“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman
Cognitive biases affect us every day, whether we realize it or not.
Every day, we make countless decisions that impact our lives, from small choices like what to wear or eat, to bigger ones like which career to pursue or who to spend our time with.
But what if the decisions we make are not entirely our own?
What if there are cognitive biases that are influencing our thoughts and actions, without us even realizing it?
This is the reality of the 12 cognitive biases that impact our everyday lives.
By becoming aware of these cognitive biases and learning how to protect ourselves from their influence, we can make more informed and rational decisions, and live our lives with greater clarity and purpose.
What are Cognitive Biases?
A cognitive bias is a systematic and often unconscious pattern of thinking or decision-making that deviates from your rational and objective judgment.
These biases are influenced by various factors, including personal experiences, cultural influences, and cognitive shortcuts, and they can lead to deviations from fair, logical, or accurate assessments and decisions.
Cognitive biases affect how individuals perceive information, make judgments, and form beliefs, often leading to predictable and consistent errors in reasoning.
Recognizing and understanding these biases is essential for making more informed and objective decisions.
How To Protect Yourself from Cognitive Biases
Protecting yourself from cognitive biases to think, make decisions, and act better involves several strategies, but three primary ways to do so are:
- Awareness: Recognizing that cognitive biases exist and understanding their potential impact is the first and crucial step. By acknowledging that biases can influence your thinking and decision-making, you become more alert to their presence.
- Critical Thinking: Cultivate the habit of critically evaluating information, arguments, and your own thought processes. Challenge assumptions, seek diverse perspectives, and actively question the validity of your judgments. Encourage open dialogue and constructive feedback to refine your reasoning.
- Decision-Making Frameworks: Implement decision-making frameworks or processes that provide structure and objectivity to your choices. For instance, techniques like cost-benefit analysis, SWOT analysis, or scenario planning can help you make more rational decisions by reducing the influence of biases.
These three approaches work in tandem to help you mitigate the impact of cognitive biases, enabling you to make more informed, rational, and effective decisions in various aspects of life.
12 Cognitive Biases that Affect Us Each Day
Here are the 12 cognitive biases that we will walkthrough in this article:
- Anchoring Bias
- Availability Heuristic Bias
- Bandwagon Effect
- Confirmation Bias
- Fundamental Attribution Error
- Halo Effect
- Hindsight Bias
- Loss Aversion Bias
- Negativity Bias
- Overconfidence Bias
- Self-Serving Bias
- Sunk Cost Fallacy
1. Anchoring Bias
Anchoring Bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions.
Examples of the Anchoring Bias
Here are 5 everyday examples of the Anchoring Bias:
- Negotiating prices: When you are purchasing an item and the salesperson quotes a high initial price, your perception of what is reasonable may be anchored to that initial price, making it harder for you to negotiate a lower price.
- Shopping sales: When you see an item marked down from its original price, you may assume that it is a good deal even if the discounted price is still higher than the item’s actual value.
- Evaluating job offers: If you receive a job offer with a high salary, it may anchor your expectations of what other aspects of the job (e.g. work-life balance, benefits) should be like.
- Rating products or services: When you are asked to rate a product or service on a scale of 1-10, your initial anchor point may influence your overall rating, even if it is not an accurate reflection of your true evaluation.
- Judging time: When you estimate how long a task will take to complete, your estimate may be anchored to how long it has taken you to complete a similar task in the past, even if the current task is different in nature.
How to protect yourself from the Anchoring Bias
One way to protect yourself from the anchoring bias is to be aware of it and consciously consider alternative options before making a decision.
You can also try to detach yourself emotionally from the initial anchor by focusing on other relevant information, setting a range of possible values instead of one fixed value, or asking others for their opinions before making a decision.
Additionally, it can be helpful to seek out diverse perspectives and sources of information to avoid getting fixated on one particular piece of information.
2. Availability Heuristic Bias
The Availability Heuristic Bias is the tendency to rely on readily available information to make decisions, even if it is not the most accurate or relevant.
Examples of the Availability Heuristic Bias
Here are 5 everyday examples of the Availability Heuristic Bias:
- Fear of Flying: Many people are afraid to fly on planes because they have heard about plane crashes in the news. However, statistically, driving is much more dangerous than flying.
