
35.      Social Loafing
36.      The Illusion of Transparency
37.      Learned Helplessness
38.      Embodied Cognition
39.      The Anchoring Effect
40.      Attention
41.      Self-Handicapping
42.      Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
43.      The Moment
44.      Consistency Bias
45.      The Representativeness Heuristic
46.      Expectation
47.      The Illusion of Control
48.      The Fundamental Attribution Error

1. Priming

You think that you know when “you are being influenced and how it is affecting your behavior.”

However, studies have shown that “you are unaware of the constant nudging you receive from ideas formed in your unconscious mind.”

In other words, many of the things you believe in you believe in because someone has meddled with your unconscious.

While you were casually going about your way.

Think Coca Cola and Santa Claus.

2. Confabulation

Even though you think that “you know when you are lying to yourself,” the truth is – you don’t.

“You are often ignorant of your motivations and create fictional narratives to explain your decisions, emotions, and history without realizing it.”

3. Confirmation Bias

If you are like most of the people, you want to be right about everything.

How should you not be?

After all, you’ve studied everything objectively and rationally for years!

That – of course – is not true.

The truth is that you continuously ignore information which challenges your preconceived notions; in other words, your opinions are a direct result of years of effort of trying to confirm them.

It’s a vicious circle.

This is why most of your friends agree with you.

4. Hindsight Bias

Has someone who hasn’t seen you for years told you, at a certain point in your life, that you’ve changed a lot?

That’s because you probably did – even though you think you didn’t.

Studies have shown that instead of admitting that we’ve changed, we create stories which make us seem far more consistent that we actually are.

“You often look back on the things you’ve just learned and assume you knew them or believed them all along.”

5. The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

“If hindsight bias and confirmation bias had a baby,” writes McRaney, “it would be the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.”


Because, as Nicholas Taleb has repeatedly shown us, we tend to ignore randomness in our lives, even though it’s so important that we don’t.

In hindsight, we give random events some meaning when we want them to have one.

It’s like a cowboy shooting randomly at a wall in a bar and only afterward drawing a bull’s eye over the spot where the bullets are clustered the most.

In hindsight, it seems as if he is a great shooter.

However, that’s not the case.

6. Procrastination

Do we really need to tell you anything about procrastination?

Oh, yes – one thing: you don’t suffer from it because you’re lazy.

Procrastination is such a good friend of yours because you’re human.

It is “fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.”

7. Normalcy Bias

You think that, when disaster strikes, your “fight-or-flight” instincts kick in immediately and you’re ready to answer appropriately?

Well, that’s not exactly the case!

The truth is that “you often become abnormally calm and pretend everything is normal in a crisis.”

Don’t believe us?

Please, spare a moment or two and hear Anton Williams out!

8. Introspection

The misconception is that “you know why you like the things you like and feel the way you feel.”

The truth: “The origin of certain emotional states is unavailable to you, and when pressed to explain them, you will just make something up.”

9. The Availability Heuristic

You tend to believe more the things you remember well, because of your inherent bias that if you can recall something well enough, then it must be important.

This is why you tend to base your beliefs and opinions often on recent news.

And that’s why you think that most of the crimes are committed by terrorists or immigrants – when, in reality, those are merely the stories more available to you.

Stats show that you are very wrong.

And yet – you don’t believe us.

10. The Bystander Effect

Have you ever heard of Kitty Genovese?

If you haven’t, that girl was stabbed and murdered back in 1964, even though her shouts for help were heard by no less than 38 people.


Well, precisely because there were 38 and everyone expected someone else would rush to Kitty’s help.

The truth is – if there was one, he would have.

11. The Dunning-Kruger Effect

According to John Cleese, this effect is responsible for half of the things that are wrong with this world.

The problem: some people are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are.

Bluntly put, you can’t expect from someone to understand his own stupidity: he’s not smart enough to do that.

12. Apophenia

That funny sounding word was coined by a German only six decades ago, and yet – it explains so many things about humanity ever since it sprung into existence.

The idea behind it: our brains are constantly looking for patterns, which is why there are such things as gamblers, traders, or astrologists.

The simple truth is: coincidences are a routine part of life (it’s a matter of statistics), but any meaning applied to them is because your brain wants them to be meaningful.

13. Brand Loyalty

You drink only Coca Cola, use only Apple products and will play games on nothing but your Xbox?

Believe us, that’s not because your products are better than their rivals, nor because you’ve rationally came to that conclusion.

It’s because you’ve rationalized your past choices “to protect your sense of self.”

Simple as that.

14. The Argument from Authority

If someone you think is smart tells you something, you’re inclined to believe that something even without checking the validity of the information.

