Illusion Of Control Bias: What It Is And How It Affects Us

Illusion of control bias

Cognitive biases are deviations from “normal” mental processing. that make us think irrationally in certain situations, creating a distortion of the causes and consequences of a situation.

In this article we will know one of them, the illusion of control bias, which appears especially in disorders such as pathological gambling or gambling addiction. Let’s know its characteristics, why it appears and how it maintains the behavior of playing in the individual.

Cognitive biases

A cognitive bias is a psychological effect that produces a deviation in mental processing, leading to distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what we generally call “irrationality.”

This irrationality appears based on the interpretation of the available informationeven if this leads us to illogical conclusions or the data have no relationship between them.

The illusion of control bias: characteristics

The illusion of control, or illusion of control bias, was defined by psychologist Ellen Langer in 1975. It is the mistaken belief that one can perform some type of action, or that has strategies to control the occurrence of events which are actually produced by chance. That is, the outcome of such events is actually independent of any variables present in the conditions of the event.

Thus, broadly speaking, we can speak of the illusion of control bias as the tendency of people of believing that they can control, or at least influence, outcomes that they have no influence on. More specifically, this bias has been found in pathological gambling, as we will see later.

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Pathological gambling: characteristics

Pathological gambling, commonly called gambling addictionis considered a mental disorder, according to the DSM-5, which classifies it within non-substance-related addictive disorders, as it shares many characteristics with drug addictions (withdrawal, dependence and tolerance syndrome).

For its part, the term addiction is defined as “the loss of control, with intense urgency to seek and receive a drug, even if it produces adverse consequences.”

In pathological gambling, the individual feel an uncontrollable need to play, which ends up having a negative impact on your daily life and your functioning at a personal, social, family, academic or work level. Many of the players end up putting themselves and their families into debt, as well as losing money and property. They also become liars to hide their addiction and financial losses.

The illusion of control bias appears very frequently in pathological gambling. Especially, it appears in those conditions that the player himself can control, and he ends up thinking that “he has control over the situation, that “he will be able to earn more money if he puts his mind to it,” as if this depended on him, when in reality it does not, since everything is random or commonly called the result of “luck”.

Thus, the illusion of control bias is one of the most characteristic beliefs of these players.

Illusion of control in pathological gambling

The illusion of control bias encourages the player to continue playing despite the damage this is causing; This occurs because the player “believes that he can control chance” and therefore the results, although not always consciously.

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Furthermore, players have more superstitious thoughts regarding the game than non-players. These biases and heuristics are not due to thought pathologies, but can appear in any person subjected to certain conditions (such as those that appear in gambling). .

Authors such as Chóliz, M. (2006) suggested that certain conditions of the game (for example, actively engaging in a task), promote the belief that you can have control over the outcome, despite the fact that we are faced with random events (such as gambling). This hypothesis was confirmed by studies on the subject.

Thus, as we have seen, the bias of the illusion of control favors the maintenance of pathological gambling in the player. But in addition to this bias, there are different reasons why a person maintains the behavior of gambling: for example, the fact of forgetting problems (avoidance), obtaining profits or compensating for the absence of social relationships.

All of this causes a loss of control in the player, which in turn generates anxiety and depression. These states can lead the person to end up putting their life and functioning at risk, due to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the phase of despair and hopelessness, which appears in advanced stages of pathological gambling.

Illusion of control hypothesis

Langer (1975) proposed a series of hypotheses to explain why the illusion of control bias appears. In his main hypothesis, he maintains that this phenomenon occurs when random situations include elements typical of situations that can be controlled.

In various experimental studies, Langer’s hypothesis has been tested and demonstrated, both in laboratory situations and in natural situations. These elements that influence the appearance of bias are:

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1. The choice

Following Langer’s hypothesis, it follows that players will be more confident in winning if they can choose the numbers in a lottery than if they do not choose them, for example, since this involves a choice.

2. Familiarity stimulate and respond

Players They will be more confident in winning if they can play a lottery that is familiar to them (vs. a novel one).

3. The competition

On the other hand, the player will have more illusion of control if he plays against an opponent who is not sure of himself than against a confident one.

4. Active and passive participation

Finally, if the player, for example, can roll the dice himself instead of someone else (active participation), this will also encourage the illusion of control bias. On the other hand, bias will also increase if he spends more time concentrating on the game (passive participation).

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