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18 August 2020

12 Cognitive Biases Explained: For Improved Logical Thinking

Jairek Robbins

We, humans, are susceptible to a variety of cognitive biases and they affect how we look at the world around us. Especially in these times with so much access to conflicting information, it is important that we sharpen our logical thinking. This includes becoming aware of our biases and how they affect our thinking and decision making.

Watch this insightful video on the 12 of those most common biases.

Can’t Watch? Check Out This Summary Below.

1. Anchoring Bias

As humans, we normally completely rely on the first impression that we get of something no matter how reliable that piece of information is as we make decisions. The very first information has tremendous influence on our brain.

For example, I want to sell you a car, and you are interested in buying. If you ask for its price and I tell you $30,000, when you come back a week later and I tell you that the price is $20,000, the car will suddenly look very affordable because your judgment is influenced by the initial price of $30,000 which you were told a week earlier.

You feel like you are getting a great deal, but if I had initially told you the car costs $10,000 and you return and I say it now costs $20,000, this no longer sounds like such a good deal because of the anchoring bias. This is just one generic example of the anchoring bias at play.

2. Availability Heuristic Bias

People overestimate the value of the information that they have. For example, some people think that terrorism is the biggest threat to the U.S. because that’s what they see on TV. The news always talks about that, and because of that, it inflates the danger posed by terrorism. To put this into perspective, televisions cause 55 times more deaths than terrorism. Yes, TVs literally fall on people and kill them 55 more times than terrorism kills people in the U.S. 

Similarly, you are more likely to be killed by a cow or a falling coconut than you are of being killed by a terrorist. Estimates also indicate that you are 130 times more likely to be killed by the police than you are likely to be killed by a terrorist.

Terrorists are given a lot of prominence because it is way scarier to die from a terror attack, so people talk a lot about this and the media is full of those stories. 

3. The Bandwagon Effect

People do or believe in something not because they actually believe in it, but just because the rest of the world believes in it. In other words, they follow the rest without even thinking. If you’ve ever heard someone saying if your friend jumped off a bridge, would you? That person is accusing you of the bandwagon effect.

It happens a lot with us. For instance a lot of people vote for a certain candidate because he is the most popular, or because they want to be part of the majority. It happens a lot in the stock market too, because if a person starts buying a given stock because they think it is going to rise, then a lot of other people will also start buying it. 

It can also happen in meetings. If everyone agrees with something, then you are more likely to agree with that position than oppose it. 

In management, the opposite of this is called group-think and companies try to fight against it. This is because if 9 out of 10 people agree with something, the last person is unlikely to speak up and this could kill a great idea.

4. Choice Supportive Bias

People have a tendency to defend themselves because it was their choice. They think, just because I made the choice, it must be right. For example, let’s say a person buys an Apple product. This person is likely to ignore the benefits of a competing product while he or she will downplay the shortcomings of the product they chose. Why would someone point out that they made a bad choice?

Let’s say you have a dog. You are likely to think it is awesome because it is your dog, although it might poop on the floor every now and then. The same goes for political candidates, the one you voted for will always seem better than the one you didn’t vote for.

5. Confirmation Bias

We tend to listen to information that confirms what we already know. We will even interpret the information that we receive in a way that confirms the current information that we already have. 

Let’s say that your friend believes that sweets are unhealthy. This is generally a pretty broad belief; he will only focus on the information that confirms what we already know. He is more likely to watch videos or read articles that support his arguments. He doesn’t go through materials on the positive side effects of increasing blood glucose, or the positive health effects of eating a bowl of ice cream. He will instinctively go to Google and type in “How bad is sugar for you?”

The confirmation bias is a very dangerous thing in scientific situations and is one of the widely committed cognitive biases.

6. The Ostrich Bias

This is the subconscious decision to ignore the negative information. It may also be an indication that we may only want to consider the positive aspects of something. This goes beyond just looking for positive information and choosing to ignore the available negative information. 

The ostrich bias also manifests when we have a problem and we ignore it thinking that it will go away. For instance, you may have an assignment that you have to do. It may not be something that you really want to do, so you may end up procrastinating because your mind thinks it will go away or will resolve itself if you keep ignoring it.

Most smokers usually know it is bad for their health, but they keep ignoring the negative implications of cigarettes thinking it will not damage them or they might stop before anything serious happens because they consider themselves an outlier. 

To avoid finding out negative information, we simply stop looking for it, but this could be a serious crime in many scientific research laboratories and basically promotes ignorance.