For example, if Einstein was alive today and told you he would vote for Trump, no matter how much you hate Trump, you’ll be affected by Einstein’s judgment.

However, genius is not transferrable, and, as brilliant physicist as he was, there’s no reason why Einstein should be an expert in politics.

(By the way, sorry Albert: it was only for the sake of our argument).

15. The Argument from Ignorance

You think that when you can’t explain something, you focus on what you can prove?

Well, the truth is that “when you are unsure of something, you are more likely to accept strange explanations.”

16. The Straw Man Fallacy

You know which one is the easiest way to defeat your opponent?

Reframe and simplify his position in a manner which will allow you to attack it forcefully.

Well, news flash: your brain knows this full well!

And, in any argument, it tempts you to use this tactic so that you can win the discussion.

Who cares about arguments or the truth?

17. The Ad Hominem Fallacy

While we’re on the topic of dirty tactics, this one’s the mother of them all!

And you know how it works from practically every second political debate: when you can’t attack the arguments, attack the man.

Even though what someone says and why he says it are two completely different things.

18. The Just-World Fallacy

We can translate this fallacy to you in terms of a few proverbs: “what goes around comes around;” “you reap what you sow;” and, our favorite, “everything happens for a reason.”

Well, it doesn’t.

The world is not just, and some good people suffer simply because things didn’t go their way, even though they tried their best.

Some bad people, on the other hand, are wealthy and happy because they got lucky.

And that’s it.

19. The Public Goods Game

You think private property and no regulations are the solution to all of our economic and social problems?

Guess again!

The public goods game proves – over and over again – that “without some form of regulation, slackers and cheaters will crash economic systems because people don’t want to feel like suckers.”

20. The Ultimatum Game

The misconception, in this case, is that “you choose to accept or refuse an offer based on logic.”

However, the truth is that “when it comes to making a deal, you base your decision on your status.”

21. Subjective Validation

Subjective validation explains, once again, why there is such a widespread acceptance of some paranormal beliefs and practices, such as astrology or fortune telling.

Also called Forer or Barnum effect, subjective validation says that you’ll believe any vague statement or prediction if it addresses you personally and if it is a positive one.

22. Cult Indoctrination

This is scary, but, nevertheless, true: you are not smart enough to not join a cult. Because the truth is that “cults are populated by people just like you.”

“The research on cults suggests you don’t usually join for any particular reason; you just sort of fall into them the way you fall into any social group.”

23. Groupthink

Even scarier than #22: two heads don’t think better than one.

Contrary to popular opinion, two heads tend to avoid confrontation and reach a consensus which usually leads to suboptimal results.

Groupthink, in other words, hinders progress.

24. Supernormal Releasers

Supernormal releasers are the reasons why Australian jewel beetles have sex with beer bottles.

Wait… what?!

It’s true: they do because beer bottles are bigger and shinier than any female beetle. They are better than the real thing.

Supernormal releasers are the reason why men have sex with RealDolls and why women marry eight-year-old millionaires.

Believe it or not, they are not insane or gold-diggers.

Or, at least, not necessarily.

25. The Affect Heuristic

You think: “I am capable of calculating what is risky or rewarding and even more capable of always choosing how to best maximize gains while minimizing losses.”

The truth: “You depend on emotions to tell you if something is good or bad, greatly overestimate rewards, and tend to stick to your first impressions.”

26. Dunbar’s Number

This one’s easy: there’s no way you can maintain more than 150 stable relationships with people at any one moment in your life.

But, then again, that’s more than plenty.

27. Selling Out

The misconception: “Both consumerism and capitalism are sustained by corporations and advertising.”

The truth: “Both consumerism and capitalism are driven by competition among consumers for status.”

28. Self-Serving Bias

The misconception: “You evaluate yourself based on past successes and defeats.”

The truth: “You excuse your failures and see yourself as more successful, more intelligent, and more skilled than you are.”

29. The Spotlight Effect

The misconception: “When you are around others, you feel as if everyone is noticing every aspect of your appearance and behavior.”

The truth: “People devote little attention to you unless prompted to.”

30. The Third Person Effect

The misconception: “You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust.”

The truth: “Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.”

31. Catharsis

This one’s as counter-intuitive as they get!

Contrary to what everyone else says, studies have shown that cursing and venting your anger doesn’t reduce stress and doesn’t prevent you from lashing out later at your family or friends.

Oh, no: it’s the other way around!

Namely, venting increases aggressive behavior.

So, don’t use this as an excuse anymore.

32. The Misinformation Effect

Your memory is not a film recording.

It’s actually a palimpsest, i.e., a manuscript on which later writing is superimposed on an effaced earlier text.