- Fast Food: When we are hungry and short on time, we often opt for fast food because it is readily available and easy to obtain. However, we may not consider the negative health consequences of consuming fast food on a regular basis.
- Political Beliefs: We often form our political beliefs based on the information that is most readily available to us, such as news articles or social media posts. This can lead to a biased perspective on political issues.
- Investing: When investing in the stock market, we may rely heavily on recent news articles or past performance to make decisions, rather than taking a more holistic approach to investing.
- Crime Rates: Our perception of crime rates may be influenced by sensationalized news stories, rather than actual crime statistics. This can lead to an overestimation of crime rates in our communities.
How to Protect Yourself from the Availability Heuristic Bias
To protect yourself from the availability heuristic bias, it’s important to seek out and consider a wide range of information and sources before making a decision.
Additionally, it’s important to be aware of your own biases and to question your initial assumptions and judgments.
Finally, taking time to reflect and analyze the situation can help to overcome the influence of the availability heuristic bias.
3. Bandwagon Effect
The Bandwagon Effect is the tendency to do or believe something because many other people do or believe the same thing.
Examples of the Bandwagon Effect
Here are five everyday examples of the Bandwagon Effect:
- Social media trends: When a post or trend goes viral on social media, many people may be inclined to join in simply because it seems like everyone else is doing it.
- Fashion trends: People often follow fashion trends and styles because it is popular and everyone else is wearing it.
- Politics: People may support a political candidate or party simply because it seems like everyone else is doing so.
- Consumer products: Many people buy the latest gadgets or products because everyone else seems to have them.
- Sporting events: Fans may support a particular team or player simply because it is popular and everyone else is cheering for them.
How To Protect Yourself from the Bandwagon Effect
To protect ourselves from this bias, it’s important to pause and reflect before jumping on the bandwagon.
You should ask yourself whether the decision aligns with your own values and beliefs, and whether you have examined all available evidence and viewpoints.
It’s also helpful to seek out dissenting opinions and actively engage in critical thinking to avoid blindly following the crowd.
By being mindful and reflective, you can make more informed and thoughtful decisions that align with your own values and goals, rather than being swayed by the opinions and actions of others.
4. Confirmation Bias
Confirmation Bias is the tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms preexisting beliefs.
Examples of Confirmation Bias
Here are five everyday examples of Confirmation Bias:
- Political beliefs: People often seek out information that confirms their political beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them.
- Superstitions: If someone believes that a certain action brings good luck, they may look for evidence to support this belief and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
- Stereotyping: When people hold certain stereotypes about a particular group, they may look for information that confirms those stereotypes and ignore evidence that challenges them.
- Health and wellness: If someone believes that a particular diet or exercise program is effective, they may seek out information that supports that belief and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
- Relationships: When people hold certain beliefs about their partner or the relationship, they may interpret their partner’s behavior in a way that confirms those beliefs and ignore any evidence to the contrary.
How To Protect Yourself from Confirmation Bias
Here are some ways to protect yourself from confirmation bias:
- Seek out alternative viewpoints: Make an effort to seek out opinions and viewpoints that challenge your own.
- Consider the source of information: Evaluate the credibility of the sources of information you are exposed to.
- Evaluate the evidence: Evaluate the quality and quantity of the evidence that supports your beliefs.
- Be open-minded: Be willing to change your beliefs if new information or evidence warrants it.
- Challenge your assumptions: Continually question your assumptions and biases, and be open to the possibility that you might be wrong.
- Avoid emotional reasoning: Try to avoid making decisions based solely on your emotions.
- Be aware of the influence of groupthink: Be aware of the potential for groupthink and try to avoid it by seeking out diverse viewpoints.
- Practice critical thinking: Develop and practice critical thinking skills, including the ability to analyze and evaluate information objectively.
5. Fundamental Attribution Error
The Fundamental Attribution Error is the tendency to overemphasize personality traits and underestimate situational factors when explaining someone else’s behavior.
Examples of Fundamental Attribution Error
Here are five everyday examples of Fundamental Attribution Error:
- Assuming that someone is being rude because they are an unfriendly person, rather than considering that they may be having a bad day.
