Rape and infant mortality

Cognitive biases refer to the ways in which the human mind can make errors in judgment or in attributing certain causes to events that have no relationship whatsoever. Cognitive biases had been demonstrated in experimental studies on cognition and it was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who first observed the occurrence of cognitive biases and assumed that these biases were based on how the human mind processes information and it may be a left-over of similar or previous thought processes. There are several forms of cognitive bias and it varies within the context of the immediate environment of the person.

These cognitive biases are prevalent in thinking about social attribution, statistical reasoning and memory, for example certain biases like group think occur in social groups, false negatives are expected in statistics and mind-sets affect how we recall information from memory. One of the most common biases but lacking in empirical studies is illusions of control. The illusion of control refer to the way of thinking that believes that he/she can influence or control the outcome of certain events but which he/she cannot in actuality.

Illusion of control is like superstitious thinking without the ritualistic behavior. If the superstitious individual crosses his/her fingers to influence the outcome of a decision or game, the individual which has illusion of control would probably say that he/she knows what the decision will be because he/she can control which one will be chosen. In order to demonstrate how illusion of control can affect the judgment of a person, this will discussed in terms of two scenarios- rape and infant mortality.

Each one of us has to make decisions a hundred times or more in a given day such as what to wear, what to have for breakfast, when to go to the bathroom, when to cross the street and others. These decision making tasks may seem trivial and inconsequential at best, but it nonetheless affects how we present ourselves to others and how people respond to our actions. For example if we decide to wear revealing clothes to work, people in the office might think that we are flirting with them and hence behave accordingly, whether we respond in kind or not again depends on how and what we decide to do.

If for example we are affected by an illusion of control and believe that we can control the outcome of an event, then one might argue that I won’t be harassed when I get to the office even if I wear this because they have too much respect for me. Sometimes people think that they can control things and the results of certain events but unless they are directly concerned in it, then the possibility of having control is nil. Take for example the situation of infant mortality. From statistics, we know that out of 5 babies, 1 dies.

But we really do not now who will die or not and since an infant is basically helpless and defenseless when it comes to the world, then the probability that their lives would be shorter is high. When a new mother delivers her baby, she would hope that the baby will be healthy and free from illnesses, but right at that moment, there is really no assurance that the baby will live into adulthood. The mother if afflicted with illusion of control would say that she knows her baby would live a long life because she feels it.

If under normal circumstances, then the mother would be correct, but if the baby was borne prematurely and there is a threat of infant stress and infection, then the possibility of death is very near. The mother with illusion of control would say that she believes her baby will pull through the crisis and live longer because she says so. By staying with the baby all through out the day and night, she believes that she can pass on her energy and strength to the baby and will it to live.

The illusion of control makes it possible for the mother to believe that she can control the outcome of the event and hence anticipate the coming home of the new baby and have the nursery room fixed and readied. Illusion of control can also cause the average person to think that he can control the outcome of events even if it is rape. Rape is probably one of the most harrowing and traumatic experience that a person can have, but some people just simply believe that they would not be raped even if they come home late, or leave the windows open and walk around the house naked.

Of course, rape happens when there is a rapist and most of the time, they are strong, intimidating, armed and violent, so the chances that the rape victim can escape from the rapist are very small. Self-defense advocates encourage women to engage in arnis practice and taekwondo that would help them deal with rape attempts, those who are taking classes will not be exempted from the rape attempt but they are able to fight back. Now if the woman has illusion of control, she would probably believe that she won’t be raped because she can fight back.

If for example, the rape was committed, another danger was the victim getting pregnant and the victim would say that she won’t get pregnant even if she is not sure of it. Illusion of control exists alongside other biases like selective perception and projection bias, how illusions of control develop has not really been found but it offers a means of escape from the unpredictable and unwielding situations and events in our life.

Biases often guide our actions and it is basically due to the experiences and memory of the person.


Aronson, E. (ed) (2004). Reading about the social animal. New York: Worth. Beck, J. (2005). Cognitive therapy for challenging problems: What to do when the basics don’t work. New York: Guilford Press. Langer, E. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(2), 311-328. Ruscio, J. (2006). Clear Thinking with Psychology 2nd ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Wadsworth.

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