Models in Human Judgment and Behaviour

Mental models direct our thought processes and influence our actions by directing how we interact and relate to people, situations and systems. Some of the models that influence our behaviour include; 

Pavlovian Association 

Pavlovian association refers to conditioning of the mind to associate an object with a pure conditioned response. Emotions are our knee jerk reactions to external stimuli. They are basic elements of human experiences. We have emotional reactions to both physical objects and the intangible associations of the objects that we create.  

This principle has been employed with the creation of powerful brand identities where certain names inspire the confidence of the consumer. For instance, the brand name Apple is instantly associated with quality even before we use or test the product. 


Our belief systems and values mean that we often see things in a way that confirms our beliefs. We cherry-pick facts when observing a situation so that we highlight those that reinforce our beliefs and discount those that disprove our beliefs. Human perception is naturally biased because we tend to see our perspective as “right” and the other person’s as wrong if it contradicts ours. 


Denial is the coping mechanism we employ when we are unable to process negative situations or emotions. The inability to acknowledge our failings, mistakes or bad decisions reduces our level of self-awareness. This in effect undermines our competencies on a personal level and when it comes to working and job performance. 

Safety in Numbers 

Nature has designed us as a social species. We coexist, interact, and form relationships with other people on a daily basis. This natural instinct to seek safety in numbers and communities drives us to cooperation and creating social structures that keep us in contact with others. Our desire to socialize and seek community is an inborn trait and is the basis for forming sound relationships and societies.  


Curiosity has been referred to as the mother of invention. This is because our desire to figure out the unknown drives us to consistently seek out new ways of doing things and new experiences. Without curiosity, we become content in the way things are. The universe is a large and dynamic system and we can only learn more and understand more when we actively seek out knowledge, opportunities, and ideas. 


Human beings are covetous in nature and are prone to desiring what belongs to someone else. We get jealous when we think someone has something that should be ours or that we think makes them have more than we do. Envy is a negative emotion because it focuses on what we do not have rather than what we do have. 

Availability Bias 

Out of sight out of mind is the basic principle that describes the availability heuristic. Our brain gives prevalence to the things we are in contact with frequently, what we deem important and the habits and actions we engage in repeatedly. These become easy to recall as they are always at the fore of our minds.  

The availability bias is a natural brain mechanism to conserve energy by storing mostly information that is deemed as important. When we want to form good habits, we are encouraged to repeatedly carry out the desired action on a daily basis until it becomes instinctive. This method works because repeated actions are kept in the fore of our minds and with every repetition, they get easier and easier to do. 

Representative Heuristic 

We form opinions based on past experiences or generalizations of systems or people we deem similar. This results in stereotyping. Stereotyping means that we make sweeping assumptions about systems, people or experiences based on a single entity that we assume to be representative of the group. 

Stereotyping impairs our objectivity in judgment by making broad assumptions and jumping to conclusions about a group that may actually have significant distinctions among its members. This is a common human weakness that leads to negative emotions and prejudices such as bigotry.  


Our sensitivity to fairness has made the pursuit of justice a key part of the human social systems. We establish structures to ensure that things in social and workplace environments are done fairly. Our sense of justice changes with time and evolution of cultural norms. What was deemed fair and just yesterday may be regarded as unfair in the present.  

Practices like slavery were at some point in history deemed perfectly legal yet are presently seen as an abuse of human rights. Time and exposure shape our values and beliefs and as such our concept of what is fair or justice constantly shifting. 

Survivorship Bias 

History more often than not favours winners and our interpretation of the past gives dominance to those we deem to have succeeded. We cherry-pick the stories that go down in history by exclusively focusing on the victorious and ignoring others who may have played equally important roles in history. This is why it is commonly said that no one remembers the person who came second. 

Confirmation Bias 

Pseudoscience exists because they cannot be proven to be either right or wrong. We tend to believe and see what reinforces and confirms our beliefs. Fields like astrology play on this tendency by offering insights into the future that can neither be proved nor disproved. 

Assumption Bias 

We tend to categorize people based on their behaviour without considering the circumstances that cause them to act in a certain way. An addict may seem like just a self-indulgent person with no self-control while in actual sense they may just be a normal person who went through a bad situation and is coping with it the only way they know-how. 

Good people are sometimes driven to doing bad things by bad circumstances. Classifying people as either inherently good or bad based on isolated actions leads to the formation of judgment based on half-truths and opinions rather than facts.  

Relative Satisfaction 

Our levels of contentment are more often than not related to past experiences or the perceived contentment of our peers. We compare ourselves with the people around us and are more likely to feel content in our achievements if we feel we are doing better than our peers or at least on an equal footing with them. This is driven by our competitive nature which makes us feel the need to outdo each other.  

First Impressions 

We usually make up our minds about something or someone within a few minutes of coming into contact with them. Relying on first impressions too much can be misleading. Taking the time and effort to understand someone before drawing conclusions may save you a lot of misconceptions and false assumptions. Judgments that are based on surface characteristics are often flawed and inaccurate.  


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