The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyBehavioural Psychology58 Logical Fallacies and Cognitive Biases

58 Logical Fallacies and Cognitive Biases

The fascinating science of being stupid.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

All of us are prone to logic­al fal­la­cies and cog­nit­ive biases.

I know that I’m stu­pid some­times — most of us are.

Still, we should all strive to be less stupid. 

I’m deeply fas­cin­ated with study­ing logic­al fal­la­cies and cog­nit­ive biases. Learning about human beha­viours is help­ful in pub­lic rela­tions, where we deal with com­mu­nic­a­tion chal­lenges daily.

Here we go:

Table of Contents 

1. Fallacy of Composition

Fallacy of com­pos­i­tion: “Since our top sales­per­son is a great pub­lic speak­er, our entire sales team must also be excel­lent pub­lic speakers.”

The fal­lacy of com­pos­i­tion, a pre­val­ent cog­nit­ive bias in decision-mak­ing, arises when indi­vidu­als erro­neously infer that the attrib­utes of a single com­pon­ent or a select few com­pon­ents with­in a lar­ger sys­tem extend to the entire system.

This fal­la­cious think­ing may mani­fest in vari­ous con­texts — from organ­iz­a­tion­al strategy to mar­ket ana­lys­is — and can lead to mis­guided decisions with poten­tially adverse consequences. 

To avoid fall­ing prey to this fal­lacy, busi­ness lead­ers must engage in thought­ful and rig­or­ous ana­lys­is, recog­niz­ing that the dynam­ics of com­plex sys­tems may not always mir­ror the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of their parts and that a more hol­ist­ic approach is neces­sary to nav­ig­ate the intric­a­cies of today’s ever-evolving busi­ness landscape.

2. Fallacy of Division

Fallacy of divi­sion: “Our com­pany is a mar­ket lead­er, so every employ­ee with­in our organ­iz­a­tion must be an expert in their respect­ive field.”

The fal­lacy of divi­sion emerges as a subtle yet sig­ni­fic­ant cog­nit­ive trap, enti­cing decision-makers to mis­takenly assume that the prop­er­ties of a col­lect­ive whole must inher­ently apply to its components.

This flawed logic can lead to erro­neous con­clu­sions and ill-informed decisions, par­tic­u­larly in organ­iz­a­tion­al dynam­ics, where unique ele­ments with­in a sys­tem may not con­form to the over­arch­ing char­ac­ter­ist­ics of the lar­ger entity. 

To coun­ter­act this fal­lacy, busi­ness lead­ers must adopt a nuanced approach, cul­tiv­at­ing an under­stand­ing that the intric­a­cies of com­plex sys­tems demand care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of the dis­tinct attrib­utes and inter­ac­tions of their con­stitu­ent parts rather than rely­ing on simplist­ic gen­er­al­iz­a­tions that may obscure crit­ic­al insights.

3. The Gambler’s Fallacy

Gambler’s fal­lacy: “We’ve had three failed product launches in a row; our next product is guar­an­teed success.”

The gam­bler­’s fal­lacy, a wide­spread cog­nit­ive bias often encountered in decision-mak­ing, stems from the erro­neous belief that past events can influ­ence the prob­ab­il­ity of future inde­pend­ent events.

This mis­lead­ing notion can lead to faulty assump­tions and mis­guided decisions, par­tic­u­larly in busi­ness con­texts where uncer­tainty and ran­dom­ness play a prom­in­ent role. 

To mit­ig­ate the risks asso­ci­ated with the gam­bler­’s fal­lacy, exec­ut­ives must devel­op a data-driv­en mind­set acknow­ledging the inde­pend­ence of dis­crete events and lever­aging stat­ist­ic­al ana­lys­is to inform stra­tegic choices, thereby fos­ter­ing more accur­ate assess­ments of prob­ab­il­ity and more informed decision-mak­ing in an unpre­dict­able busi­ness landscape.

4. Tu Quoque (Who Are You To Talk?)

Tu quoque: “Our com­pet­it­or’s CEO is cri­ti­ciz­ing our envir­on­ment­al policies, but their own com­pany has had pol­lu­tion issues in the past.”

The tu quoque fal­lacy, col­lo­qui­ally known as the “who are you to talk?” argu­ment, rep­res­ents a per­ni­cious rhet­or­ic­al tac­tic employed to deflect cri­ti­cism or under­mine an oppon­ent’s pos­i­tion by high­light­ing their per­ceived hypo­crisy or incon­sist­ency rather than address­ing the sub­stance of the argu­ment itself.

In the con­text of busi­ness dis­course, this ad hom­inem attack can derail pro­duct­ive con­ver­sa­tions and obscure valu­able insights, poten­tially stifling innov­a­tion and collaboration. 

To foster a more con­struct­ive dia­logue, organ­iz­a­tion­al lead­ers must cul­tiv­ate an envir­on­ment that encour­ages open and hon­est com­mu­nic­a­tion, focus­ing on the mer­its of the ideas presen­ted and dis­cour­aging per­son­al attacks or appeals to hypo­crisy, thereby empower­ing indi­vidu­als to engage in reasoned debate and con­trib­ute to the col­lect­ive pur­suit of excellence.

5. Strawman

Strawman: “Our col­league wants to cut costs, but I doubt they’d be happy if we had to com­prom­ise the qual­ity of our products and lose cus­tom­ers as a result.”

The straw­man fal­lacy, a decept­ive rhet­or­ic­al manœuvre often encountered in busi­ness dis­course, involves mis­rep­res­ent­ing an oppon­ent’s argu­ment by con­struct­ing a dis­tor­ted or over­sim­pli­fied ver­sion of their stance, which is then easi­er refute or discredit.

This mis­lead­ing tac­tic can obstruct mean­ing­ful dia­logue, engender hos­til­ity, and inhib­it the explor­a­tion of nuanced per­spect­ives neces­sary for driv­ing innov­a­tion and informed decision-making. 