- Thinking that someone who got promoted is just lucky, rather than acknowledging their hard work and skills.
- Blaming a coworker’s mistakes on their incompetence or laziness, rather than considering external factors that may have contributed to the mistake.
- Judging a person’s intelligence based on their accent or dialect, rather than recognizing that language is not a measure of intelligence.
- Believing that someone who is struggling financially must not be working hard enough, rather than recognizing the systemic barriers and inequalities that may be preventing their success.
How To Protect Yourself from the Fundamental Attribution Error
Here are some ways to protect yourself from the fundamental attribution error:
- Be aware of the bias: Recognizing that you may be prone to this bias can help you to be more mindful of your judgments and assumptions about others.
- Consider the situation: When making judgments about others, take into account the context and circumstances in which their behavior occurred. People’s behavior is often influenced by situational factors that are outside of their control.
- Look for alternative explanations: Rather than jumping to conclusions about why someone behaved in a particular way, consider other possible explanations for their behavior.
- Seek out diverse perspectives: Surround yourself with people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. This can help you to avoid making snap judgments and assumptions about others based on limited information.
- Practice empathy: Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider how you would feel and behave in their situation. This can help you to be more understanding and compassionate towards others, and to avoid jumping to conclusions about their character based on their behavior.
6. Halo Effect
The Halo Effect happens when we let a positive trait or characteristic of someone influence our perception of their other qualities.
Examples of the Halo Effect
Here are 5 everyday examples of the Halo Effect:
- Physical appearance: Attractive individuals are often perceived as being more intelligent, competent, and trustworthy than those who are less attractive.
- Profession: People may assume that someone who holds a prestigious job (such as a doctor, lawyer, or professor) is more capable, intelligent, and successful than someone who holds a less prestigious job.
- Brand loyalty: People may believe that products from a certain brand are of higher quality, even if they have little experience with the brand.
- Charisma: Someone with a charming and outgoing personality may be perceived as more competent and trustworthy, regardless of their actual abilities.
- Similarity: People may assume that others who share their values, interests, or beliefs are more trustworthy and competent than those who do not.
How To Protect Yourself from the Halo Effect
To protect yourself, try to focus on specific behaviors and actions of the person rather than their overall impression.
Take a step back and look at the person more objectively. Additionally, try to be aware of any preconceived notions or biases you may have before forming an opinion about someone.
7. Hindsight Bias
Hindsight Bias is the tendency to see events as more predictable than they actually were after they have occurred.
Examples of Hindsight Bias
Here are five everyday examples of Hindsight Bias:
- After a test, you thought it was easier than you initially expected because you already knew the answers.
- After a stock market crash, you believed you should have sold your stocks earlier because you now know that the prices went down.
- After a sports game, you thought the losing team played poorly because they lost, even if they played well.
- After a decision turns out badly, you say, “I knew it all along.”
- After a car accident, you believed you should have taken another route because now you know there was a crash on the original route.
How To Protect Yourself from Hindsight Bias
To protect yourself from the hindsight bias, you can follow these three tips:
- Recognize that you’re susceptible to the bias: It’s essential to acknowledge that you can fall prey to the hindsight bias because it’s a natural human tendency to view events differently once they’ve already happened.
- Keep a record of your original predictions: Whenever you’re making predictions or decisions, it’s important to record your original thoughts or predictions. You can use a journal or a document on your computer, so you have a record of your original reasoning.
- Focus on the process, not just the outcome: Instead of just looking at the outcome, focus on the process that led to it. Analyze the steps you took, the decisions you made, and what you could have done differently. This approach helps you learn from your mistakes, rather than just attributing everything to hindsight.
Remember, hindsight bias can lead to overconfidence and the belief that outcomes were inevitable, which can prevent you from learning and growing from your experiences. So, it’s essential to be aware of it and take steps to protect yourself from its influence.
8. Loss Aversion Bias
Loss aversion bias refers to the tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains.
Loss Aversion Bias Examples
Here are 5 everyday examples of Loss Aversion Bias:
- Holding onto a losing investment: You refuse to sell a stock that is currently losing value because you don’t want to realize the loss, even if it means missing out on potential gains elsewhere.
- Avoiding risk: You avoid taking on new challenges or opportunities because you are afraid of losing what you already have, even if it means missing out on potential rewards.
