Why is it easier to neglect one's self than others?

Why is it easier to neglect one's self than others?

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If I am hungry, I often ignore my hunger because I'm more interested in continuing what I'm currently working on than getting myself food. However, if someone else (my girlfriend, a friend, a sibling, etc) expresses that they are hungry (even unintentionally, perhaps by their stomach growling), I am much more likely to get them something to eat.

In both situations, I need to stop what I am currently doing. In one situation, I receive food. In the other situation, someone else receives food. Why is someone else receiving food (or some other benefit) a stronger motivator than receiving that benefit myself?

It seems that what you are describing is Empathy-Altruism.

Debate over whether other-helping behavior is motivated by self- or other interest has raged over the last 20 or so years. The prime people involved in this debate are Daniel Batson arguing for empathy-altruism, Robert Cialdini arguing for self-interest and the works of John Thibaut, Harold Kelley, Caryl Rusbult, and George Homans on Social Exchange Theory

Social Exchange Theory states that human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of alternatives. The basis is that that altruism does not exist unless benefits to the helper outweigh the costs.

By contrast, C. Daniel Batson holds that people help others in need out of genuine concern for the well-being of the other person.

The key ingredient to helping is "empathic concern". According to [Batson's] 'empathy-altruism hypothesis', if someone feels empathy towards another person, they will help them, regardless of what they can gain from it.

7 Signs You Grew Up With Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect is both simple in its definition and powerful in its effects. It happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs while theyre raising you.

Emotional Neglect is an invisible, unmemorable childhood experience. Yet unbeknownst to you, it can hang over you like a cloud, coloring your entire adult life.

What makes Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) invisible and unmemorable? Several important factors. First, it can happen in otherwise loving, caring families that lack for nothing materially. Second, your parents failure to respond is not something that happens to you as a child. Instead, its something that fails to happen for you as a child. Our eyes dont see the things that fail to happen. And so our brains cant record them.

Decades later, an adult, you sense that something is not right, but you dont know what it is. You may look at your childhood for answers, but you cannot see the invisible. So you are left to assume that something is innately wrong with you.

Whatever is wrong, its my own fault, you secretly believe. Im different from other people. Something is missing. Im flawed.

Yet its not your fault. There are answers. And once you understand the problem, you can heal.

Feelings of emptiness.

Emptiness feels different for different people. For some, its an empty feeling in their belly, chest or throat that comes and goes. For others, its a numbness.

Fear of being dependent.

Its one thing to be an independent kind of person. But feeling deeply uncomfortable about depending on anyone is another thing altogether. If you find yourself taking great care to not need help, support or care from others, you may have this fear.

Unrealistic self-appraisal.

Do you find it hard to know what you are capable of? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you like? What do you want? What matters to you? Struggling to answer these questions is a sign that you dont know yourself as well as you should.

No compassion for yourself, plenty for others.

Are you harder on yourself than you would ever be on a friend? Do others talk to you about their problems, but its hard for you to share yours?

Guilt, shame, self-directed anger, and blame.

Guilt, shame, anger, and blame The Fabulous Four, all directed at yourself. Some people have a tendency to go straight to guilt and shame whenever a negative event happens in their lives. Do you feel ashamed of things that most people would never be ashamed of? Like having needs, making mistakes, or having feelings?

Feeling fatally flawed.

This is that deep sense I talked about above. You know that something is wrong in your life, but you cant pinpoint what it is. Its me, you say to yourself, and you feel that it is true. Im not likable, Im different than other people. Something is wrong with me.

Difficulty feeling, identifying, managing and/or expressing emotions.

Do you get tongue-tied when youre upset? Have a limited vocabulary of emotion words? Often feel confused about why people (including yourself) feel or act the way they do?

Parents who under-notice, undervalue or under-respond to their childs emotions inadvertently convey a powerful, subliminal message to the child:

Your feelings dont matter.

To cope as a child, you naturally push your emotions down, to keep them from becoming a problem in your childhood home.

Then, as an adult, you are living without enough access to your emotions: your emotions, which should be directing, guiding, informing, connecting and enriching you your emotions, which should be telling you who matters to you and what matters to you, and why.

And now for the excellent news of the day. Its not too late for you.

Once you understand the reason for your forever flaw, and how it came about, you can heal from your Childhood Emotional Neglect by attacking it. You can establish a new pipeline to your emotions. You can learn the skills to use them.

You can finally accept that your feelings are real, and they matter. You can finally see that you matter.