To foster a col­lab­or­at­ive and intel­lec­tu­ally rig­or­ous envir­on­ment, organ­isa­tion­al lead­ers must emphas­ize the import­ance of enga­ging with the sub­stance of argu­ments presen­ted, encour­aging par­ti­cipants to act­ively listen, seek cla­ri­fic­a­tion, and chal­lenge ideas con­struct­ively, ulti­mately advan­cing the col­lect­ive pur­suit of know­ledge and organ­iz­a­tion­al success.

6. Ad Hominem

Ad hom­inem: “I would­n’t trust that mar­ket­ing pro­pos­al – it was cre­ated by someone known for their disorganization.”

The ad hom­inem fal­lacy, a det­ri­ment­al form of argu­ment­a­tion fre­quently encountered in pro­fes­sion­al dis­course, occurs when an indi­vidu­al tar­gets an oppon­ent’s per­son­al attrib­utes or char­ac­ter traits rather than address­ing the sub­stance of their argument.

This diver­sion­ary tac­tic can hinder pro­duct­ive dis­cus­sion, impede the flow of valu­able insights, and foster a tox­ic work envir­on­ment, under­min­ing the col­lab­or­at­ive spir­it essen­tial to organ­iz­a­tion­al success. 

To cre­ate a cul­ture of open and respect­ful dia­logue, busi­ness lead­ers must act­ively dis­cour­age ad hom­inem attacks, encour­age team mem­bers to engage with the mer­its of ideas presen­ted, foster an atmo­sphere of intel­lec­tu­al rigour, and pro­mote an inclus­ive envir­on­ment where diverse per­spect­ives can flour­ish and con­trib­ute to the organ­iz­a­tion’s growth and innovation.

7. Genetic Fallacy (Fallacy of Origin or Fallacy of Virtue)

Genetic fal­lacy: “The mar­ket­ing strategy pro­posed by our new­est team mem­ber can­’t be any good; they’ve only been with the com­pany for a few months.”

The genet­ic fal­lacy, also known as the fal­lacy of ori­gin or fal­lacy of vir­tue, is a flawed reas­on­ing pat­tern that arises when an argu­ment’s valid­ity or worth is assessed based on its source or ori­gin rather than the argu­ment’s merits.

This cog­nit­ive bias can obstruct the object­ive eval­u­ation of ideas in a busi­ness con­text, poten­tially lead­ing to missed oppor­tun­it­ies, stifled innov­a­tion, or unwise stra­tegic decisions. 

To coun­ter­act the influ­ence of the genet­ic fal­lacy, organ­isa­tion­al lead­ers must cul­tiv­ate a cul­ture of intel­lec­tu­al open­ness, emphas­iz­ing the import­ance of enga­ging with the sub­stance of ideas, regard­less of their ori­gins, and fos­ter­ing an envir­on­ment where crit­ic­al think­ing, reasoned debate, and the free exchange of diverse per­spect­ives can thrive, ulti­mately driv­ing informed decision-mak­ing and organ­iz­a­tion­al success.

8. Fallacious Appeal to Authority

Fallacious appeal to author­ity: “We should invest in this new tech­no­logy because a fam­ous entre­pren­eur men­tioned it in a recent podcast.”

The fal­la­cious appeal to author­ity is a decept­ive form of argu­ment­a­tion that occurs when an indi­vidu­al invokes the opin­ion or endorse­ment of a pur­por­ted expert to bol­ster their pos­i­tion, des­pite the exper­t’s lack of rel­ev­ant expert­ise or cred­ib­il­ity on the subject.

In a busi­ness con­text, this cog­nit­ive bias can lead to ill-informed decisions, mis­placed trust, and poten­tially det­ri­ment­al con­sequences for organ­iz­a­tion­al performance. 

To safe­guard against the fal­la­cious appeal to author­ity, busi­ness lead­ers must foster a cul­ture of crit­ic­al think­ing, pro­mot­ing evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing and encour­aging team mem­bers to scru­tin­ize the cred­ib­il­ity and rel­ev­ance of expert opin­ions, ensur­ing that stra­tegic choices are informed by rig­or­ous ana­lys­is and well-foun­ded expert­ise, rather than mere asser­tions of authority.

9. Red Herring

Red her­ring: “We should­n’t worry about our declin­ing mar­ket share; after all, our office just won an award for its eco-friendly design.”

The red her­ring fal­lacy, a cun­ning diver­sion­ary tac­tic often encountered in pro­fes­sion­al dis­course, involves intro­du­cing an unre­lated or tan­gen­tial issue to dis­tract from the ori­gin­al argu­ment or issue at hand.

This decept­ive manœuvre can under­mine pro­duct­ive dia­logue, hinder the pur­suit of mean­ing­ful solu­tions, and impede the col­lab­or­at­ive exchange of ideas essen­tial to driv­ing innov­a­tion and organ­iz­a­tion­al success. 

To foster a focused and intel­lec­tu­ally hon­est envir­on­ment, busi­ness lead­ers must emphas­ize the import­ance of stay­ing on top­ic and address­ing the sub­stance of argu­ments, cul­tiv­at­ing a cul­ture of act­ive listen­ing and dis­cip­lined dis­cus­sion that allows for the thought­ful exam­in­a­tion of crit­ic­al issues, ulti­mately pro­mot­ing well-informed decision-mak­ing and the organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to nav­ig­ate com­plex chal­lenges effectively.

10. Appeal to Emotion

Appeal to emo­tion: “We can­’t out­source our man­u­fac­tur­ing over­seas; think about the impact on our loc­al employ­ees’ families.”

The appeal to emo­tion fal­lacy, a manip­u­lat­ive tac­tic fre­quently observed in pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al inter­ac­tions, involves lever­aging emo­tion­al trig­gers to per­suade or influ­ence oth­ers, sidestep­ping the mer­its of the argu­ment or the ration­al­ity of the under­ly­ing facts.

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­lacy can lead to hasty decisions, impede object­ive eval­u­ation, and inhib­it the col­lab­or­at­ive exchange of ideas cru­cial for driv­ing innov­a­tion and sound decision-making. 

