9 common cognitive biases and how to spot these mental shortcuts in your own life, according to psychologists
By Emily Swaim,2023-02-06
- Cognitive biases can pop up when your brain uses existing knowledge to make decisions quickly.
- In some cases, cognitive bias may lead you to make a snap judgment before thinking things through.
- Questioning your first reaction and taking time for self-reflection may help you overcome biases.
No one, however intelligent or educated, is 100% logical all the time.
When ordering food at your favorite eatery, for instance, you likely won't analyze the pros and cons of every single item on the menu. Instead, you might order the same sandwich you've had a thousand times before, because you already know it tastes good.
This favoritism toward the familiar — aka familiarity bias — is one of many kinds of cognitive biases , which are unconscious mental shortcuts that help you make decisions.
These biases can help make your thinking more efficient, says Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt , author and health psychologist at MOMF — and everyone has them.
But even though cognitive biases can save you mental energy and time, they may, in some cases, steer you toward poor decisions. Here's a rundown of some common biases to watch out for, where they come from in the first place, and how to deal with them.
Note : You might hear bias and prejudice used interchangeably, but they're not entirely the same thing. A prejudice is bias rooted in personal characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, or age. A prejudice is always a form of bias, but not all biases are prejudice.
Examples of cognitive bias
There are over 100 kinds of cognitive biases, and they fall into three broad categories :
1. Selection biases
This type of bias determines what kind of data you use to make a decision.
What it is
The tendency to treat the first piece of information you found as the most important when making decisions.
The first job listing you see offers $12 an hour, so you assume that's the standard rate for that position — when in fact the pay is subpar.
The tendency to seek out information that matches your pre-existing beliefs while ignoring info that challenges your opinions.
You only read news articles that put your preferred political candidate in a good light.
When you treat negative information as more important or relevant than positive information.
Many people compliment your painting, but one stranger says it's ugly. You conclude you've failed as an artist.
Some other examples of selection bias include availability cascade, salience bias, and picture superiority effect.
2. Process biases
This type of bias affects how you interpret information you have on hand.
What it is
When you overestimate the importance of coincidental patterns in otherwise random data.
The last two lottery drawings ended on the number 19 due to a statistical fluke. This convinces you the next drawing will end on 19, too.
When you evaluate information differently depending on how it is presented.
You think you're more likely to win a game with 50% odds of winning than a game with 30% odds of losing — although 30% odds of losing means you have a 70% chance of winning.
The tendency to think an unforeseen event was more predictable than it really was, because you can look back and see everything that led up to it.
You believe you "should have known" your spouse was cheating on you, even though you had logical explanations for their absences at the time.
Some other examples of process bias include the zero-sum bias, survivorship bias, and omission effect.
3. Social biases
Social biases also affect how you interpret information, but they depend on your relationship with certain people or institutions rather than your thought patterns.
What it is
The tendency to automatically accept statements made by people you like or admire .
You get lost while traveling, and an attractive shopkeeper recommends a shortcut back to your hotel. It doesn't occur to you that such a beautiful, helpful person might have a poor sense of direction.
The tendency to support the choice that the majority of a group has picked, in order to reach consensus.
You know spiders have eight legs, but everyone else on your trivia team insists they have 12. You doubt yourself enough to go along with the group's incorrect answer.
When you expect someone to have certain characteristics just because they're part of a particular group.
You're shocked to learn your ultra-manly friend Brad loves the color violet — though of course gender does not determine your favorite frequency of visible light, aka color.
Some other examples of social bias include the mirroring effect, institutional bias, and in-group bias.
Your brain has two methods of processing information, and these methods combine to help you make the right decision.
- Type 1: This method forms rapid connections between your current situation and pre-existing stores of information. It contributes to roughly 95% of your thinking processes.
- Type 2: This method is slower and more analytical — you reason through problems rather than jumping to conclusions. It basically double-checks that the answer you got in the type 1 process is accurate.
Cognitive biases typically show up during Type 1 processing , and they persist if your type 2 processing doesn't edit them out.