You can take on your Childhood Emotional Neglect, a nd your life will change.

If you have some of the 7 Signs, Take the Childhood Emotional Neglect Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Emotional Neglect gets passed down in families, and how to stop it and heal it see the book, Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

How to Overcome It?

Just as the researchers in Zurich and at Carnegie Mellon alluded to, overcoming self-serving bias is not futile. And the first step is something you are doing right now: awareness!

Like most cognitive biases, bringing something from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind is the first step to mitigating the bias.

And recognizing that biases grow out of our mind’s tendency to think quickly and make snap judgments and decisions, it is important to try to slow down your thinking – taking all relevant factors into consideration and trying to avoid making rash decisions or statements.

The self-serving bias is unique in that it is closely related to our self-esteem. When we rely on this bias to help elevate our sense of self-worth, it makes self-improvement difficult because we are less likely to learn from our mistakes and accept any negative feedback.

But because knowing how to admit when you are in the wrong or are responsible for a negative outcome is paramount to growth, it’s important to challenge the self-serving bias and learn how to be better at taking criticisms.

An important way to do this is by practicing self-compassion – allowing yourself to be imperfect and still treating yourself with unconditional kindness when you fall short of your own expectations (Neff, 2003).

You can practice self-compassion through mindfulness, therapy, and even on your own. These are just a few ways to help combat self-serving bias. The bottom line is that although this bias is inherent in who we are as humans, we can still work towards overcoming this pattern of thinking and, at the end of the day, recognize that it is okay to make mistakes.

About the Author

Charlotte Ruhl is a member of the Class of 2022 at Harvard University. She studies Psychology with a minor in African American Studies. On campus, Charlotte works at an implicit social cognition research lab, is an editor for the undergraduate law review, and plays softball.

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Ruhl , C. (2021, April 19). Self-serving bias: definition and examples. Simply Psychology.

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How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Ruhl , C. (2021, April 19). Self-serving bias: definition and examples. Simply Psychology.

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Ensuring that young children have safe, secure environments in which to grow and learn creates a strong foundation for both their futures and a thriving, prosperous society. Science shows that early exposure to maltreatment or neglect can disrupt healthy development and have lifelong consequences. When adult responses to children are unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, developing brain circuits can be disrupted, affecting how children learn, solve problems, and relate to others.

The absence of responsive relationships poses a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being. Sensing threat activates biological stress response systems, and excessive activation of those systems can have a toxic effect on developing brain circuitry. When the lack of responsiveness persists, the adverse effects of toxic stress can compound the lost opportunities for development associated with limited or ineffective interaction. This complex impact of neglect on the developing brain underscores why it is so harmful in the earliest years of life. It also demonstrates why effective early interventions are likely to pay significant dividends in better long-term outcomes in educational achievement, lifelong health, and successful parenting of the next generation.

For more information, read Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development. Illustration by Betsy Hayes.

Chronic neglect is associated with a wider range of damage than active abuse, but it receives less attention in policy and practice.

In the U.S., neglect accounts for 78% of all child maltreatment cases, far more than physical abuse (17%), sexual abuse (9%), and psychological abuse (8%) combined.

Science tells us that young children who experience significantly limited caregiver responsiveness may sustain a range of adverse physical and mental health consequences that actually produce more widespread developmental impairments than overt physical abuse. These can include cognitive delays, stunting of physical growth, impairments in executive function and self-regulation skills, and disruptions of the body’s stress response. With more than a half million documented cases in the U.S. in 2010 alone, neglect accounts for 78% of all child maltreatment cases nationwide, far more than physical abuse (17%), sexual abuse (9%), and psychological abuse (8%) combined. Despite these compelling findings, child neglect receives far less public attention than either physical abuse or sexual exploitation and a lower proportion of mental health services.

Each state defines the types of child abuse and neglect in its own statute and policy, guided by federal standards, and establishes the level of evidence needed to substantiate a report of maltreatment. The data above, from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), reflects the total number of victims (defined as a child for whom the state determined at least one report of maltreatment was found to be substantiated or indicated) as reported by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010. “Other” includes abandonment, threats of harm, and drug addiction. Click image for full-size, shareable version.