Let us make that even clearer: you don’t remember the things you remember the way they happened; you remember them the way you’ve convinced yourself that they happened.

And every time you recall the memory – the memory gets ever more blurred and more affected by your present.

33. Conformity

Conformity is a survival instinct.

And you will conform if an authority figure or a social group pressures you a bit in that direction.

Even if that means increasing the voltage past the XXX point on the scale – despite the fact that you know the subject who’s being electrocuted might die if you do so.

Conformity is the reason why this thing happened as well.

34. Extinction Burst

You think that if you stop engaging in a bad habit, you’re done with it!

Well, think again!

Your brain will always make one last attempt to return you to your habit.

But, then again, that’s already happened to you, hasn’t it?

35. Social Loafing

The misconception: “When you are joined by others in a task, you work harder and become more accomplished.”

The truth: “Once part of a group, you tend to put in less effort because you know your work will be pooled together with others.”

36. The Illusion of Transparency

The misconception: “When your emotions run high, people can look at you and tell what you are thinking and feeling.

The truth: “Your subjective experience is not observable, and you overestimate how much you telegraph your inner thoughts and emotions.”

37. Learned Helplessness

The misconception: “If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can do to escape it.”

The truth: “If you feel like you aren’t in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in.”

38. Embodied Cognition

The misconception: “Your opinions of people and events are based on objective evaluation.”

The truth: “You translate your physical world into words, and then believe those words.”

39. The Anchoring Effect

The misconception: “You rationally analyze all factors before making a choice or determining value.”
The truth: “Your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.”

40. Attention

The misconception: “You see everything going on before your eyes, taking in all the information like a camera.”

The truth: “You are aware only of a small amount of the total information your eyes take in and even less is processed by your conscious mind and remembered.”

41. Self-Handicapping

This is a great one – so we’ll break the pattern once again!

You think that you always do your best in order to succeed?

Well, it turns out that you don’t.

In fact, you often create conditions for failure even before you start your endeavor.

Why would you do such a thing?

Well, because that way, if you fail, you’ll have an excuse and your ego will be protected.

Your brain is a wondrous thing.

42. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Remember that time you justly predicted that that guy is actually a bad one and was merely faking it?

Chances are – you’ve made him act in such a manner!

Many of your predictions about people come true because you (un)consciously nudge things in that direction.

43. The Moment

The misconception: “You are one person, and your happiness is based on being content with your life.”

The truth: “You are multiple selves, and happiness is based on satisfying all of them.”

44. Consistency Bias

The misconception: “You know how your opinions have changed over time.”

The truth: “Unless you consciously keep tabs on your progress, you assume the way you feel now is the way you have always felt.”

45. The Representativeness Heuristic

The misconception: “Knowing a person’s history makes it easier to determine what sort of person they are.”

The truth: “You jump to conclusions based on how representative a person seems to be of a preconceived character type.”

46. Expectation

The misconception: “Wine is a complicated elixir, full of subtle flavors only an expert can truly distinguish, and experienced tasters are impervious to deception.”

The truth: “Wine experts and consumers can be fooled by altering their expectations.”

The even more interesting truth: there’s practically no such thing as wine tasting science; nor do older wines taste better; just different.

47. The Illusion of Control

The misconception: “You know how much control you have over your surroundings.”

The truth: “You often believe you have control over outcomes that are either random or are too complex to predict.”

The even more interesting truth: you’re no expert at trading; no one is.

48. The Fundamental Attribution Error

The misconception: “Other people’s behavior is the reflection of their personality.”

The truth: “Other people’s behavior is more the result of the situation than their disposition.”

That’s why – as quite a few smart people have said once or twice – never ascribe to malice what you can to ignorance or stupidity.

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“You Are Not So Smart Quotes”

You are a story you tell yourself. Click To Tweet If you see lots of shark attacks in the news, you think, 'Gosh, sharks are out of control.' What you should think is 'Gosh, the news loves to cover shark attacks. Click To Tweet You can't rage against the machine through rebellious consumption. Click To Tweet We reach for the same brand not because we trust its quality but because we want to reassure ourselves that we made a smart choice the last time we bought it. Click To Tweet The more pessimistic your explanatory style, the easier it is to slip into learned helplessness. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

If you want to learn all about how your brain is deluding you – then You Are Not So Smart is the book for you.

“Every chapter is a welcome reminder that you are not so smart – yet you’re never made to feel dumb, writes Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit.com.And then he goes on: “You Are Not So Smart is a dose of psychology research served in tasty anecdotes that will make you better understand both yourself and the rest of us. It turns out we’re much more irrational than most of us think, so give yourself every advantage you can and read this book.”

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