This “story bias” can be seen clearly in how events are reported in the news.
For example, a car is driving over a bridge when the structure suddenly collapses.
In the news the next day, we’ll hear about the tale of the unlucky driver, where she came from, and where she was going. We’ll learn about her biography: born somewhere, grew up somewhere else, worked some job. If she survives the bridge collapse and can give interviews, we’ll hear about how she felt as it happened.
But these stories overlook the underlying cause of the accident.
Instead of focusing on the driver’s account, consider the bridge’s construction:
- Where was the weak point?
- Was it fatigue? If not, was the bridge damaged?
- Was a proper design used? Where are there other bridges of the same design?
The problem with these questions is that, though valid, they don’t make for a good story.
In another example, below are two descriptions of the same event:
- “The king died, and the queen died.”
- “The king died, and the queen died of grief.”
Which one is easier to remember?
As Dobelli points out, most people will recall the second description more easily. The deaths don’t simply take place successively – they are emotionally linked.
The first description is a factual report, whereas the second one has “meaning.” Information theory suggests that it should be easier to remember the first description because it is shorter. But our brains don’t work that way.
Dobelli notes that our bias for stories has a downside: stories simplify and distort reality, giving us a false sense of understanding and affecting the quality of our decisions.
To view events more objectively, whenever you hear a story, Dobelli recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Who is the sender?
- What are their intentions?
- What are they trying to hide?