Studies on children in a variety of settings show that severe deprivation or neglect:

  • Disrupts the ways in which children’s brains develop and process information, increasing the risk for attentional, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral disorders.
  • Alters the development of biological stress-response systems, leading to greater risk for anxiety, depression, cardiovascular problems, and other chronic health impairments later in life.
  • Correlates with significant risk for emotional and interpersonal difficulties, including high levels of negativity, poor impulse control, and personality disorders, as well as low levels of enthusiasm, confidence, and assertiveness.
  • Is associated with significant risk for learning difficulties and poor school achievement, including deficits in executive function and attention regulation, low IQ scores, poor reading skills, and low rates of high school graduation.

The negative consequences of deprivation and neglect can be reversed or reduced through appropriate and timely interventions, but merely removing a young child from an insufficiently responsive environment does not guarantee positive outcomes. Children who experience severe deprivation typically need therapeutic intervention and highly supportive care to mitigate the adverse effects and facilitate recovery.

Coming to America

In the United States, Megan Gunnar, PhD, director of the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, has helped fill in other pieces of the puzzle. In 1999, she and her colleagues launched the International Adoption Project, an extensive examination of children adopted from overseas. She now has nearly 6,000 names on her registry and her research is ongoing.

Gunnar has found certain brain changes are common among children who came to the United States from orphanages, including a reduction in brain volume and changes in the development of the prefrontal cortex.

"Neglect does a number on the brain. And we see behaviors that follow from that," she says.

She's found post-institutionalized kids tend to have difficulty with executive functions such as cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and working memory. They are often delayed in the development of theory of mind, the ability to understand the mental states of others. Many struggle to regulate their emotions. Often, they suffer from high anxiety.

One of the most common behaviors she sees among post-institutionalized children is indiscriminate friendliness. "A child who doesn't know you from Adam will run up, put his arms around you and snuggle in like you're his long-lost aunt," Gunnar says. That friendliness was probably an important coping technique in their socially starved early lives, she says. "What's interesting is it just doesn't go away."

Fox and his colleagues had also noted such disarming friendliness in the Romanian orphanages. Initially, children with indiscriminate friendliness were thought to have an attachment disorder that prevented them from forming healthy connections with adult caregivers. But findings from the Bucharest Project as well as Gunnar's own research have demonstrated otherwise, she says.

In a study of 65 toddlers who had been adopted from institutions, Gunnar found that most attached to their new parents relatively quickly, and by nine months post-adoption, 90 percent of the children had formed strong attachments to their adoptive parents. Yet that attachment was often "disorganized," marked by contradictory behaviors (Development and Psychopathology, in press). A child might appear confused in the presence of a caregiver, for instance, sometimes approaching the caregiver for comfort, and other times showing resistance.

"There were things that happened in terms of early development, when they lacked that responsive caregiver, that they're carrying forward," Gunnar says.

One of those things may be a disrupted cortisol pattern. Cortisol, commonly known as the "stress hormone," typically peaks shortly after waking, then drops throughout the day to a low point at bedtime. But Gunnar found that children with a history of neglect typically have a less marked cortisol rhythm over the course of the day. Those abnormal cortisol patterns were correlated with both stunted physical growth and with indiscriminate friendliness (Development and Psychopathology, 2011).

Indiscriminate friendliness may also be tied to the amygdala. In a study using fMRI, Aviva Olsavsky, MD, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues found that when typical children viewed photos of their mothers versus photos of strangers, the amygdala showed distinctly different responses. In children who had been institutionalized, however, the amygdala responded similarly whether the children viewed mothers or strangers. That response was particularly notable among kids who exhibited more friendliness toward strangers (Biological Psychiatry, 2013).

Psychology Exam 14

Types of Child Maltreatment The four main types of child maltreatment are physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse (Jackson, Kissoon, & Greene, 2015 National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect, 2013):
-Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, or otherwise harming a child. The parent or other person may not have intended to hurt the child the injury may have resulted from excessive physical punishment (Flaherty & others, 2014 Villodas & others, 2015).
-Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs (O'Hara & others, 2015 Ross & Juarez, 2014). Neglect can be physical (abandonment, for example), educational (allowing chronic truancy, for example), or emotional (marked inattention to the child's needs, for example) (Horner, 2014). Child neglect is by far the most common form of child maltreatment. In every country where relevant data have been collected, neglect occurs up to three times as often as abuse (Potthast, Neuner, & Catani, 2014).
-Sexual abuse includes fondling a child's genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials (Collin-Vezina & others, 2015 Williams & others, 2014). Unlike physical abuse, many cases of sexual abuse produce no outward physical signs that abuse has taken place.
-Emotional abuse (psychological/verbal abuse/mental injury) includes acts or omissions by parents or other caregivers that have caused, or could cause, serious behavioral, cognitive, or emotional problems (Shin & others, 2015 Sorbo & others, 2013).