To coun­ter­act the appeal to emo­tion, organ­iz­a­tion­al lead­ers must foster a cul­ture of crit­ic­al think­ing, emphas­iz­ing the import­ance of evid­ence-based reas­on­ing and ration­al delib­er­a­tion while also acknow­ledging the role of emo­tions in human decision-mak­ing and encour­aging employ­ees to strike a bal­ance between emo­tion­al intel­li­gence and ana­lyt­ic­al rigour in nav­ig­at­ing the com­plex­it­ies of the busi­ness landscape.

11. Appeal to Popularity (The Bandwagon Effect)

Appeal to pop­ular­ity: “We should imple­ment the same remote work policy as the lead­ing tech com­pan­ies; if it’s good enough for them, it must be good for us.”

The appeal to pop­ular­ity, also known as the band­wag­on effect, is a fal­la­cious form of argu­ment­a­tion that relies on the wide­spread accept­ance or pop­ular­ity of an idea or course of action as suf­fi­cient evid­ence of its valid­ity or efficacy.

In busi­ness, suc­cumb­ing to this fal­lacy can lead to herd men­tal­ity, stifled innov­a­tion, and sub­op­tim­al decision-mak­ing. Organizations risk neg­lect­ing rig­or­ous ana­lys­is and thought­ful delib­er­a­tion instead of fol­low­ing pre­vail­ing trends. 

To coun­ter­act the band­wag­on effect, busi­ness lead­ers must cul­tiv­ate a cul­ture that val­ues inde­pend­ent think­ing and evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing, encour­aging team mem­bers to crit­ic­ally assess pop­u­lar beliefs and prac­tices and fos­ter­ing an envir­on­ment where diverse per­spect­ives can be openly shared and debated, ulti­mately driv­ing informed decision-mak­ing and sus­tained organ­iz­a­tion­al success.

12. Appeal to Tradition

Appeal to tra­di­tion: “We’ve always used this soft­ware for our pro­ject man­age­ment, so there’s no reas­on to con­sider altern­at­ives now.”

The appeal to tra­di­tion fal­lacy, a per­vas­ive cog­nit­ive bias in decision-mak­ing, occurs when an indi­vidu­al argues that a par­tic­u­lar belief or prac­tice should be main­tained simply because it has been long-stand­ing or customary.

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­lacy can hinder innov­a­tion, stifle adapt­a­tion to chan­ging mar­ket con­di­tions, and per­petu­ate out­dated or inef­fi­cient prac­tices, poten­tially under­min­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to com­pete and grow. 

To counter the appeal to tra­di­tion, astute busi­ness lead­ers must foster a cul­ture that embraces con­tinu­ous improve­ment and adapt­a­tion, encour­aging team mem­bers to eval­u­ate long-held beliefs and prac­tices crit­ic­ally and to con­sider nov­el approaches that may offer more effect­ive solu­tions to the chal­lenges of a rap­idly evolving busi­ness landscape.

13. Appeal to Nature

Appeal to nature: “We should switch to a com­pletely organ­ic ingredi­ent sup­pli­er, even if it’s more expens­ive, because nat­ur­al products are always better.”

The appeal to nature fal­lacy emerges when an indi­vidu­al asserts that some­thing is inher­ently excel­lent or super­i­or simply because it is deemed nat­ur­al or unaltered while dis­miss­ing or devalu­ing altern­at­ives that may be per­ceived as arti­fi­cial or synthetic.

In the busi­ness world, this fal­lacy can lead to sub­op­tim­al decision-mak­ing, risk aver­sion to innov­a­tion, and an over­re­li­ance on tra­di­tion­al or ‘nat­ur­al’ solu­tions that may not effect­ively address con­tem­por­ary challenges. 

To nav­ig­ate this cog­nit­ive bias, savvy busi­ness lead­ers must encour­age a cul­ture of crit­ic­al think­ing and open-minded­ness, pro­mot­ing evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing that care­fully eval­u­ates the advant­ages and draw­backs of vari­ous options, wheth­er they are rooted in nature or human ingenu­ity, thereby fos­ter­ing an envir­on­ment that sup­ports innov­a­tion, adapt­ab­il­ity, and sus­tain­able growth.

14. Appeal to Ignorance

Appeal to ignor­ance: “No one has proven that our new pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign won’t work, so it must be a good idea.”

The appeal to ignor­ance fal­lacy arises when an indi­vidu­al con­tends that a claim is val­id simply because it has not been proven false, or vice versa, exploit­ing gaps in know­ledge or evid­ence to bol­ster their argument.

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­lacy can lead to mis­guided decision-mak­ing, over­con­fid­ence in unveri­fied assump­tions, and a dis­reg­ard for the import­ance of thor­ough ana­lys­is and evid­ence-based reasoning. 

To mit­ig­ate the risks asso­ci­ated with the appeal to ignor­ance, astute busi­ness lead­ers must cul­tiv­ate a cul­ture that val­ues intel­lec­tu­al humil­ity, emphas­iz­ing the import­ance of recog­niz­ing and address­ing know­ledge gaps, seek­ing reli­able evid­ence to inform decision-mak­ing, and fos­ter­ing an envir­on­ment where team mem­bers are encour­aged to con­tinu­ally learn, adapt, and refine their under­stand­ing of the com­plex and ever-evolving busi­ness landscape.

15. Begging the Question

Begging the ques­tion: “Our com­pany’s products are the best on the mar­ket because we provide the highest quality.”

The beg­ging-the-ques­tion fal­lacy, a subtle yet prob­lem­at­ic form of cir­cu­lar reas­on­ing, occurs when an argu­ment’s con­clu­sion is assumed with­in its premises, sidestep­ping the need for genu­ine evid­ence or logic­al support.

In the busi­ness world, this fal­lacy can lead to unfoun­ded assump­tions, super­fi­cial ana­lyses, and mis­guided decision-mak­ing that may under­mine an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to nav­ig­ate chal­lenges and seize oppor­tun­it­ies effectively. 

