The Einstellung Effect 

The Einstellung Effect  —or why good thoughts block better ones— is the idea that preconceptions and past experiences can blind us, literally, to the point of not being able to see better options.

It occurs when the first idea that comes to mind, triggered by familiar features of a problem, prevents a better solution being found. If this initial idea is not the best way to solve the problem, the optimum solution may be missed. It has been shown to affect both people facing novel problems and experts within their field of expertise.

For example, most errors that doctors make are not connected to their inadequate medical knowledge but rather to the tendency to form opinions quickly based on previous experience. Once the initial diagnosis is formed, it guides doctors in the search of supporting evidence which in turn brings dangers of missing important aspects unrelated to the initial diagnosis

The mechanism which allows the first schema activated by familiar aspects of a problem to control the subsequent direction of attention may contribute to a wide range of biases both in everyday and expert thought – from confirmation bias in hypothesis testing to the tendency of scientists to ignore results that do not fit their favoured theories.

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify … into every corner of our minds. Your past experiences are blinding you.

Summing-up: The perfect is the enemy of the good. We know that phrase very well. What the Einstellung Effect proves is the good can be a real enemy of the even better. When we have a solution that’s good, we can’t begin to think about a better one.

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