“Cognitive psychology has shown that the mind best understands facts when they are woven into a conceptual fabric, such as a narrative, mental map, or intuitive theory. Disconnected facts in the mind are like unlinked pages on the Web: They might as well not exist.”
- Steven Pinke
In 1970, two Israeli psychologists named Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman first coined the term “Cognitive Bias”. They used it to refer to the disturbed or flawed thought patterns of people while taking decisions or responding to certain information.
Their research program was based on the cognitive abilities of people. They mainly focused on how fast people made decisions when they had a limited amount of time. These decisions were very basic like what food to eat, what clothes to wear etc.
The basic idea behind this research was to figure out the fact that when people were told to take decisions in a short span of time and with limited resources they relied on heuristics.
Heuristics are like mental shortcuts taken to decide something. Their main objective was to find out which biases were related to decision making, judgment and thinking.
For the research they used probability theory and gave people some reasoning problems which had a computed answer. Then the answers of the people were compared with the actual solutions to figure out the deviations.
They ran multiple tests, experiments and researches on this subject. They were successful in finding out numerous mismatches and deviations that happen when the brain relies on biases for making judgements and decisions. In this blog, you will find more about Cognitive Bias through examples and types and find out the ways of preventing it.
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What is Cognitive Bias?
The brain is the most powerful tool in this universe. There is absolutely nothing which the human brain cannot do. But unfortunately it has certain limitations. When the brain processes information and makes decisions there are a whole lot of complex processes involved.
Cognitive Biases are the result of this. Biases are what helps us understand the outside environment, make decisions and it is because of biases that everything makes sense to us.
Cognitive Bias on the other hand refers to the errors that happen when we process information and try to understand the outside world for making decisions or judgements of just thinking. Biases are a “rule of thumb”.
They do not have a logical explanation sometimes. For example, a common bias is that women tend to talk more than men. These biases can be of two types:
Memory related biases occur when you have already been thinking about something. Like any incident that happened with you. Because of which you become biased towards it. You already form an opinion and your decisions related to such incidents will be biased.
Attention Issues Related
Attention issues related biases are different from memory related biases. Think of it like- You do not pay attention to everyone or everything. So attention is something which is limited or subject related. Many cognitive biases revolve around these attention related issues.
Someway or the other, everybody shows signs of Cognitive Bias. We just do not notice them when it's happening to us but in others we can easily pinpoint it. The reason we should understand and notice the signs of Cognitive Bias is because it affects our thought process and our decision making skills.
Given below are signs of Cognitive Bias that we can notice if they are happening:
- You only pay attention to news and stories that confirm and validate your opinions.
- Trying to blame external factors when something goes wrong.
- Thinking your accomplishments are due to hard work but others are just lucky when they achieve something.
- Thinking that everyone has the same opinions as yours.
- After learning some small details about a topic you think you know everything about it.
When we make decisions about anything related to what is happening around us, we feel as if we are objective, logical, great observers and valid in all our judgments. But sometimes, due to cognitive bias we end up doing worse and taking all the bad decisions.
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Types of Cognitive Bias
The following list shows the common types of Cognitive Bias seen in people which have a significant influence on the mind, feelings and behavior.
Common Cognitive Bias
The Actor-Observer Bias occurs when we blame others' actions on their weaknesses and internal influence but our own mistakes on external factors. A simple situation can be- You got late in a meeting because you have jet lag. But your colleague got late in a meeting because he is not punctual.
Confirmation Bias occurs when people only believe in the information that confirms their own convictions. A simple example can be- Following only those people on social media that have the same beliefs as yours. Or never listening to the opposite side because it counters your values.
This Cognitive Bias happens unknowingly because a person feels he remembers everything but in reality he is influenced by other factors. Like- Because of a car accident a person’s memory becomes hazy and he cannot remember the actual incident as it is. But he feels as if his memory is perfect and crystal clear.
Hindsight Bias is also called “ I know it all” Bias. A person sees future incidents and events as if they are going to happen. For example- claiming that you knew all along that your team will win the football match after it has actually won.
Anchoring Bias occurs when we become influenced by the first information that we receive. It is still unknown what causes anchoring bias but the cases are documented which prove its existence.
This bias occurs when people believe that their success is because of the work they put in but their failure is due to external reasons. Simple example can be- Getting good marks in exams because you study well.
This is based on the principle that what looks good from outside is good in reality. It is actually stereotype based. Example- believing that people who look attractive are more funny and good in nature instead of those who aren’t attractive.
It occurs when you start to believe in something because there are many examples that you can relate to. For example- Believing vehicle thefts are common because multiple cases were reported in a nearby area.
False Consensus Bias
False Consensus Bias happens when we spend a lot of time with someone we start to form beliefs and opinions similar to them. When we are with different people we still follow the same beliefs because this is the only way we know.
Optimism Bias is when we are too optimistic that we ignore the bad things completely. We believe that nothing bad is ever going to happen. For example we believe that Divorce, Illness, unemployment and even death will never happen to us.
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How to Prevent and Overcome Cognitive Bias
Sometimes we are unable to notice the signs of Cognitive Bias whereas sometimes it happens when we are not even conscious about it. There are certain things that we can do to overcome cognitive bias :
Always consider the Present Factors
One must always consider the current circumstances before taking any decision. If you strongly feel that the current situation is in your favor and you are confident in your decision then only go for it. Never become a part of a bandwagon effect.
The first thing is to be aware and have knowledge about cognitive bias. Understand that they do exist. When we believe in it we will start analyzing things accordingly. We will always keep in mind that some parts might influence your decisions knowingly or unknowingly.
Look for your past behavior and compare it with the present. Do you feel that there is a pattern? Or are you repeating the same mistakes again? Sometimes we ignore what is right in front of us and follow our intuition. Once a while it is fine but ignoring the facts every time is wrong.
Have a Healthy Mindset
People that have a learning attitude and a mindset believe that cognitive abilities can be developed and we can learn through criticism as well. Instead of hiding the mistakes one should open up and accept them.
Be Hungry for Information
If we continuously want to learn more then we are on the right track to overcome cognitive bias. A questioning mind is always hungry for information. Therefore, be curious.
Look for things which are uncomfortable
Look around you and try to identify the people and situations that bring the worst in you. Sometimes we are triggered by others to react in a certain way. Our surroundings make us partial and biased. Try to avoid such people and situations.
Learn the Opposites
One must always look at the opposite side as well before reacting. Sometimes challenge yourself and believe in the opposite. Look what happens and how you cope up with it. This way you can be more empathetic towards other people as well.
Look for Different Sides of a Situation
Try to take feedback. There are multiple sides of the same situation. Instead of always believing in your side, try to look at the other side as well. This way we can find our blind spots and prevent the feeling of overconfidence.
Focus on Negative Sides of Well
Never be afraid to find evidence related to the negative side of the same situation as per you. Evidence from the other side might counter your opinion and make you think out of the box and challenge you.
There is a concept of “Intellectual Humility”. It means being open to the opinion of others and valuing it. It also means accepting that you can be wrong too! Always question your convictions instead of blindly following them.
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Cognitive Bias directly affects our safety, the way we interact with others, and make decisions in our day to day life. The only thing we can do to overcome it is to train the mind to accept new patterns in life and develop intellectual humility.