To coun­ter­act the risk of beg­ging the ques­tion, busi­ness lead­ers must foster a cul­ture that val­ues crit­ic­al think­ing, open inquiry, and evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing, encour­aging team mem­bers to rig­or­ously exam­ine the premises of their argu­ments, identi­fy and address any under­ly­ing assump­tions, and engage in a con­struct­ive, reasoned debate that drives innov­a­tion, growth, and sus­tain­able success.

16. Equivocation

Equivocation: “Our sales fig­ures are cer­tainly inter­est­ing, which means they’re worth con­sid­er­ing for future strategy.”

Equivocation, a decept­ive rhet­or­ic­al strategy fre­quently encountered in pro­fes­sion­al dis­course, occurs when an indi­vidu­al exploits the ambi­gu­ity or mul­tiple mean­ings of a word or phrase to cre­ate con­fu­sion or mis­lead their audi­ence, effect­ively avoid­ing a clear or dir­ect response to an argu­ment or question.

In a busi­ness con­text, equi­voc­a­tion can obstruct mean­ing­ful com­mu­nic­a­tion, hinder the effect­ive exchange of ideas, and under­mine trust among team mem­bers, ulti­mately imped­ing innov­a­tion and sound decision-making. 

To pro­mote trans­par­ency and intel­lec­tu­al hon­esty with­in an organ­iz­a­tion, busi­ness lead­ers must emphas­ize the import­ance of clear and pre­cise lan­guage, encour­aging team mem­bers to seek cla­ri­fic­a­tion when faced with ambigu­ous state­ments and fos­ter­ing a cul­ture of open dia­logue that val­ues the rig­or­ous exam­in­a­tion of ideas and con­struct­ive debate, driv­ing informed decision-mak­ing and sus­tained organ­iz­a­tion­al success.

17. False Dichotomy (Black or White)

False dicho­tomy: “We either need to cut costs drastic­ally, or we have to increase our prices sig­ni­fic­antly — there’s no oth­er way to improve our profit margin.”

The false dicho­tomy fal­lacy, also known as the black or white fal­lacy, arises when an indi­vidu­al presents a com­plex issue or decision as hav­ing only two mutu­ally exclus­ive options, effect­ively over­sim­pli­fy­ing the mat­ter and ignor­ing altern­at­ive per­spect­ives or poten­tial solutions.

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­la­cious reas­on­ing can stifle cre­ativ­ity, hinder com­pre­hens­ive prob­lem-solv­ing, and lead to sub­op­tim­al decision-mak­ing, ulti­mately con­strain­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to adapt and innov­ate in a rap­idly evolving landscape. 

To coun­ter­act the risks asso­ci­ated with false dicho­tom­ies, busi­ness lead­ers must encour­age crit­ic­al think­ing and open-minded­ness, foster an envir­on­ment that val­ues explor­ing nuanced per­spect­ives and diverse approaches, and empower team mem­bers to engage in col­lab­or­at­ive prob­lem-solv­ing that drives innovation.

18. Middle Ground Fallacy

Middle ground fal­lacy: “Our team is divided on wheth­er to invest in research and devel­op­ment or mar­ket­ing, so let’s alloc­ate half our budget to each and sat­is­fy everyone.”

The middle ground fal­lacy, a decept­ive form of argu­ment­a­tion, occurs when an indi­vidu­al asserts that a com­prom­ise or middle point between two oppos­ing pos­i­tions must inher­ently rep­res­ent the cor­rect or most reas­on­able solu­tion, neg­lect­ing the pos­sib­il­ity that one or both extremes may hold mer­it or that the optim­al solu­tion may lie elsewhere.

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­lacy can lead to sub­op­tim­al decision-mak­ing, fos­ter­ing a false sense of con­sensus and poten­tially over­look­ing innov­at­ive or super­i­or solutions. 

To guard against the middle ground fal­lacy, busi­ness lead­ers must pro­mote a cul­ture of crit­ic­al think­ing and open debate, encour­aging team mem­bers to exam­ine the strengths and weak­nesses of vari­ous per­spect­ives rig­or­ously and fos­ter­ing an envir­on­ment that sup­ports col­lab­or­at­ive prob­lem-solv­ing and the pur­suit of evid­ence-based, well-informed solutions.

19. Decision Point Fallacy (Sorites Paradox)

Decision point fal­lacy: “We can­’t determ­ine the exact point at which adding more fea­tures to our product will make it too com­plex for our users, so let’s keep adding fea­tures without con­sid­er­ing the poten­tial downsides.”

The decision point fal­lacy, also known as the Sorites Paradox, arises when an indi­vidu­al struggle to identi­fy a pre­cise threshold or turn­ing point with­in a series of incre­ment­al changes, lead­ing to flawed reas­on­ing or indecision. 

This cog­nit­ive bias can mani­fest in a busi­ness con­text when decision-makers become mired in the minu­ti­ae of con­tinu­ous improve­ment or incre­ment­al pro­gress, los­ing sight of the big­ger pic­ture and ulti­mately ham­per­ing their abil­ity to make stra­tegic choices. 

To coun­ter­act the decision point fal­lacy, organ­iz­a­tion­al lead­ers must foster a cul­ture emphas­ising the import­ance of estab­lish­ing clear object­ives, main­tain­ing a hol­ist­ic per­spect­ive, and strik­ing a bal­ance between incre­ment­al pro­gress and decis­ive action, empower­ing team mem­bers to nav­ig­ate com­plex chal­lenges and drive sus­tained success.

20. Slippery Slope Fallacy

Slippery slope fal­lacy: “If we allow our employ­ees to work remotely for one day a week, pro­ductiv­ity will plum­met, and soon every­one will be demand­ing a com­pletely flex­ible sched­ule, res­ult­ing in chaos and the col­lapse of our com­pany culture.”