- Hoarding possessions: You hold onto possessions that you no longer use or need because you are emotionally attached to them and feel a sense of loss when you think about getting rid of them.
- Overpaying for warranties: You pay extra for warranties or insurance policies that you may not need, simply because you are afraid of the potential loss if something goes wrong.
- Refusing to negotiate: You avoid negotiating for better prices or terms on a purchase because you are afraid of the potential loss of the deal altogether, even if it means overpaying or settling for less favorable terms.
How To Protect Yourself from Loss Aversion Bias
To protect yourself from Loss Aversion Bias, you can try the following:
- Be aware of your emotional state: Loss aversion bias is often linked to emotions. Try to identify when you are feeling emotional and take a step back to evaluate the situation objectively.
- Focus on the long-term: Loss aversion bias can lead to short-term thinking. Try to focus on the long-term benefits of a decision rather than immediate gains or losses.
- Consider the opportunity cost: Loss aversion bias can make you focus solely on the loss rather than what you could gain. Consider the opportunity cost of not taking a chance, and the potential gains that may be missed.
- Use data to make decisions: Data-driven decision making can help you make more objective decisions and reduce the influence of emotions on your choices.
- Seek diverse perspectives: Loss aversion bias can lead to a narrow focus. Seeking out diverse perspectives can help you to see the bigger picture and make more informed decisions.
By being aware of the potential for loss aversion bias, and taking these steps to protect against it, you can make more informed decisions that take into account both the risks and rewards.
9. Negativity Bias
Negativity Bias is the tendency to give more weight and attention to negative experiences or information than positive ones.
Examples of Negativity Bias
Here are 5 everyday examples of Negativity Bias:
- News consumption: Many people have a tendency to consume news that focuses on negative events and incidents, such as crime and accidents, while ignoring or paying less attention to positive news stories.
- Social media: Negative comments, posts, and news stories tend to have a stronger impact on people’s emotions and behavior than positive ones, leading to the spread of negativity on social media platforms.
- Relationships: People often remember negative events and comments more than positive ones, which can lead to a negative bias in their perception of a person or relationship.
- Work environment: Negative feedback or criticism can have a stronger impact on an employee’s performance and motivation than positive feedback, leading to a negative bias in their perception of their job or workplace.
- Personal life: People may have a tendency to dwell on negative experiences or memories, leading to a negative bias in their overall outlook on life and the future.
How To Protect Yourself from Negativity Bias
Here are a few ways to protect yourself from negativity bias:
- Practice gratitude: Focus on the positive things in your life and take time to appreciate them. This will help to shift your attention away from negative events or situations.
- Challenge negative thoughts: When you notice negative thoughts or feelings, challenge them by asking yourself if they are really true or if there is another way to look at the situation.
- Mindfulness meditation: Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, and to observe them without judgment. This can help you to become less reactive to negative thoughts and emotions.
- Balance negative information with positive: Be aware of the sources of negative information you are exposed to, and try to balance it with positive news or stories.
- Engage in positive activities: Engage in activities that make you happy or give you a sense of accomplishment. This can help to counteract negative feelings and emotions.
10. Overconfidence Bias
Overconfidence bias is the tendency to overestimate your abilities, knowledge, or the accuracy of your predictions.
Examples of Overconfidence Bias
Here are five everyday examples of Overconfidence Bias:
- Underestimating the time it takes to complete a task: You may believe that you can finish a task in less time than you actually need, leading to missed deadlines and added stress.
- Overestimating your abilities: You may think that you are better than others at a particular skill or task, leading to overconfidence in your abilities and potentially poor performance.
- Taking on too much: You may feel that you can handle more tasks than you actually can, leading to burnout and reduced productivity.
- Ignoring feedback: You may dismiss constructive criticism or feedback from others, thinking that you know better, which can lead to missed opportunities for growth and improvement.
- Failing to prepare adequately: You may believe that you can wing a presentation or meeting without sufficient preparation, leading to poor performance and negative outcomes.
How To Protect Yourself from Overconfidence Bias
Here are some tips to protect yourself from overconfidence bias:
- Gather more information: Try to gather as much information as possible before making a decision or a prediction. This can help you get a more accurate view of the situation.
- Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from others, especially those who have expertise in the area you are dealing with. This can help you identify blind spots or biases in your thinking.
- Challenge your assumptions: Question your assumptions and beliefs, and consider alternative perspectives. This can help you avoid overconfidence and increase your objectivity.
- Use probabilistic thinking: Instead of making binary predictions (e.g., yes or no), try to think in terms of probabilities. This can help you avoid overconfidence by acknowledging the uncertainty and complexity of the situation.
- Keep a record: Keep a record of your predictions and decisions, and review them periodically. This can help you learn from your mistakes and improve your decision-making over time.
Remember, overconfidence bias can lead to poor decision-making and missed opportunities, so it’s important to be aware of it and take steps to mitigate its effects.
11. Self-Serving Bias
The Self-Serving Bias is the tendency to attribute successes to personal characteristics and failures to external factors.
Examples of Self-Serving Bias
- Taking credit for success but blaming others for failure.
- Believing you are above average in certain areas or tasks.
- Justifying or rationalizing negative behavior or outcomes to maintain a positive self-image.
- Dismissing feedback or criticism that challenges your beliefs or self-image.
- Overestimating your own influence or control in situations while underestimating external factors.
How To Protect Yourself from Self-Serving Bias
To protect yourself from self-serving bias, it’s important to be aware of your own tendencies to attribute success to internal factors and failure to external factors.
Here are some practical steps you can take:
- Take a step back and objectively analyze your own behavior and decision-making process.
- Seek out and consider feedback from others to gain an outside perspective.
- Look for evidence that may contradict your own beliefs or assumptions.
- Try to take a more balanced view of your successes and failures, recognizing both your own efforts and external factors.
- Develop a growth mindset that embraces challenges and sees setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth.
By being aware of your own biases and actively working to counteract them, you can become a more objective and effective decision-maker.
12. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the tendency to continue investing time, money, or effort into a project or decision because of the resources already invested, even if it is no longer rational to do so.
Examples of Sunk Cost Fallacy
Here are 5 everyday examples of the Sunk Cost Fallacy:
- Continuing to watch a movie that you don’t enjoy, simply because you have already paid for the ticket.
- Spending additional time and money repairing a car that is constantly breaking down, because you have already invested so much into it.
- Staying in a bad relationship that makes you unhappy, because you have already invested a lot of time and effort into it.
- Continuing to invest in a business that is not making any profits, because you have already invested a lot of money into it.
- Finishing a meal even when you’re full, simply because you paid for it.
How To Protect Yourself from the Sunk Cost Fallacy
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from the Sunk Cost Fallacy:
- Acknowledge the sunk cost: Recognize that the cost is already incurred and cannot be recovered, regardless of the decision you make.
- Reevaluate the decision: Assess the situation objectively and evaluate whether the decision you made is still the best option moving forward.
- Consider alternative options: Explore alternative solutions that can help you achieve your goals without continuing to invest resources in a decision that may no longer be viable.
- Consult with others: Seek out the advice of trusted friends, family members, or colleagues who can offer a fresh perspective on the situation.
- Focus on the future: Remember that the ultimate goal is to make the best decision moving forward, rather than to dwell on past decisions that cannot be changed.
- Set a budget and a timeline: Establish a budget and timeline for your project or decision, and stick to it. This can help prevent you from continuing to invest resources beyond what is necessary or prudent.
- Learn from your mistakes: If you do make a decision that turns out to be a sunk cost, use it as an opportunity to learn and improve your decision-making process for the future.
Know Your Cognitive Biases to Think and Do Better
It’s important to understand that biases are a natural part of human thinking and decision-making.
By acknowledging and addressing the 12 cognitive biases that we’ve explored, we can improve our critical thinking skills and make more informed decisions.
Remember, cognitive biases can impact all areas of our lives – from personal relationships to work decisions and beyond.
By being aware of our own cognitive biases and actively working to overcome them, we can become better thinkers and decision-makers.
As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman said, “The first step to thinking better is to think about thinking.”
Let’s take that step and strive to be more objective, open-minded, and rational in all aspects of our lives.
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Investment and Commitment Biases
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Probability and Randomness Biases
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Time and Resource Estimation Biases