Certainty Heuristic

We’re biased toward statements that offer certainty, even if those statements are false.

We humans are biased towards things that offer security. Which, from a primal standpoint, is completely understandable: we want to know that things are going to be okay, and we want to know that we’ll make it through to tomorrow. We want certainty. Certainty is especially important when our survival is at stake. But the desire for certainty is a natural bias that can lead to poor decision-making.

If you’ve ever listened to con artists, you’ll notice that they usually speak with absolute certainty. They’ll often tell you that their proposed solution is absolutely perfect, will solve incredibly difficult problems, and has no risks or caveats.

In contrast, you’ll notice that true experts qualify their statements. Unless the evidence is irrefutable, it’s very rare for a true expert to claim that something works 100% of the time. For a layperson, this can be tremendously frustrating because we want certainty, but real experts know better than to provide certainty when it doesn’t exist.

So consider this a red flag: if someone says their solution is 100% certain to work, run for the hills. It’s probably a scam. And don’t be so quick to dismiss someone just because they sound wishy-washy: maybe they’re an expert that’s aware of the limitations of their knowledge.

There’s a saying in the software engineering world: there is no silver bullet. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for answers. No solutions are perfect.

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