7. Outcome Bias

We tend to judge the efficacy of a decision primarily on how things turn out. After a decision is made, we rarely examine the conditions that existed at the time of the decision, choosing instead to evaluate performance solely on whether the end result was positive or not.

In other words, you decide on whether an action was right or wrong based on the outcome. This goes a little bit into consequentialism, but it goes hand in hand with the hindsight bias. 

For example, think of a manager who has to make a decision. His team are telling him to take a certain decision while his gut is telling him to decide differently. He then goes ahead to make the decision that his gut was telling him to do and in the end, it was the better decision. Does that mean it is always better to trust your gut rather than listen to your team whose advice is based on facts and statistics? Well, that’s what the outcome bias is; you take the decision and base the effectiveness of that decision on its outcome, even if it was purely luck that brought the results you saw.

This is bad logical thinking and it will actually lead you to ruined thinking and bad outcomes in the long run.

8. Overconfidence

Sometimes you get too confident and start taking decisions not based on facts, but rather based on your opinion or gut because you’ve been correct so many times in the past.

For example, you are a stock trader and you pick five stocks. Over several years, all of them turn out to be successful and profitable. This increases your confidence to a point where you can start believing that whatever stock you pick will be successful. It’s quite dangerous because you might stop looking at the facts and solely rely on your opinion. Read about the gambler’s fallacy if you want more information on this.

Just because you flipped a coin five times and it landed on heads doesn’t mean that the next time there’s a more than 50% chance of it landing on the head again. “Ego is the Enemy” is a great book about this bias, and there’s a great book review on it.

9. Placebo Bias

When you believe something will have a certain effect on you, then it will actually cause that effect. For example, you are sick and the doctor gives you a certain medicine. Even if that medicine doesn’t actually help you, even if that medicine is made of just sugar, you believe it will help you and it actually causes you to recover quicker. 

This might not sound very logical but dozens of experiments have proven this. That’s why you will realize that positive people usually have positive lives, and vice versa. The way you think is super important. For this reason, a lot of personal development books say that if you really believe something, you will eventually achieve it, or at least find a way to achieve it because the placebo effect will give you the motivation that you need. The mind truly is a powerful thing, and this isn’t always bad thinking. In fact, you can use the placebo effect to your advantage, if you use it wisely. There’s actually a reverse of this and it is called the nocebo, and this one is negative.

10. Survivorship Bias

This bias refers to when you are judging something based on the surviving information. For example, there’re lots of articles with titles like “5 things millionaires do every morning.” Does that mean doing those things every morning will make you a millionaire?

No, because there are tons of people who did them and didn’t become millionaires, and there are also tons of people who did them and did become millionaires. So, these articles are primarily based on the ones who survived and reject all the other people who did the same thing but didn’t become millionaires. 

Another example is saying that buildings in ancient cities were built using extreme engineering because they lasted so long. This is a bad conclusion because you aren’t considering what ratio of buildings were built to how many that lasted. You are only seeing the ones that lasted thousands of years of weathering when the others were washed away. It is hard to know what you don’t know.

11. Selective Perception Bias

Selective perception is the type of bias which causes people to perceive messages and actions according to their frame of reference. Using selective perception, people tend to overlook and forget what contradicts their expectations and beliefs.

Let’s say you are a smoker and a big fan of soccer. You are more likely to ignore other negative adverts about cigarettes since you are already smoking and you have this perception that it is okay. But if there’s an advert about soccer, you are more likely to notice it because you’ve got a positive perception about it.

This is actually something very interesting and it has to do with how you perceive the world due to your subconscious mind and what it filters out. 

12. The Blind Spot Bias

If I asked you how biased you are, you would probably say that you’re less biased than the average person, and you are more likely to base your judgment on facts and statistics, and that’s what is known as a blind spot bias or “the bias bias.” You are biased because you think that you are less biased than everyone else.

For example, if you gave your teacher a gift and the next week she gave you a good grade, if you asked that teacher whether she was biased, she will probably say the gift never affected her decisions when she was marking the test. But if you ask her whether other teachers are biased when students give them gifts, she will say yes in most cases. And that’s what the blind spot bias is. 

As you go about your day, examine your decision-making processes and try to catch yourself guilty of any of the biases above. When you do, resolve to never fall victim to that cognitive bias and the quality of the decisions that you make will soon improve. So, right off the bat, which of the biases above are you most guilty of? Share in the comments below! 

To Your Succes,

Jairek Robbins



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