The slip­pery slope fal­lacy occurs when an indi­vidu­al argues that a spe­cif­ic action or decision will inev­it­ably lead to a chain of neg­at­ive con­sequences without provid­ing suf­fi­cient evid­ence for this caus­al relationship. 

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­la­cious reas­on­ing can under­mine pro­duct­ive dia­logue, stifle innov­a­tion, and pro­mote an overly cau­tious approach to prob­lem-solv­ing, ulti­mately inhib­it­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to adapt and grow. 

To guard against the slip­pery slope fal­lacy, busi­ness lead­ers must foster a cul­ture that val­ues evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing and encour­ages team mem­bers to crit­ic­ally exam­ine their argu­ments’ logic and assump­tions, pro­mot­ing a bal­anced and object­ive assess­ment of poten­tial risks and oppor­tun­it­ies that drive informed decision-mak­ing sus­tained success.

21. Hasty Generalisations (Anecdotal Evidence)

Hasty gen­er­al­isa­tions: “One of our remote employ­ees missed a dead­line last month, which clearly shows that allow­ing employ­ees to work remotely leads to decreased pro­ductiv­ity and a lack of accountability.”

Hasty gen­er­al­iz­a­tions, often fueled by anec­dot­al evid­ence, occur when an indi­vidu­al draws broad con­clu­sions based on insuf­fi­cient or unrep­res­ent­at­ive data, res­ult­ing in poten­tially flawed or biased reasoning. 

In a busi­ness con­text, rely­ing on hasty gen­er­al­iz­a­tions can lead to mis­guided decision-mak­ing, sub­op­tim­al strategies, and an inab­il­ity to effect­ively address com­plex chal­lenges, ulti­mately imped­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s success. 

To coun­ter­act the risks asso­ci­ated with hasty gen­er­al­iz­a­tions, busi­ness lead­ers must emphas­ize the import­ance of thor­ough ana­lys­is, evid­ence-based decision-mak­ing, and crit­ic­al think­ing, encour­aging team mem­bers to recog­nize the lim­it­a­tions of anec­dot­al evid­ence and con­sider diverse per­spect­ives, fos­ter­ing a cul­ture that val­ues rig­or­ous inquiry and com­pre­hens­ive problem-solving.

22. Faulty Analogy

Faulty ana­logy: “Managing a busi­ness is like rid­ing a bicycle; once you’ve learned the basics, it’s all about main­tain­ing bal­ance and momentum, so we don’t need to invest in ongo­ing pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment for our employees.”

The faulty ana­logy fal­lacy arises when an indi­vidu­al draws a com­par­is­on between two con­cepts or situ­ations that are not suf­fi­ciently alike, res­ult­ing in mis­lead­ing or unsup­por­ted conclusions. 

In a busi­ness con­text, rely­ing on faulty ana­lo­gies can impede effect­ive prob­lem-solv­ing, foster mis­con­cep­tions, and con­trib­ute to ill-advised decision-mak­ing, ulti­mately under­min­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to innov­ate and succeed. 

To guard against the pit­falls of faulty ana­lo­gies, busi­ness lead­ers must cul­tiv­ate a cul­ture that val­ues crit­ic­al think­ing, logic­al rigour, and evid­ence-based reas­on­ing, encour­aging team mem­bers to scru­tin­ize their com­par­is­ons’ valid­ity and seek out diverse per­spect­ives that chal­lenge assump­tions and pro­mote nuanced understanding.

23. Burden of Proof

Burden of proof: “Our new mar­ket­ing strategy will boost sales by at least 20%; if you don’t believe me, prove me wrong.”

The bur­den of proof fal­lacy occurs when an indi­vidu­al asserts a claim without provid­ing suf­fi­cient evid­ence, often shift­ing the respons­ib­il­ity onto oth­ers to dis­prove the assertion. 

In a busi­ness con­text, this fal­la­cious reas­on­ing can hinder pro­duct­ive dis­course, foster unwar­ran­ted assump­tions, and con­trib­ute to flawed decision-mak­ing, ulti­mately imped­ing an organ­iz­a­tion’s abil­ity to nav­ig­ate chal­lenges effect­ively and cap­it­al­ize on opportunities. 

To mit­ig­ate the risks asso­ci­ated with the bur­den of proof fal­lacy, busi­ness lead­ers must pro­mote a cul­ture of evid­ence-based reas­on­ing, crit­ic­al think­ing, and intel­lec­tu­al account­ab­il­ity, encour­aging team mem­bers to sub­stan­ti­ate their claims with robust sup­port­ing evid­ence and to engage in a con­struct­ive, well-informed debate that drives innov­at­ive prob­lem-solv­ing and sus­tain­able success.

24. Affirming the Consequent

Just because an if-then state­ment is true in a par­tic­u­lar situ­ation, this doesn’t make the if-then state­ment accur­ate in all cases.

A cat meows, so everything that meows is a cat.”

25. Denying the Antecedent (Fallacy of the Inverse)

If a state­ment with spe­cif­ic con­di­tions is cor­rect, this doesn’t make the inform­a­tion accur­ate or incor­rect for all oth­er situations.

A cat meows, so if it doesn’t meow, it isn’t a cat.”

26. Moving the Goalposts

Manipulating the argu­ment by chan­ging the spe­cif­ics of your ini­tial claims — after being ques­tioned or even proven wrong.

Yes, there might be some inno­cent people in jail, but I was only talk­ing about the guilty.”

27. No True Scotsman

To dis­qual­i­fy someone or some­thing based on a false or biased ideal.

All real men have beards, so if you don’t have a beard, you can’t be a real man.”

28. Personal Incredulity

It doesn’t make it untrue just because you find some­thing hard to believe or imagine.

I can’t believe that the uni­verse and everything in it arose from noth­ing, so it can’t be true.”

29. False Causality

The false assump­tion is that cor­rel­a­tion equals causation.

Crime rates went up when the price of gas went up, so for everyone’s safety, we must lower our taxes on fossil fuels.”