No single factor causes child maltreatment (Cicchetti, 2013). A combination of factors, including the culture, neighborhood, family, and development, likely contribute to child maltreatment.
The extensive violence that takes place in American culture is reflected in the occurrence of violence in the family (Leppakoski, Flinck, & Paavilainen, 2015). A regular diet of violence appears on television screens, and parents often resort to power assertion as a disciplinary technique. In China, where physical punishment is rarely used to discipline children, the incidence of child abuse is reportedly very low.
The family itself is obviously a key part of the context of abuse (Diderich & others, 2014). Among the family and family-associated characteristics that may contribute to child maltreatment are parenting stress, substance abuse, social isolation, single parenting, and socioeconomic difficulties (especially poverty) (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). The interactions of all family members should be considered, regardless of who performs the violent acts against the child (Kim & Cicchetti, 2004). For example, even though the father may be the one who physically abuses the child, contributions by the mother, the child, and siblings also should be evaluated.
Were parents who abuse children abused by their own parents? A 30-year longitudinal study found that offspring of parents who had engaged in child maltreatment and neglect are at risk for engaging in child neglect and sexual maltreatment themselves (Widom, Cazja, & Dumont, 2015). It is estimated that about one-third of parents who were abused when they were young abuse their own children (Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). Thus, some, but not a majority, of parents are locked into an intergenerational transmission of abuse (Dixon, Browne, & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2005).
Developmental Consequences of Abuse Among the consequences of child maltreatment are poor emotion regulation, attachment problems, problems in peer relations, difficulty in adapting to school, and other psychological problems such as depression and delinquency during childhood and adolescence (Cicchetti & Banny, 2014 Cicchetti & Toth, 2015). As shown in Figure 9, maltreated young children in foster care were more likely to show abnormal stress hormone levels than middle-SES young children living with their birth family (Gunnar & Fisher, 2006). In this study, the abnormal stress hormone levels were mainly present in the foster children who experienced neglect, best described as "institutional neglect" (Fisher, 2005). Adolescents who experienced abuse or neglect as children are more likely than adolescents who were not maltreated as children to engage in violent romantic relationships, suicide attempts, delinquency, sexual risk taking, and substance abuse (Miller & others, 2013). Further, a recent study revealed that young adults who experienced child maltreatment, especially physical abuse, at any age were more likely to be depressed and engage in suicide ideation as adults (Dunn & others, 2013). In this study, child maltreatment at 3 to 5 years of age was associated more strongly with depression in early adulthood than other childhood age periods. And a recent study revealed that a significant increase in suicide attempts before age 18 occurred with repeated child maltreatment (Jonson-Reid, Kohl, & Drake, 2012).

Why We Put Ourselves Last & Why Self-Care Should Be a Priority

Sometimes, when we’re feeling stressed and running around taking care of everybody else, the healthiest thing we can do is to stop and consider how we can take care of ourselves.

While this seems obvious to some people, many of us struggle with the idea of putting ourselves first. We were raised to think we should always put others before ourselves and ignore our own needs—that it is somehow arrogant or self-centered, and not a nice thing to do.

So, why is self-care not held in high regard as the essential practice that it is for our well-being?

Here, I take a look at some misconceptions that hold us back from looking after the most important person in our lives, explore why self-care is better for others around us, and share my own list of self-care commitments, as somebody who has struggled with this in the past.

1. We think self-care means being selfish.

Taking care of ourselves is the opposite of being selfish, as it strengthens us and enables us to support our loved ones better. We are no use to anyone if our energy is depleted because we have given every last bit of it away. Self-care is an antidote to stress, as it builds resilience so we can better cope with challenges.

Just think how they tell us to put on our oxygen mask first on an airplane before we help others. Yes, absolutely support others, but nurture yourself first.

2. We confuse “rescuing” with caring.

We often sacrifice self-care because we’re too busy trying to save everyone else. But people have to learn their own lessons in life, however painful that is. Who are you to decide that you know what is right for them? Now that is selfish, as it’s based on your own desires for them, which may not truly be in their best interests.

The way we can really help is to focus on ourselves and stop trying to run others’ lives. While we think we’re caring by “rescuing” them from unpleasant experiences in their lives, we are denying them the opportunity to face their own challenges, and grow stronger or learn a lesson from doing so.

