Idea in short

Human beings are subject to a broad range of biases that influence how we perceive reality. One such bias is the “generalization instinct” – an impulse that compels us towards forming dichotomous distinctions between things to simplify the decision-making processes. However, this impulsive behavior often leads us astray as simplified classifications often don’t map onto actual complexity found within most subjects well enough.

In his widely-acclaimed book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,’ Hans Rosling describes how individuals make systematic mistakes when analyzing complex problems. One central concept detailed by Rosling throughout his work involves the generalizing-instinct mistake which he believes undermines many people’s ability correctly understand important issues affecting societies today.

The Generalization Instinct

The Generalization Instinct is a cognitive bias that leads us to categorize things based on a single characteristic or experience, and then generalize that characteristic or experience to the entire group or category. This instinct can affect our ability to accurately perceive the world around us, particularly when it comes to understanding global trends and issues.

For instance, we may assume that all people from a certain country or region are the same, based on a single experience or encounter with someone from that place. This can lead to stereotypes and discrimination, as well as incorrect assumptions about the diversity and complexity of different groups of people.

Similarly, we may assume that all members of a particular profession or organization are the same, based on a few negative experiences or interactions. This can lead to unfair judgments and missed opportunities for collaboration or cooperation.

The Generalization Instinct can also affect our understanding of global trends and issues. For instance, we may assume that all countries in a particular region are experiencing the same economic or political challenges, based on a few high-profile examples. This can lead to inaccurate assessments of the true nature of the problem and can result in ineffective interventions or policies.

Example Of Generalization Instinct

For instance, some cultures tend to prejudice certain races simply because they assume all members of those racial populations share similar traits (e.g., negative stereotypes about intelligence). Some studies have even revealed unconscious mental processing systems at play here- indicating that these mechanisms may be so deeply ingrained they operate without conscious effort on behalf of individuals holding erroneous beliefs like these!

A more frequent phenomenon connected with generalizations comes from tendencies such as expressing firm opinions based solely upon personal experience rather than empirical evidence drawn over time through critical observation skills honed by experts in their respective fields. As an example, let’s consider the concept of “child poverty.” While many people view significant disparities between rich and poor as being a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed through policy change or intervention, some individuals may see this classification differently – dividing children into two distinct groups. either living in “poverty” on one end or not experiencing it at all on another end based solely upon their individual perception.


Generalization instinct plays an important role in helping us make sense of massive amounts of data quickly enough so we can act immediately where necessary- such rapid processing capabilities could save lives for instance during emergency medical situations when prompt decision-making processes are critical. In addition, generalizations serve an essential function by allowing our brains to process complex information more easily than would otherwise be possible (e.g., assessing different patient symptoms rapidly). In fact there is evidence indicating that these mental shorthand tools help enhance cognitive abilities potentially improving intelligence levels over time through repetitive use.


The problems with generalizing come down largely due to oversimplification issues rather than anything inherent about this decision-making format itself. Due to unbridled reliance upon binary categorizations; nuanced differences get overlooked while anomalies stand out too much skewing perceptions & distorting related conclusions which often leads people astray!

Moreover, the tendency toward binary thinking ultimately limits innovation particularly if we limit ourselves from adopting new ideas critiqued under scrutiny instead just accepting whatever confirmation bias might lead us towards. This requires sustained effort though engaging others outside oneself remain open-minded along every step along way providing informed critiques wherever applicable.

Finally but importantly: biases still play a strong part despite conscious control exercised regularly meaning errors perpetuate themselves via unconscious mechanisms until catch them early enough counteract detrimental influences actively pushing against such inclinations whenever appear!

Overcoming This Instinct

Overcoming the Generalization Instinct requires us to be open-minded, curious, and empathetic. By seeking out additional information, avoiding assumptions, challenging our own biases, being aware of cultural differences, practicing empathy, and focusing on individual characteristics, we can develop a more accurate and fair perception of people and situations. To overcome the Generalization Instinct, we can follow these strategies:

  • Seek out additional information: To overcome the Generalization Instinct, it is essential to seek out additional information about individuals or situations beyond the visible characteristics. By taking the time to learn more about the person or situation, we can develop a more accurate understanding of their unique qualities and characteristics
  • Avoid making assumptions: The Generalization Instinct often leads us to make assumptions about people or situations based on limited information. To overcome this instinct, it is important to avoid making assumptions and instead approach each situation with an open mind and a willingness to learn more
  • Challenge your own biases: We all have biases, and these biases can influence our perceptions of people or situations. To overcome the Generalization Instinct, it is important to challenge our own biases and assumptions and be willing to confront any prejudices or preconceived notions we may have
  • Be aware of cultural differences: The Generalization Instinct can also lead us to make assumptions about people based on their cultural background. To overcome this instinct, it is important to be aware of cultural differences and to approach each individual with an open mind and a willingness to learn more about their unique background and experiences
  • Practice empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. By practicing empathy, we can overcome the Generalization Instinct and develop a more nuanced and accurate understanding of people and situations
  • Focus on individual characteristics: Finally, to overcome the Generalization Instinct, it is important to focus on individual characteristics rather than relying solely on visible traits or stereotypes. By taking the time to get to know each individual and understanding their unique qualities and characteristics, we can develop a more accurate and fair perception of them.
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