Every aspect of human thought is prone to error. We misremember things that have happened to us in the past, fail to understand commonplace events occurring to us, and we can be inattentive in situations that demand concentration. Sometimes, these errors don't really matter in the scheme of things. But more often than we may realize, our errors may have far-reaching implications.
"Consider the air traffic controller who is slow to recognize the need to correct the position of circling airplanes," says Dr. Jason LeBoe in the department of psychology at the University of Manitoba. "Many of these errors do not occur at random, but are caused by systematic biases in human thinking."
LeBoe is researching the underlying reasons why people make simple mistakes when they know the correct procedure or answer to a problem.
"A major goal of my research is to identify the cognitive biases that lead people into error," he explains. "Is it a matter of distraction? Attention? Forgetfulness?"
For errors of memory, Leboe is studying how people's beliefs about their own past are influenced by other thoughts that pop into their heads. Concerning the boo-boo's we can make when doing simple tasks, he's looking at why people sometimes have trouble telling if two objects are the same or different.
Leboe suspects that the same reasons that occasionally lead to errors in human thinking are also the mechanisms which allow people to be accurate most of the time.
He notes: "My hope is that identifying the cognitive biases that lead to errors in human thinking will help develop ways to prevent mistakes, especially when an error could place human lives at risk."
"It's frustrating when we make errors, especially when we 'know better'," he adds.