This has been a hard truth for me to face, as I always thought I was being nice and caring. It’s even tougher to accept now that a close family member of mine is very ill, mostly caused by their own actions. I have an overwhelming desire to help, and have tried on numerous occasions, but I now realize that they have to want to change.

By rescuing them every time, out of what we believe is love, the rest of the family are enabling this person to stay feeling helpless, and we are burning ourselves out with stress.

I don’t mean we should never help people, but there is a difference between providing support for somebody who asks and taking it upon ourselves to save somebody and make their life turn out in a way that we think it should.

3. We are accustomed to relationships based on neediness, not real love.

We often fall in love with the idea of being in love, because we watch Hollywood films that portray love as dramatic and needing to be with somebody 24/7.

When we give from this place, we give too much, because we believe we have to die for that person and other such dramatic statements. As Ernest Hemmingway wrote in Men Without Women, “The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much and forgetting that you are special too.”

Instead of spending our every waking hour thinking about that other person and forgetting ourselves, we (and our partners!) would be better served by focusing on ourselves. This way, we’ll be able to give from a place of wholeness, without expecting anything in return or feeling resentful.

As Rollo May said, “Love is generally confused with dependence but in point of fact, you can only love in proportion to your capacity for independence.” If we take care of ourselves, we are more independent, less needy of getting attention or affection, and more capable of truly connecting with another human being.

4. We don’t realize we teach people how to treat us.

We teach people how to treat us by our own actions and attitude toward ourselves. By putting signs out there that you are a rescuer and will sacrifice yourself to help others, you attract the sort of people who want to be rescued and for whom it has to be all about them—not a balanced relationship.

Then, you have made it a self-fulfilling prophecy, by effectively bringing about what you always complain that you attract: people who take advantage of your good nature.

Here, it is useful to question whether they have really taken everything we have or if we have voluntarily given it all to them. Yes, they have played a part, but we can’t change them. We only have control over our own actions, so what part did we play?

Also, although this can be hard to hear, there is always a pay-off for us. Is it that you always get to be the “nice guy” or the “victim”? Take a long hard look now…

5. We expect others to take care of us.

While we might believe that our actions are purely altruistic and caring, are we actually expecting something in return?

I have previously been guilty of giving everything and believing I was being nice, but then feeling resentful when they inevitably didn’t give back in equal measure.

I complained to my friends that this or that person didn’t give me enough (and, in some cases, I wouldn’t have been wrong!) It’s easy to complain about what others aren’t doing. It’s hard to accept that we have chosen to give all our love to them and keep none for ourselves, expecting them to fill a gap they couldn’t fill, because it was our own self-esteem that was missing.

Yes, somebody may take advantage of your caring nature, but if you lie down to be walked on, you can’t be surprised when people treat you like a doormat. Your self-care is your responsibility, nobody else’s.

6. We don’t realize our worth.

Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that we think others are worth more than us. If we are confident in our love for ourselves and treat ourselves as if we are worthy, then that is what we will attract back.

Yes, I’m afraid it comes down to that whole self-love thing again! There is a reason why this is a cliché, though, because the key to meaningful relationships really is to love ourselves first.

So, What Does Self-Care Look Like?

Self-care is essential for us all, but looks different from person to person. We are all individuals with different preferences. Listen to your inner voice to find out what makes you content. Sometimes we can’t even hear our own inner voice because we are so busy anticipating the needs of those we care about, so you might have to listen carefully at first.

Below is my own personal list of self-care practices. I hope it gives you some inspiration for ways to take care of yourself.

1. Being fully in and embracing the present moment—mindful living

2. Preparing and eating three healthy meals a day, avoiding sugar fixes

3. Getting outside every day

5. Doing something I enjoy every day—being creative

6. Spending time with positive people

7. Setting healthy boundaries—saying no more often

8. Identifying negative self-talk and changing it to positive

9. Pausing before reacting—do I really want to do this?

10. Getting one thing done every day, and celebrating this achievement

11. Looking after my health, body, skin, hair, teeth—regular appointments

12. Being grateful—starting each day with at least three things I am thankful for

13. Regular yoga and meditation

14. Laughing more and starting the day with a smile

15. Singing or dancing whenever possible

16. Having more fun and taking life less seriously

17. Treating myself with love and compassion—being my own best friend

18. Focusing on myself and prioritizing my needs—not focusing on the lives of others

19. Spending time alone and being still every day

20. Being my authentic self, not what others want me to be

21. Listening to my inner voice/intuition and doing what feels right for me


An example of the base rate fallacy is the false positive paradox. This paradox describes situations where there are more false positive test results than true positives. For example, 50 of 1,000 people test positive for an infection, but only 10 have the infection, meaning 40 tests were false positives. The probability of a positive test result is determined not only by the accuracy of the test but also by the characteristics of the sampled population. [3] When the prevalence, the proportion of those who have a given condition, is lower than the test's false positive rate, even tests that have a very low chance of giving a false positive in an individual case will give more false than true positives overall. [4] The paradox surprises most people. [5]