30. Texas Sharpshooter

To decide on your pos­i­tion, find only data to sup­port that pos­i­tion. This fal­lacy is espe­cially prom­in­ent in this digit­al age when find­ing argu­ments defend­ing almost any ima­gin­able pos­i­tion online is possible.

I’ve found numer­ous stud­ies sup­port­ing my pos­i­tion, and I have no idea if any stud­ies also sup­port your position.”

31. Loaded Question

To ask a ques­tion with an assump­tion already built into the question.

Have you stopped beat­ing your wife?”

32. Chesterton’s Fence

If we don’t under­stand or see the reas­on for some­thing, we might be inclined to do away with it. However, even if we don’t under­stand it, most things have been imple­men­ted for a reas­on. We should there­fore leave it be unless we fully under­stand its purpose.

There’s a fence here, but I can’t see what it’s good for, so let’s do away with it.”

33. Survivorship Bias

I’ve already writ­ten about sur­viv­or­ship bias and Abraham Wald.

We shot all return­ing war­planes with dam­ages in the wings, so we should rein­force the wings to make them safer.”

Read also: Survivorship Bias: Abraham Wald and the WWII Airplanes

34. The Dunning-Kruger Effect

A cog­nit­ive bias is when people over­es­tim­ate their com­pet­ence as they pro­gress in a new field. 1Please note that the Dunning-Kruger effect is under sci­entif­ic scru­tiny and lacks broad sup­port from the sci­entif­ic com­munity.

I’ve just star­ted learn­ing about this, and I’m amazed at how much more I know now com­pared to before when I knew next to noth­ing, so I’m quite sure that I’m an expert on this sub­ject now.”

35. Confirmation Bias

Most of us tend to recall or inter­pret inform­a­tion in a way that rein­forces our exist­ing cog­nit­ive schemas.

I refused to take my medi­cine and got well, so I always do my best to avoid treatment.

36. Heuristic Anchoring

When faced with an ini­tial num­ber, we often com­pare sub­sequent num­bers to that anchor.

The third house shown to us by the broker was over our budget but still a bar­gain com­pared to the first two houses she showed us.”

37. The Curse of Knowledge

We tend to assume that oth­er people have at least enough know­ledge to com­pre­hend and digest what we’re saying.

A preschool class came by the lab yes­ter­day and asked about my work, so I talked about gen­ome sequen­cing for a good half hour and got no fol­low-up questions.”

38. Optimism/​Pessimism Bias

We find it easi­er to believe that neg­at­ive things can hap­pen to oth­ers than ourselves. But some people tend to be biased oppos­itely; they over­es­tim­ate the like­li­hood of adverse events.

We’re so blessed that those ter­rible things couldn’t ever hap­pen to us.” / “What happened to them will also hap­pen to us — only worse.”

39. The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Sometimes we stick to a beha­viour simply because we’ve already inves­ted time, money, and oth­er resources. To aban­don such an invest­ment would force us to face an irre­vers­ible failure.

I ordered too much food, so we’ll simply have to over-eat for a few weeks to get our money’s worth.”

40. Negativity Bias

We tend to react more strongly to neg­at­ive impacts than to pos­it­ive effects of sim­il­ar or equal weight.

Our daugh­ter gradu­ated with hon­ours from col­lege yes­ter­day, but then on our way home, our car broke down and ruined the rest of the day.”

41. Declinism

We tend to think that everything will decline, espe­cially with new devel­op­ments. This might be due to cog­nit­ive lazi­ness; we don’t wish to change how we feel in tan­dem with the times.

Everything was bet­ter in the past, so change is terrible.”

Read also: Social Media — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

42. The Backfire Effect (Conversion Theory)

When chal­lenged, we might cling even firmer to our beliefs — instead of ques­tion­ing ourselves. 

People hate us, but this proves us right about everything.”

The Conversion Theory: The Misrepresented Minority

The dis­pro­por­tion­al power of minor­it­ies is known as the con­ver­sion the­ory.

How does it work?

The social cost of hold­ing a dif­fer­ent view than the major­ity is high. This increased cost explains why minor­it­ies often hold their opin­ions more firmly. It takes determ­in­a­tion to go against the norm. 2Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a the­ory of con­ver­sion beha­viour. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 209 – 239. New York: Academic Press.

In con­trast, many major­ity mem­bers don’t hold their opin­ions so firmly. They might belong to the major­ity for no oth­er reas­on than that every­one else seems to be. 3Chryssochoou, X. and Volpato, C. (2004). Social Influence and the Power of Minorities: An Analysis of the Communist Manifesto, Social Justice Research, 17, 4, 357 – 388.

In groups, the minor­ity can have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate effect, con­vert­ing many ‘major­ity’ mem­bers to their own cause. This is because many major­ity group mem­bers are not strong believ­ers in its cause. They may be simply going along because it seems easi­er or that there is no real altern­at­ive. They may also have become dis­il­lu­sioned with the group pur­pose, pro­cess, or lead­er­ship and are seek­ing a viable altern­at­ive.”
Source: chan​ging​minds​.org

According to con­ver­sion the­ory, while major­it­ies often claim norm­at­ive social influ­ence, minor­it­ies strive for eth­ic­al high ground. 

Given the power of norm­at­ive social influ­ence, minor­it­ies must stick togeth­er in tight-knit groups that can verb­al­ise the same mes­sage repeatedly.

Read also: Conversion Theory: The Disproportionate Influence of Minorities

43. The Fundamental Attribution Error

When someone else makes a mis­take, we attrib­ute it to their char­ac­ter or beha­viour. Still, we tend to attrib­ute such mis­takes to con­tex­tu­al cir­cum­stances when we make mistakes.

When I’m in a rush, people behave like idi­ots in traffic.”

44. In-Group Bias

We have evolved to be sub­ject­ively pref­er­en­tial to people who belong to the same social group. This isn’t neces­sar­ily bad beha­viour per se, but we must watch out for situ­ations where we are put in a pos­i­tion where we can’t be expec­ted to be fair and objective.

I might be biased, of course, but I dare say, object­ively, that my daugh­ter was the best per­former in the whole orchestra.”

