You Can't Always Help What You Think (Sometimes)
30 March 2017
The dictionary defines cognitive bias as “a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one's preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.”
There are many different elements of cognitive bias – conscious or not – that can affect our day-to-day decision making on smaller issues and our thought process when it comes to much larger and more difficult decisions. It’s a deviation from rationality when attempting to form a judgement on a person or a situation.
We take a look at 15 kinds of cognitive bias that could be affecting your decision making process. How many do you think you are guilty of?
Survivorship bias – An error in judgement that stems from focusing solely on past successes, not past failures. For instance, a solicitor shouldn’t only look at the rulings they have won, but rather learn from those which were overturned.
Anchoring – Being over reliant on the first piece of information that you receive. For example, the initial price offered for a second-hand car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.
Saliency bias – A decision to focus on the most recognisable aspects of a person and their behaviour. For example, if you were describing one individual to another, you would most likely focus on the most obvious aspects of their character.
Choice support bias – When you make a choice, you tend to look upon it with rose-tinted glasses, believing that it was the very best decision you could have made. When someone or an organisation goes against this, you tend to believe that they were in the wrong and your choice was better.
Availability heuristic – Over-estimating the importance of the information given to you. We judge the probability of events by the statistics or examples we can call to mind the quickest. For example, are people with mental health issues more likely to commit or be the victims of violence? Because of media stories we are more likely to initially believe the former when in fact the latter is true statistically.
Clustering illusion – This is the illusion that you can see patterns in specific events (such as the rise and fall of the stock markets) that don’t actually exist. You ignore any glaring anomalies in favour of stressing similarities.
Bandwagon effect – You will have heard the phrase ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and this is essentially what this means. The probability of an individual adopting a particular belief or mindset increases based on the number of people who hold similar attitudes.
Selective perception – This is when you allow your expectations to influence who you perceive the world. For example, if you were watching a football game and the referee had previously acted unfairly towards your team, you are more likely to focus on any negative decisions the next time and miss any positive actions.
Conservatism bias – Ignoring new evidence or revelations in favour of pre-existing knowledge. It’s the equivalent of being stubborn or ‘set in your ways’.
Information bias – More information does not always mean more knowledge. For example, you wouldn’t ask someone to gather a data report for you when you already have an existing two reports telling you the exact same thing, would you?
Ostrich effect – What does an ostrich do? It buries its head! This type of bias refers to ignoring crucial facts in favour of our own beliefs.
Blind spot bias – Failing to recognise your own bias by considering yourself ‘less biased’ than others is a bias in itself. You will be unable to ameliorate negative aspects of your behaviour simply because you think they don’t exist.
Recency – Almost the opposite of conservatism bias, this means ignoring older evidence in favour of new information. For instance, if a gambler had a great run on the horses and based their future decisions on that recent success only, it may lead to errors or wrong decisions.
Zero risk bias – Our wish to entirely eliminate risks can be counter-productive when an alternative option might produce a greater reduction in risk overall. Choosing to keep things exactly as they are, rather than adopting a different method may pose more problems in the long run.
Outcome bias – Judging a decision based on the overall outcome, not the quality of the decision at the time it was made. It’s looking back on things with hindsight.
It’s important to attempt to bear each of these biases in mind when you are making a decision – no matter how big or small it is. Our influences and prejudices can often lead us down the wrong path or bring about over-confidence or a false sense of security.
Another useful way to conquer these biases would be to make certain decisions alongside others, who could help you identify your own biases and bring their own thoughts and ideas to the process.
If you would like to speak to me about finding the right candidates without falling in to any of these bias traps, click on the button below.
Written By Billy McDiarmid