Are any Human Cognitive Biases Genetically Universal?

Genetically universal human traits are such things as the eye, appendix, having two legs and two arms and a head, etc. There are no exceptions to universal traits (embryological accidents don’t count).

Of 67 Cognitive Biases, 62 are not claimed  to be universal, based on published evidence for them that  ‘many’ or ‘most’ subjects show a ‘tendency’ ‘toward’ them ‘often’ to a ‘statistically significant’ degree, etc.

Of the 5 exceptions, the Anthropic Bias and the Adaptive Bias are defined as universal, so empirical evidence for universality is superfluous.  The Contrast Effect is perceptual (e.g., a hefted weight is perceived as heavier when contrasted with a lighter weight, lighter when contrasted with a heavier weight) and ‘ubiquity ‘ is claimed. The other two are memory limitations — in the Primacy and Recency Effects, items at the beginning and end of a long list are remembered better.

However, the other biases could still be genetically ‘universal’  if present in all persons without special training (as children or uneducated adults) or in all persons in genetically isolated communities.

Failing evidence of universality, a cognitive bias could  be shown to be  genetic if it runs in families (one-egg twins more similar in a particular bias than two-egg twins, etc.).

Is there any other evidence for universality of Cognitive Biases?

GD Star Rating
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • As promised, I read the volume you suggested (Narrative Thought and Narrative Language).

    I can see where your view, namely, that the power of stories comes “from learning, because our life is formulated as a story, not genetically but because time is sequential and our motives cause our stories,” comes from.

    Perhaps most relevantly, Olson says “There is nothing natural about the narrative; it is a linguistic form analogous to rhyme.”(p. 101).

    I see what you both mean, though I think a good case still could be made that narrative *is* the most “natural” vector for our internal models. In other words, if a person’s cognitive maps of reality typically relate to some agent (usually himself) wouldn’t a form so concerned with agency (as narratives are) stick? If so, it might mean we’re genetically predisposed to narrative. Tenuous, indeed, and per this post, I don’t have any real evidence (like one-egg twin studies).

    Anyway, I found the book for the most part informative and engaging. I will say that I really did not like the first paper, “Narrative Comprehension.” I thought it was long-winded, unsure of itself, poorly designed, and mostly unconvincing, though I did enjoy the four short stories in the appendix. This is not to say the thrust of the chapter was lost on me, but I didn’t enjoy the presentation.

    I was quite fond of McGuire’s “The Rhetoric of Narrative: A Hermeneutic, Critical Theory.” His ideas didn’t blow my hair back, but he is an excellent writer.

    I thought Chafe had a cool approach with his “Some Things That Narratives Tell Us About the Mind,” and I was impressed (though a little overloaded) by the methods in “The Joint Construction of Stories.”

    One thing that struck me was how often this Bruner guy got mentioned (his 1986 book was cited in practically every chapter). Must have been a pretty influential piece.

    If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend David Foster Wallace’s essay “E Pluribus Unum: Television and US Fiction”. He’s a bit wild and has a ridiculous (stupefying) vocabulary, but I thought his ideas (of the ones I could understand) were dead-on. You’ll see why I think it’s relevant to the present discussion.

    I’m curious to know what your role was as editor of the book. Also, what motivated the conference in the first place? I have to say I enjoyed the product, and I can see why you wanted me to read it. Thanks.


    – James