Read also: Social Group Sizes (The Social Brain Hypothesis)

45. The Forer Effect (The Barnum Effect)

We tend to fill any gaps in the inform­a­tion we give using our exist­ing cog­nit­ive schem­as. This is, for instance, why it’s so easy to think that a horo­scope is eer­ily accur­ate. We fail to recog­nise that vague state­ments might apply to ourselves and many others.

I read my horo­scope yes­ter­day, and the inform­a­tion was uncan­nily accur­ate, so I’m cer­tainly con­vinced that there are some things about the cos­mos that influ­ence our lives in a way that we can’t yet understand.”

46. Cognitive Dissonance

We tend to sort inform­a­tion based on our exist­ing cog­nit­ive schem­as. One out­come is that we tend to dis­reg­ard any inform­a­tion that sits poorly with what we already believe while quickly absorb­ing any­thing that con­firms our beliefs.

The Earth is flat, and I haven’t seen any cred­ible evid­ence to the contrary.”

47. The Hostile Media Effect

This can be seen as the equi­val­ent in media sci­ence to the psy­cho­lo­gic­al fal­lacy of the back­fire effect. Studies have shown that people with strong opin­ions on a spe­cif­ic issue tend to believe that the media is biased towards their oppos­i­tion. The res­ult will be even stronger if the indi­vidu­al believes that the silent major­ity is out there who are par­tic­u­larly sus­cept­ible to erro­neous or mis­lead­ing media coverage.

I know the media is telling me I’m wrong, but that’s per­fectly under­stand­able since their primary object­ive is to stop me from expos­ing the truth.”

The Hostile Media Effect

Do you think that the news media is biased against your beliefs? Well, they might be. And they might also not be.

Researchers have found that indi­vidu­als tend to see the news media as biased against them — even when it’s not:

The hos­tile media effect […] is a per­cep­tu­al the­ory of mass com­mu­nic­a­tion that refers to the tend­ency for indi­vidu­als with a strong preex­ist­ing atti­tude on an issue to per­ceive media cov­er­age as biased against their side and in favour of their ant­ag­on­ists’ point of view.”
— Wikipedia 4Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​o​s​t​i​l​e​_​m​e​d​i​a​_​e​f​f​ect

Are we para­noid? Do we see bias in the news media that isn’t there? In short: Yes.

The hos­tile media effect does­n’t imply that the media is nev­er biased. Still, sci­ence shows that oppos­ing groups often regard the same art­icles as against them and favour their opponents.

The exist­ence of the hos­tile media effect is sci­en­tific­ally well-estab­lished, but we still don’t know pre­cisely why it persists:

The hos­tile media per­cep­tion, the tend­ency for par­tis­ans to judge mass media cov­er­age as unfa­vor­able to their own point of view, has been vividly demon­strated but not well explained. This con­trast bias is intriguing because it appears to con­tra­dict a robust lit­er­at­ure on assim­il­a­tion biases — the tend­ency to find inform­a­tion more sup­port­ive, rather than more opposed, to one’s own pos­i­tion. […] con­tent eval­u­ations based on per­ceived influ­ence on one­self vs influ­ence on a broad­er audi­ence sug­ges­ted that the hos­tile media per­cep­tion may be explained by per­ceived reach of the inform­a­tion source.”
Source: Journal of Communication 5Gunther, A.C. and Schmitt, K. (2004), Mapping Boundaries of the Hostile Media Effect. Journal of Communication, 54: 55 – 70.

Research sug­gests that the primary driver could be fear of oppon­ents gain­ing in strength, and the hos­tile media effect could there­fore be seen as a psy­cho­lo­gic­al defence mechanism.

Read also: The Hostile Media Effect: How We Demonise the News Media

48. Cherry-Picking (The Fallacy of Incomplete Evidence)

This fal­lacy is closely related to Texas sharp­shoot­er and the fal­lacy of divi­sion. Cherry-pick­ing fuels most of the reas­on­ing behind pop­u­lar con­spir­acy the­or­ies. In a world where inform­a­tion is abund­ant and eas­ily access­ible, it’s easy for any­one to make a case for almost anything. 

Apollo saved Greece from the dragon Python, and Napoleon saved France from the hor­rors of revolu­tion (derived from ‘revolvo,’ some­thing that crawls). Therefore, Napoleon is a myth.”

Read also: Napoleon the Sun God (And Why Most Conspiracies are Bullshit)

49. The Spiral of Silence

Most social anim­als har­bour an instinct­ive fear of isol­a­tion, and in-groups main­tain their cul­tur­al sta­bil­ity par­tially by exclud­ing indi­vidu­als with non-con­form­ing opin­ions or beha­viours. This can cre­ate a cul­ture where group mem­bers self-cen­sor their views and beha­viours by going silent.

My opin­ions are per­ceived as wrong, and it’s bet­ter for every­one if I stay silent.”

The Spiral of Silence

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann - Spiral of Silence - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Professor Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916−2010).

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s well-doc­u­mented the­ory on the spir­al of silence (1974) explains why the fear of isol­a­tion due to peer exclu­sion will pres­sure pub­lics to silence their opinions.

Rather than risk­ing social isol­a­tion, many choose silence over express­ing their genu­ine opinions.

To the indi­vidu­al, not isol­at­ing him­self is more import­ant than his own judge­ment. […] This is the point where the indi­vidu­al is vul­ner­able; this is where social groups can pun­ish him for fail­ing to toe the line.”
— Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

As the dom­in­ant coali­tion gets to stand unop­posed, they push the con­fines of what’s accept­able down a nar­row­er and nar­row­er fun­nel (see also the opin­ion cor­ridor).

