“One way or another we are all biased, but still we have the modern cortical capacity to choose whether or not to let the harmful biases dictate our behaviour.” – Abhijit Naskar
A cognitive bias is a subconscious error in thinking that leads you to misinterpret information from the world around you, and affects the rationality and accuracy of decisions and judgments. In the early 1970s, the scholars Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman introduced the term ‘cognitive bias’ to describe people’s systematic but apparently wrong patterns of responses to judgment and decision problems. In the past 35-year the term “cognitive bias” showed an exponential increase in the usage, suggesting that it has gained significant influence in the psychological and social science literatures. Nowadays there are researches across the fields of social psychology and behavioural economics confirming dozens of cognitive biases.
Tversky and Kahneman’s research program – the heuristics and biases program – addressed the question of how people make decisions given their limited resources. The heuristics and biases program, however, has been criticized for few reasons: for example, researchers have argued that there are no unequivocal norms for defining rational judgments and decisions. Despite the criticism, the heuristics and biases program represents the most influential psychological research program to emerge in the last 40 years, and its merit lies in showing the limits of classical economic approaches and the value of a bounded rationality perspective on understanding human judgment.
Sometimes these biases are obvious, and you might even find that you recognize these tendencies in yourself or others. In other cases, these biases are so subtle that they are almost impossible to notice. Here you can find a list of the most common cognitive biases:
- Confirmation bias: the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Through this bias, people tend to favour information that reinforces the things they already think. For example, this happens when we prefer a TV news broadcaster over another just because we know it won’t contradict our existing view, or on social media, when we only share articles that reinforce our existing beliefs;
- Hindsight bias: the tendency to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. Examples of the hindsight bias include people believing they predicted who would win an election or sporting event;
- Anchoring bias: the tendency to be overly influenced by the first piece of information that we hear and it is closely related to the decision-making process;
- Misinformation effect: the tendency for post-event information to interfere with the memory of the original event. It is easy to have your memory influenced by what you hear about the event from others;
- Actor-observer bias: the tendency to attribute your own actions to external causes while attributing other people’s behaviours to internal causes;
- The false consensus effect: the tendency people have to overestimate how much other people agree with their own beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, and values;
- The halo effect: the tendency for an initial impression of a person to influence what we think of them overall. According to some studies, the halo effect has, for example, an impact on votes in political elections as well, it tends to lead people to equate someone’s ability to be a leader with their facial appearance and attractiveness;
- Self-serving bias: the tendency to take personal responsibility for positive outcomes and blame external factors for negative outcomes. This bias is influenced by the culture, and it happens to be mostly widespread in western culture. Individualist cultures place a greater emphasis on personal achievement and self-esteem, so protecting the self from feelings of failure is more important. In collectivist cultures, people are more likely to attribute personal success to luck, and failures to lack of talent;
- Availability heuristic: the tendency to estimate the probability of something happening based on how many examples come to your mind quickly;
- Optimism bias: the tendency to overestimate the good things that can happen to us while underestimating the probability that negative events will impact our lives;
- The Dunning-Kruger effect: this is when people who believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. People that possess this effect often feel that they are always right, and others are wrong because they fail to recognise their real level of incompetence.
Biases are not necessarily all bad. Psychologists believe that they are useful when it comes to fast decisions we have to make, for example in a dangerous situation, but we should be aware of them. Biases can lead to distorted thinking and conspiracy theories, if we do not learn how to overcome them. The reality of the things is that we see the world through our own set of filters and make decisions based on them. It is important to acknowledge that these filters are not factual, but they reflect our own particular perceptions and experiences.
When making decisions, we should also consider if there are factors or information that may influence them and think about that. In addition, we should challenge our biases and reflect about whether we are ignoring relevant information just because they do not support our opinions. Curiosity can also help us avoid cognitive biases, together with a growth mind-set, that is the ability to learn from criticisms. Practicing Intellectual humility, remaining open to the idea that you might be wrong, can also be very helpful to overcome biases.
Verywell mind, What is cognitive bias? Kendra Cherry (2020)
Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), A. Wilke, R. Mata (2012)
Siiimply psychology, What is cognitive bias? Charlotte Ruhl (2021)
Verywell mind, List of Common Cognitive Biases, Kendra Cherry (2021)
Better Up, Cognitive bias: What it is and how to overcome it, Bethany Klynn (2021)
Boyce Wire, Confirmation Bias Definition, Paul Boyce (2020)
Verywell mind, How Hindsight Bias Affects How We View the Past, Kendra Cherry (2022)
Develop Good Habits, 7 Halo Effect Bias Examples in Your Daily Life, Connie Mathers (2021)
Studious Guy, 9 Dunning-Kruger Effect Examples in Real Life
Verywell mind, What Is the Self-Serving Bias? , Kendra Cherry (2022)
Picture by Better Up website