It is especially counter-intuitive when interpreting a positive result in a test on a low-prevalence population after having dealt with positive results drawn from a high-prevalence population. [4] If the false positive rate of the test is higher than the proportion of the new population with the condition, then a test administrator whose experience has been drawn from testing in a high-prevalence population may conclude from experience that a positive test result usually indicates a positive subject, when in fact a false positive is far more likely to have occurred.

Example 1: Disease Edit

High-incidence population Edit

of people
Infected Uninfected Total
(true positive)
(false positive)
(false negative)
(true negative)
Total 400 600 1000

Imagine running an infectious disease test on a population A of 1000 persons, in which 40% are infected. The test has a false positive rate of 5% (0.05) and no false negative rate. The expected outcome of the 1000 tests on population A would be:

Low-incidence population Edit

of people
Infected Uninfected Total
(true positive)
(false positive)
(false negative)
(true negative)
Total 20 980 1000

Now consider the same test applied to population B, in which only 2% is infected. The expected outcome of 1000 tests on population B would be:

A tester with experience of group A might find it a paradox that in group B, a result that had usually correctly indicated infection is now usually a false positive. The confusion of the posterior probability of infection with the prior probability of receiving a false positive is a natural error after receiving a health-threatening test result.

Example 2: Drunk drivers Edit

Many would answer as high as 95%, but the correct probability is about 2%.

An explanation for this is as follows: on average, for every 1,000 drivers tested,

  • 1 driver is drunk, and it is 100% certain that for that driver there is a true positive test result, so there is 1 true positive test result
  • 999 drivers are not drunk, and among those drivers there are 5% false positive test results, so there are 49.95 false positive test results

Therefore, the probability that one of the drivers among the 1 + 49.95 = 50.95 positive test results really is drunk is 1 / 50.95 ≈ 0.019627 .

The validity of this result does, however, hinge on the validity of the initial assumption that the police officer stopped the driver truly at random, and not because of bad driving. If that or another non-arbitrary reason for stopping the driver was present, then the calculation also involves the probability of a drunk driver driving competently and a non-drunk driver driving (in-)competently.

More formally, the same probability of roughly 0.02 can be established using Bayes's theorem. The goal is to find the probability that the driver is drunk given that the breathalyzer indicated they are drunk, which can be represented as

where D means that the breathalyzer indicates that the driver is drunk. Bayes's theorem tells us that

We were told the following in the first paragraph:

As you can see from the formula, one needs p(D) for Bayes' theorem, which one can compute from the preceding values using the law of total probability:

p ( D ) = ( 1.00 × 0.001 ) + ( 0.05 × 0.999 ) = 0.05095.

Plugging these numbers into Bayes' theorem, one finds that

Example 3: Terrorist identification Edit

In a city of 1 million inhabitants let there be 100 terrorists and 999,900 non-terrorists. To simplify the example, it is assumed that all people present in the city are inhabitants. Thus, the base rate probability of a randomly selected inhabitant of the city being a terrorist is 0.0001, and the base rate probability of that same inhabitant being a non-terrorist is 0.9999. In an attempt to catch the terrorists, the city installs an alarm system with a surveillance camera and automatic facial recognition software.

The software has two failure rates of 1%:

  • The false negative rate: If the camera scans a terrorist, a bell will ring 99% of the time, and it will fail to ring 1% of the time.
  • The false positive rate: If the camera scans a non-terrorist, a bell will not ring 99% of the time, but it will ring 1% of the time.

Suppose now that an inhabitant triggers the alarm. What is the chance that the person is a terrorist? In other words, what is P(T | B), the probability that a terrorist has been detected given the ringing of the bell? Someone making the 'base rate fallacy' would infer that there is a 99% chance that the detected person is a terrorist. Although the inference seems to make sense, it is actually bad reasoning, and a calculation below will show that the chances they are a terrorist are actually near 1%, not near 99%.