The smart way to keep people pass­ive and obed­i­ent is to strictly lim­it the spec­trum of accept­able opin­ion, but allow very lively debate with­in that spec­trum — even encour­age the more crit­ic­al and dis­sid­ent views. That gives people the sense that there’s free think­ing going on, while all the time the pre­sup­pos­i­tions of the sys­tem are being rein­forced by the lim­its put on the range of the debate.”
— Noam Chomsky

Read also: The Spiral of Silence

50. The Yes Ladder

This is a mar­ket­ing exploit where the per­suader aims to get you to say yes to some­thing sub­stan­tial (“big ask”) by meth­od­ic­ally get­ting you to say yes to some­thing smal­ler first (“small ask”).

I wasn’t going to buy the pink umbrella at first, but then I sub­scribed to their news­let­ter, and via the news­let­ter, I down­loaded a free photo book with pink umbrel­las — and now I own five pink umbrellas.”

51. Bystander Effect

People are less inclined to offer sup­port or aid if many oth­ers can.

Everyone cares deeply about per­son­al safety, so every­one will down­load our new CSR app to help each other.”

Read also: Kitty Genovese Murder and the Misreported Bystander Effect

52. Reciprocation Effect

We often feel oblig­ated to recip­roc­ate if someone is friendly or gen­er­ous towards us. While this is a beau­ti­ful and expec­ted part of human beha­viour, it’s some­thing that spe­cial interests can take advant­age of.

I can’t believe the car broke down so fast — the guy I bought it from threw in so many extra features.”

53. Commitment and Consistency

Once we com­mit to some­thing, we invest a part of ourselves in that decision. This makes it harder for many of us to aban­don such com­mit­ments because it would mean giv­ing up on ourselves. This bias is closely related to yes lad­ders, declin­ism, appeal to tra­di­tion, and sunk cost fallacy.

I’ve made my decision, and there­fore I’m stick­ing with it.”

54. The Fallacy of Social Proof

This fal­lacy is the com­mer­cial exten­sion of the band­wag­on effect; by show­cas­ing social proof, we are com­for­ted by decisions made by oth­ers. Ideally, we should always ensure that reviews and engage­ment dis­plays are rel­ev­ant (and accur­ate) before mak­ing any decisions, but this doesn’t always happen.

Their product seems to have many happy users, so the risk of get­ting scammed is low.”

55. Liking and Likeness

We prefer to say yes to people we know and like,” says Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

He is gor­geous, suc­cess­ful, and speaks in a way that res­on­ates with me, so why shouldn’t I trust every word he says?”

56. The Appeal to Authority

It isn’t easy to dis­tin­guish between per­ceived author­ity and indis­put­able author­ity. Many com­pan­ies use testi­mo­ni­als from people with impress­ive titles — and it works. This fal­lacy is closely related to the fal­la­cious appeal to authority.

Several lead­ing doc­tors recom­men­ded this product, so the ad’s claims must be true.”

57. The Principle of Scarcity (FOMO)

Most of us are scared of miss­ing out (also known as FOMO, fear of miss­ing out). This makes us per­ceive things as more valu­able the rarer they are.

I’m so happy I man­aged to snag that pink uni­corn umbrella before the dis­count ran out!”

Read also: The Power of Artificial Scarcity

58. Loss Aversion

The pain of los­ing can psy­cho­lo­gic­ally be twice as power­ful as the joy of win­ning. Our psy­cho­logy often allows us to take dis­pro­por­tion­ate risks to avoid los­ing com­pared to the dangers we’re ready to take to win. This bias is closely related to com­mit­ment, con­sist­ency, and the sunk cost fallacy.

Our last invest­ment led to a loss of mar­ket share, so we must increase our invest­ment to regain it.”

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Reference List

Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985), The psy­cho­logy of sunk costs. Organisational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124 – 140.

Cialdini, R. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition. Harper Business: The United States.

Cook, J. & Lewandowsky, S. (2011). The debunk­ing hand­book. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland. 

Dwyer, C.P. (2017). Critical think­ing: Conceptual per­spect­ives and prac­tic­al guidelines. Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press; with a fore­word by former APA President, Dr Diane F. Halpern.

Dwyer, C. P., Hogan, M. J., & Stewart, I. (2014). An integ­rated crit­ic­al think­ing frame­work for the 21st cen­tury. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 12, 43 – 52.

Forer, B. R. (1949). The Fallacy of Personal Validation: A classroom Demonstration of Gullibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 44, 118 – 121.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. Penguin: Great Britain.

Kruger, J., Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How dif­fi­culties in recog­nising one’s own incom­pet­ence lead to inflated self-Assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 6, 1121 – 1134.

Scott, P. J., & Lizieri, C. 92012). Consumer house price judg­ments: New evid­ence of anchor­ing and arbit­rary coher­ence. Journal of Property Research, 29, 49 – 68.

Simon, H. A. (1957). Models of man. New York: Wiley.

Sweis, B. M., Abram, S. V., Schmidt, B. J., Seeland, K. D., MacDonald, A. W., Thomas, M. J., & Redish, A. D. (2018). Sensitivity to “sunk costs” in mice, rats, and humans. Science, 361(6398), 178 – 181.

Thaler, R. H. (1999). Mental account­ing mat­ters. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 12, 183 – 206.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncer­tainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 4157, 1124 – 1131.

West, R. F., Toplak, M. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (2008). Heuristics and biases as meas­ures of crit­ic­al think­ing: Associations with cog­nit­ive abil­ity and think­ing dis­pos­i­tions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 4, 930 – 941.

1 Please note that the Dunning-Kruger effect is under sci­entif­ic scru­tiny and lacks broad sup­port from the sci­entif­ic community.
2 Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a the­ory of con­ver­sion beha­viour. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 209 – 239. New York: Academic Press.
3 Chryssochoou, X. and Volpato, C. (2004). Social Influence and the Power of Minorities: An Analysis of the Communist Manifesto, Social Justice Research, 17, 4, 357 – 388.
4 Hostile media effect. (2022, October 25). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​o​s​t​i​l​e​_​m​e​d​i​a​_​e​f​f​ect
5 Gunther, A.C. and Schmitt, K. (2004), Mapping Boundaries of the Hostile Media Effect. Journal of Communication, 54: 55 – 70.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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