Seven Common Cognitive Biases

While most of us like to think we are logical and rational we are all influenced by cognitive biases, or thinking biases. Some of these are obvious and you may well recognise some of these listed below, however some are quite subtle and maybe even impossible to notice.

The reason these biases occur is that attention is a finite resource and our brains automatically seek shortcuts to ensure efficient evaluation of information to support the ability to make quick judgement’s. Some people are better at being deliberate and methodical decision makers but our fast paced lives (and the brains propensity for efficiency) means we all fall victim to cognitive biases. 

Often biases sit in our blind spots but may be noticed after the fact. These biases can lead to impacts to or issues with our decision making and these are also explored here.

  • Confirmation Bias
      • This is the tendency to look for or only pay attention to information that supports our belief or point of view. This can include such things as only following people on social media that support our perspective, refusing to listen to an opposing view, choosing news sources that present stories that share our point of view and not considering information in a logical and rational way.
  • Impacts of Confirmation Biases
    • When we don’t look at information objectively we can make poor or faulty decisions

  • The Anchoring Bias
      • Anchoring or focalism refers to the process of depending on the first piece of information we hear as a point of reference. The anchoring bias is well documented, however its causes are still not really understood. There are suggestions that the source of the anchor information may play a role. Other factors such as priming and mood also appear to have an influence.
  • Impacts of the Anchoring Bias
    • Like other cognitive biases anchoring impacts on our decision making causing us to not effectively consider all the information available.

  • The Halo Effect
      • This is where an initial positive impression of a person, brand, company or product influences other experiences or perceptions in other areas. This can include things like “he’s nice” leading to thinking something like “he is probably smart too”. An interesting finding on the impacts of the Halo Effect is that physically attractive people are more likely to be considered smarter, kinder, and funnier than less attractive people.A study in the USA found that people perceived more attractive are more likely to be given lighter prison sentences.
  • Impacts of the Halo Effect
    • Besides the unfair impact in the judicial system mentioned above the bias can also lead to discriminatory decisions within hiring processes i.e. an applicant considered as attractive and likable are also more likely to be viewed as smart, competent, and qualified for the job.

  • The Horn Effect
    • This is the opposite to the Halo Effect where negative behaviours or attitudes are ascribed to someone based on an aspect of the physical appearance. An example of this is where overweight people can be stereotypically perceived to be lazy or irresponsible, or someone with a physical disability is thought to also have a cognitive disability.
  • Impacts of the Horn Effect
    • I think the negative impacts are pretty obvious i.e. discriminatory, wrong and very often hurtful.

  • Zero-risk Bias
      • This refers to a tendency to choose the option with the least amount of risk, preferably with the elimination of any risk at all. This can be most common within the health, safety and environment sectors.
  • Impacts of the Zero-risk Bias
    • The issue with wanting to eliminate all risks can lead to missed opportunities where a certain amount of risk is necessary e.g. starting a business. Risk aversion fails to consider the probability of gain. On a personal level being this risk averse eliminates the opportunity for adventure and growth, in turn impacting our resilience.

  • The Hindsight Bias
      • Also known as the “I knew it all along” phenomenon. This is the tendency to look back at an unpredictable event and consider it to have been predictable.
  • Impacts of the Hindsight Bias
    • This can lead to erroneously believing we can predict the outcome of other situations or events. Good decision making requires realistically assessing the consequences. 

  • Availability Bias
      • This is the tendency to think that examples of things that come readily to mind are more representative than is actually the case. It refers to the concept that the easier it is to recall the consequences of something, the greater those consequences are often perceived to be.
  • Impacts of availability Bias
    • This bias leaves a decision-maker with low-quality information to base their decision on.

 

Cognitive biases are also known as heuristics and are mental shortcuts that allows us to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. They are definitely not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but can be sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. The benefit of awareness of these biases can ensure we look a little further, or a little harder to increase the quality of our decision making.

Written by: 
Cheryl Gale,
Psychologist 

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