Cognitive Biases Explained Via Malayalam Movie Characters

As human beings, we are constantly making decisions and taking actions that somewhere have an impact on the social, economic and cultural fabric of the world. And a lot of this decision-making does not happen consciously – we are more often than not, using our pre-existing value systems and knowledge to determine the best course of action. While using our mental resources to make a gazillion decisions sounds cool and makes us look independent and wise, it is to be noted that these decisions invariably come with a lot of inaccuracies. These inaccuracies stem from an innate tendency of our brains to build a ‘subjective reality’ for ourselves. These tendencies are broadly referred to as cognitive biases. 

Cognitive biases come in various shapes and forms. You may be falling prey to it all the time, unawares – while analysing the movie you just watched, or filling in your answer sheets in the exam, or judging the compatibility of the date sitting opposite to you. 

Before too much theory comes into the mix and y’all doze off in broad daylight, let’s try to make this fun. Malayalam cinema has truckloads of interesting characters, and being human, they also make decisions through the course of the films they feature in. So we thought – why not look at a few instances of these characters falling prey to, or encountering, various cognitive biases?

Also Read: MacGuffins In Malayalam Cinema 

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias is a cognitive bias that causes one to rely too heavily on the first piece of information they are given about a topic. This disallows them from seeing the entire picture through an objective lens. 

In Runway, Kaviyoor Ponnamma’s character hears something unprecedented about her child – at which point she decides that this information is sufficient for her to stop talking to him. And so she says…

Cognitive Biases

Hindsight Bias

The hindsight bias, also called the ‘knew-it-all-along’ effect, is our tendency to look back at an unpredictable event and think it was easily predictable. In Kunjiramayanam, Ratheesh (Hareesh Kanaran) is among the mob that jovially celebrates the ‘news’ that Lalu has finally passed his SSLC. But later when it is revealed that they had checked the wrong registration number and that Lalu had in fact, failed again, Ratheesh says this:

Cognitive biases

Also Read: 8 Books You Can Read To Improve Yourself

Halo Effect

It is the tendency for one positive trait of a person to influence people’s perception of them in other areas of life. Unni from Amar Akbar Antony had a pleasant disposition and was well-dressed everywhere (including ICU). This led to people branding him as a ‘nallavanaya Unni’, while in reality he was busy building a kanjaav empire on his terrace. 

Nallavanaya Unni

Misinformation Effect

The misinformation effect refers to the tendency for post-event information to interfere with the memory of the original event. Sometimes the most subtle details following an event can have dramatic impacts on how people remember the event. How “dramatic”, you ask? ‘How-to-get-away-with-murder’ level dramatic! #GeorgekuttyOP

Cognitive biases

Also Read: Learn To Spot Fake News By Playing This Game

Optimism Bias

This is essentially a mistaken belief that our chances of experiencing negative events are lower and our chances of experiencing positive events are higher than those of our peers. Umesh in Vadakkan Selfie is a class apart; overtly optimistic about the success of everything – his love-life, his supplies, his ‘welfare efforts’ during the hartal, his short film – without actually doing unbiased analyses of his situations. (If you relate to the supplies part, drop a broken heart in the comments </3 )

Availability Bias

This is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a person’s mind while evaluating a specific concept or decision. The theevravadi (Suraj) in the Three Kings universe breaks down an incomprehensible shlokam into its literal components in order to find some long-lost treasure. While analysing “Ayyanju renjumathil”, he zeroes in on three Renjus that he is acquainted with, neglecting the 50,000 other Renjus of the world and thereby falling prey to Availability bias. 

Suraj funny

Also Read: 5 Podcast Episodes That Will Give You A Different Perspective

Confirmation Bias

A commonly used term in social media debates, this refers to the innate tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s already built-in beliefs or values. Kumbidi from Nandanam makes good use of this basic human tendency to save himself from scrutiny – as Kesavan Nair begins to question his legitimacy as a swami, he lays a bait that confirms the inherent superstitious beliefs held by Nair (thereby shutting him up).

Kumbidi Nandanam

Ostrich Effect

It refers to the tendency to avoid dangerous or negative information by simply closing oneself off from it. When we first meet Arun from Diamond Necklace, he is chilling in Dubai, spending Dirhams by the hour – casually ignoring the fact that he is neck-deep in debt. But of course, machaan is busy veruppikkaling Burj Khalifa people, singing “Nenjinullil nenjinullil chirakanangi” (while he actually should’ve been singing “Credit okke defaultaayi pandaradangi”). 

Fahad Fazil Diamond Necklace

Also Read: Thaniyavarthanam – A Psychological Analysis

Sure, you might also have heard of terms such as Dunning–Kruger effect, Gambler’s fallacy and Bandwagon effect. Do note that the above list is obviously not exhaustive – it is rather to be seen as an appetiser, that teases you to explore the tasty world of cognition at a deeper level. Though there is no exhaustive list of cognitive biases as such, this Wikipedia page will give you a fair idea of the range of biases that exist. And being aware of the possibility of these biases is the first step to not falling prey to them during decision-making. Maybe we’ll talk about that in a later article. Until then, watch your (cognitive) step!

Navaneethakrishnan Unnikrishnan
When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm mostly observing people and making notes on my phone for content. (Hope to be) Your go-to man for laughs, good music and useless trivia around movies.


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