Generally speaking, bias often comes into play when you have to make decisions that are :
- Unfamiliar: You have limited information.
- Uncertain: You don't know the outcome.
- Emotionally charged: Strong feelings are involved.
- Complex: Many variables affect the result.
- Rushed: You have a limited amount of time to act.
When faced with these types of decisions, your brain often relies on past information and experiences to make the new information fit into your existing categories of knowledge, according to Lauren Kerwin , a clinical psychologist in private practice.
Your brain works this way because it has limited time and energy. Realistically, you don't need to test the four-legged object in front of you to make sure it's a chair every single time you sit down. You need to save that mental horsepower for more challenging issues, like deciding what show to watch later.
How they affect your life
While cognitive biases can speed up the decision-making process, they have a downside.
"Cognitive biases are often inaccurate, and they may not always steer us to the best response or decision," Kerwin says.
For example, if you experience negativity bias often, you may have an overall gloomier outlook on life — and evidence has linked this to depression .
Another example — and surprising statistic: Doctors link roughly 30% of personal errors in the emergency room to cognitive bias.
Framing bias, for instance, may prompt a doctor to prescribe a drug with a 97% success rate, over a drug described as having a 1% risk of failure. The second drug works 99% of the time — but because its effectiveness is framed in terms of risk, a doctor treating a person in crisis may unconsciously avoid it, especially when under pressure.
Last, but not least, cognitive bias often happens in the workforce. Interviewers frequently filter out qualified candidates based on irrelevant factors like weight or hair texture .
These unconscious biases aren't limited to human recruiters, either: Artificial intelligence (AI) recruitment programs "inherit" how human managers make hiring decisions, including the biases that come with those decisions.
In fact, this happened in 2015, when an AI recruiter at Amazon was caught discriminating against female job applicants.
How to challenge biases
Cognitive biases are often automatic, so it can take some time and effort to rewire those thought patterns.
Below, mental health professionals offer a few tips to develop less biased thinking.
How it works
"After making a decision, analyze how you got to that decision. See if you can identify the first thought that happened after you encountered the problem. Once you identify the first thought, critique it to see why it appeared," says Jackie Darby , clinical psychologist at The Unconscious Shift .
Say someone invites you on a date and you automatically assume they're playing a joke on you. Before you accuse them of pranking you, ask yourself why you think the invitation is insincere. Do you have any evidence it's a trick — or are you letting past rejections and low self-esteem cloud your judgment?
Question knee-jerk reactions
If you tend to have black-and white thinking, jumping to either-or conclusions, consider the gray area in between, says Perpetua Neo , executive coach and psychologist in private practice.
Imagine your phone screen cracks. Bias may tempt you to throw the whole phone away, but having no phone is arguably worse than having a slightly chipped phone. You could save time and money by getting the screen repaired.
Expand your horizons
Biases often show up when you have limited information. New perspectives and experiences can help challenge your biases, Eckleberry-Hunt says.
You're hesitant to join a book club at the local library because the members are all much older or much younger than you, and you worry you won't have much to talk about. But after enjoying the first few meetings, you realize no matter what generation you're from, you can all agree: Alexander Hamilton's love life was messy.
Eckleberry-Hunt recommends asking yourself "Why do I think this?" or "Why am I reacting this way?"
Maybe you were raised with certain biases, or they stem from past experiences. Whatever their source, unpacking where they come from can help you reason your way out of them.
You start a mindful meditation practice and daily journaling to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. Over time, it becomes easier to spot when pressure leads you to make hasty, biased judgments.
You make sure to regularly take time for self-reflection so you don't fall back into old habits.
Everyone is prone to cognitive bias on occasion. Bias may be even more likely to affect your thinking when you feel pressured, confused, or emotional.
Awareness of common biases — especially the biases most familiar to you — can help you begin to recognize when they are influencing too many of your decisions.
From there, patience, open-mindedness, and self-reflection can help you challenge biases in your own life.Read the original article on Insider
Comments / 0