The fallacy arises from confusing the natures of two different failure rates. The 'number of non-bells per 100 terrorists' and the 'number of non-terrorists per 100 bells' are unrelated quantities. One does not necessarily equal the other, and they don't even have to be almost equal. To show this, consider what happens if an identical alarm system were set up in a second city with no terrorists at all. As in the first city, the alarm sounds for 1 out of every 100 non-terrorist inhabitants detected, but unlike in the first city, the alarm never sounds for a terrorist. Therefore, 100% of all occasions of the alarm sounding are for non-terrorists, but a false negative rate cannot even be calculated. The 'number of non-terrorists per 100 bells' in that city is 100, yet P(T | B) = 0%. There is zero chance that a terrorist has been detected given the ringing of the bell.

Imagine that the first city's entire population of one million people pass in front of the camera. About 99 of the 100 terrorists will trigger the alarm—and so will about 9,999 of the 999,900 non-terrorists. Therefore, about 10,098 people will trigger the alarm, among which about 99 will be terrorists. So, the probability that a person triggering the alarm actually is a terrorist, is only about 99 in 10,098, which is less than 1%, and very, very far below our initial guess of 99%.

The base rate fallacy is so misleading in this example because there are many more non-terrorists than terrorists, and the number of false positives (non-terrorists scanned as terrorists) is so much larger than the true positives (terrorists scanned as terrorists).

In experiments, people have been found to prefer individuating information over general information when the former is available. [6] [7] [8]

In some experiments, students were asked to estimate the grade point averages (GPAs) of hypothetical students. When given relevant statistics about GPA distribution, students tended to ignore them if given descriptive information about the particular student even if the new descriptive information was obviously of little or no relevance to school performance. [7] This finding has been used to argue that interviews are an unnecessary part of the college admissions process because interviewers are unable to pick successful candidates better than basic statistics.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky attempted to explain this finding in terms of a simple rule or "heuristic" called representativeness. They argued that many judgments relating to likelihood, or to cause and effect, are based on how representative one thing is of another, or of a category. [7] Kahneman considers base rate neglect to be a specific form of extension neglect. [9] Richard Nisbett has argued that some attributional biases like the fundamental attribution error are instances of the base rate fallacy: people do not use the "consensus information" (the "base rate") about how others behaved in similar situations and instead prefer simpler dispositional attributions. [10]

There is considerable debate in psychology on the conditions under which people do or do not appreciate base rate information. [11] [12] Researchers in the heuristics-and-biases program have stressed empirical findings showing that people tend to ignore base rates and make inferences that violate certain norms of probabilistic reasoning, such as Bayes' theorem. The conclusion drawn from this line of research was that human probabilistic thinking is fundamentally flawed and error-prone. [13] Other researchers have emphasized the link between cognitive processes and information formats, arguing that such conclusions are not generally warranted. [14] [15]

Consider again Example 2 from above. The required inference is to estimate the (posterior) probability that a (randomly picked) driver is drunk, given that the breathalyzer test is positive. Formally, this probability can be calculated using Bayes' theorem, as shown above. However, there are different ways of presenting the relevant information. Consider the following, formally equivalent variant of the problem:

1 out of 1000 drivers are driving drunk. The breathalyzers never fail to detect a truly drunk person. For 50 out of the 999 drivers who are not drunk the breathalyzer falsely displays drunkenness. Suppose the policemen then stop a driver at random, and force them to take a breathalyzer test. It indicates that they are drunk. We assume you don't know anything else about them. How high is the probability they really are drunk?

In this case, the relevant numerical information—p(drunk), p(D | drunk), p(D | sober)—is presented in terms of natural frequencies with respect to a certain reference class (see reference class problem). Empirical studies show that people's inferences correspond more closely to Bayes' rule when information is presented this way, helping to overcome base-rate neglect in laypeople [15] and experts. [16] As a consequence, organizations like the Cochrane Collaboration recommend using this kind of format for communicating health statistics. [17] Teaching people to translate these kinds of Bayesian reasoning problems into natural frequency formats is more effective than merely teaching them to plug probabilities (or percentages) into Bayes' theorem. [18] It has also been shown that graphical representations of natural frequencies (e.g., icon arrays) help people to make better inferences. [18] [19] [20]

Why are natural frequency formats helpful? One important reason is that this information format facilitates the required inference because it simplifies the necessary calculations. This can be seen when using an alternative way of computing the required probability p(drunk|D):

Does Childhood Emotional Neglect Cause Avoidant Personality Disorder?

