Bias of the illusion of control: what it is and how it affects us

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

In this article we will get to know one of them, through the illusion of control, Which appears in particular in disorders such as pathological gambling or gambling. Let’s find out its characteristics, why it appears and how it maintains the playing behavior in the individual.

    cognitive biases

    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 on the basis of the interpretation of the available information, Even if this leads us to illogical conclusions or if the data is not related to each other.

    The illusion of control bias: characteristics

    The illusion of control, or the partiality of the illusion of control, was defined by psychologist Ellen Langer in 1975. It is the mistaken belief that one can perform some kind of action, or who has strategies to control the occurrence of events which are in fact produced by chance. In other words, the result of such events is in fact independent of any variable present in the conditions of the event.

    So, generally speaking, we can speak of the decline of the illusion of control as the tendency of people to believe that they can control, or at least influence, outcomes over which they have no influence. More precisely, this bias has been found in pathological gambling, as we will see later.

    Pathological gambling: characteristics

    Pathological gambling, commonly known as gambling addictionIt is considered a mental disorder, according to the DSM-5, which classifies it as an addictive disorder not related to the substance, to share many characteristics with drug addiction (withdrawal, dependence and tolerance syndrome).

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

    In pathological gambling, the individual be an uncontrollable urge to play, Which ends up having a negative impact on their daily life and their functioning at the personal, social, family and school or professional level. Many players end up borrowing themselves and their families, 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. Above all, it appears under these conditions that the same player can control, and this one ends up thinking that “he has control over the situation, that he” will be able to earn more money if he is offered “, like if it depended on him, then in fact it is not so, since everything is random or commonly called following a “chance”.

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

    Illusion of control in pathological gambling

    The illusion of control bias encourages the player to continue playing despite the harm it causes; this happens because the player “believes he can control the chance” and therefore the results, even if not always consciously.

    In addition, gamers have more superstitious thoughts about the game than non-gamers, these biases and heuristics are not due to thought pathologies, but can appear in anyone under certain conditions (such as those appearing in random play).

    Authors such as Chóliz, M. (2006) have argued that certain playing conditions (e.g. being actively involved in a task), they encourage the belief that control over the outcome can be exercised, Even in the face of random events (like gambling). This hypothesis has been confirmed by field studies.

    Thus, as we have seen, the illusion of control bias favors the maintenance of pathological gambling in the player. But in addition to this bias, there are various reasons why a person maintains the gambling behavior: for example, forgetting about problems (escape), making a profit, or compensating for the lack of social relationships.

    All this results in a loss of control of the player, which in turn generates anxiety and depression. These conditions can lead the person to risk their life and function, due to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the phase of hopelessness and hopelessness, which appears in later stages of pathological gambling.

      The illusion of control hypothesis

      Langer (1975) proposed a series of hypotheses to explain why the illusion of control bias arises. In his main hypothesis, he maintains that this phenomenon occurs when in random situations its own situational elements are included that yes which can be controlled.

      In several experimental studies, Langer’s hypothesis has been tested and proven, both in the laboratory and in a natural situation. These elements that influence the appearance of the bass are:

      1. The choice

      Following Langer’s hypothesis, it follows that players will have more confidence in winning if they can pick numbers in a lottery than if they don’t, for example, because that implies a choice.

      2. Knowledge of stimuli and responses

      the players they will have more confidence in themselves to win if they can play a lottery that is familiar to them (Vs. an innovator).

      3. Competition

      On the other hand, the player will have more enthusiasm for control if playing against an opponent uncertain of himself than against insurance.

      4. Active and passive participation

      Finally, if the player, for example, can roll the dice himself instead of another person (active participation), this will also encourage the illusion of control bias. On the other hand, it will also increase the bias if you spend more time focusing on the game (passive participation).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Langer, EJ (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 311-328.
      • Beer Sheva, R. (1995). Cognitive biases in the game: the illusion of control. Doctoral thesis, Complutense University of Madrid
      • Chóliz, M. (2006). Gambling addiction: biases and heuristics involved in gambling. Spanish Journal of Drug Addiction, 31 (1) 173-184.
      • Cia, A. (2013). Addictions not related to a substance (DSM-5, APA, 2013): a first step towards the inclusion of behavioral addictions in the current categorical classifications. Rev Neuropsychiatr 76 (4), 210-217.

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