If you answered yes to some of the above, you may have an avoidant style .

But in order to qualify for a diagnosis of true Avoidant Personality Disorder , you must have all of these traits. They must cause significant impairment in your life and they must be consistent across time and situations.

Scores of people are living their lives with Avoidant Personality disorder. And legions more dont qualify for the full diagnosis because they have only some of the traits and fight their own private battles with them, secretly and quietly.

It is very possible to suffer silently with an intense fear of rejection, closeness or social situations but still soldier on, essentially unimpaired on the outside, but miserable on the inside.

Of all of the personality disorders, Avoidant is probably one of the least studied and least talked about. I think thats probably because avoidant folks are quiet. You shy away from the limelight. You stay out of trouble, you stay out of the way. You dont make waves.

So now, for a change, lets talk about you.

Have you ever thought about why you have these struggles and anxieties? Why you? Why this? Because I have. I have thought about it a great deal. I have watched and listened and talked with my patients. And I think that I have some answers.

Five Important Points About Avoidance

  1. Avoidance is actually nothing more than a coping mechanism.
  2. You developed this coping mechanism for a reason in your childhood. You needed it, and it probably served you well in your childhood home.
  3. When you use avoidance enough as a way to cope, it eventually becomes your signature move. It becomes a solution that you go to over and over again. It becomes your style.
  4. Avoidance feeds fear. The more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it. Then the more you avoid it. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
  5. All of the questions at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. Its a feeling and also a belief. That common denominator is this: a deep, powerful, perhaps unconscious feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just dont matter as much.

It is very difficult to take on challenges in life when you dont believe in yourself. Its hard to be vulnerable in relationships when you dont feel on equal footing with the other person. Its hard to put yourself out there when you feel so obviously flawed.

Now lets talk about your childhood for a moment.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs.

What happens to a child whose parents too seldom say, Whats wrong? and then listen with care to her answer. How does it affect a child to have parents who are blind to what he is feeling? Parents who, through probably no fault of their own, fail to offer emotional support, or fail to truly see the child for who he is?

Childhood Emotional Neglect teaches you, the child to avoid feeling, expressing, and needing. You are learning to avoid the very thing that makes you most real and the most human: your emotions. CEN is a breeding ground for shame, low self-worth, and yes:

When you grow up this way, you grow up feeling invisible, and feeling that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant. You grow up feeling that your emotional needs should not exist and are a sign of weakness. You grow up to feel ashamed that you have feelings and needs at all.

5 Steps to Become Less Avoidant

  1. Answer this question for yourself: What did you need to avoid in your childhood home?
  2. Accept that your avoidance is a coping mechanism that can be replaced by far better, healthier coping skills.
  3. Start observing yourself. Make it your mission to notice every time you avoid something. Start a list, and record every incident. Awareness is a vital first step.
  4. Look through the list, and notice the themes. Is there a trend toward avoiding social situations? Risks? Goals? Feelings? Needs?
  5. Start, little by little, one step-at-a-time, facing things. How pervasive is your avoidance? If it is everywhere of everything, I urge you to seek a therapists help. If you have success on your own, be persistent. Dont give up, no matter how hard it gets.

Because the more you face things, the less scary they become, and the easier they become to face again, and the more you face. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.

But this circle is a healthy, strong circle that is a reversal of the circle of avoidance that began in your childhood. This circle will take you somewhere good.


Patsy has always been "larger than life." She tends to blow even small annoyances out of proportion. For example, when the store didn't have the dress she wanted for prom, it was the "end of the world." Her friends have gotten used to her insecurity and her need to be constantly reassured.

Which of the Big Five personality traits is best illustrated in this scenario?

Please select the best answer from the choices provided

Please select the best answer from the choices provided

No one was shocked when Garth asked to go skydiving for his eighteenth birthday. He has always been curious about what life has to offer, and he seldom does the same thing twice.

Which of the Big Five personality traits is best illustrated in this scenario?

Please select the best answer from the choices provided

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Crystal's family has noticed that she is always looking up information in books, newspapers, dictionaries, and on the Internet. If Crystal doesn't know an answer to something, how something works, or why something exists, she will continue to research until she finds the answer. Her family describes her as smart, curious, and resourceful.

According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, what need is Crystal fulfilling?


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