Is your decision-making being affected by cognitive biases?
What is a Cognitive Bias?
A cognitive bias is a flaw in mental reasoning that can lead one to misinterpret information, and form an inaccurate deduction.
When we are flooded with information from thousands of sources in any given day, our brains develop hierarchical systems to determine which pieces of information warrant our attention and are significant enough to code and store into our memory.
Further, in order to process the immense amount of information we receive from our environment, our brain creates shortcuts to reduce the time it takes us to process information.
The problem with this is that the hierarchical systems and shortcuts aren’t always entirely objective because their design is distinctively modified to your life experiences. Despite not being entirely objective, these shortcuts are useful as they allow us to come up with judgments that are ‘good enough’ and, often, are correct.
Cognitive psychologists and researchers have identified over 175 cognitive biases. Below is a brief summary of some of the most common biases than can affect everyday life and decision-making:
Actor-Observer Bias: This bias relates to the differences in how we appraise our own behaviour, versus the behaviour of others.
Generally, people tend to attribute others’ behaviour to internal factors and their character. In contrast, we tend to attribute our own behaviour to external factors, such as the circumstances we are in at the time.
Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias occurs when we seek out information that supports our existing beliefs, and discard information that goes against our beliefs. This can cause us to make biased decisions, because we haven’t taken into account all of the relevant information.
Anchoring: Anchoring may happen if you feel under pressure to make a speedy decision, or if you have a general tendency to act rashly. This bias is the tendency to jump to conclusions.
When we ‘anchor’ we base our final judgements on information obtained very early on in the decision-making process. Anchoring can be thought of as a ‘first impression’ bias. Once you form an initial opinion of a person or situation, it can be difficult to reconsider other possibilities.
Availability Heuristic: This occurs when we give greater credence to ideas that readily come to mind. If you can immediately think of numerous facts that support a conclusion, you may be more inclined to believe that conclusion to be correct.
As an example, if you see multiple headlines about shark attacks in a coastal town, you might believe the risk of shark attacks is higher than it is. When information is readily available around you, it becomes easier to access. Information that is easier to access appears more reliable.
Halo Effect: When under the influence of the halo effect, we heavily shape our general impression of a person according to a single characteristic. Beauty is the most influential characteristic; attractive people are routinely perceived as more conscientious and intelligent than their objective academic performance indicates.
Take Home Message
Psychological (or cognitive) bias is the tendency to make decisions or act in an unintentionally illogical way.
While it’s highly unlikely we will ever eliminate our cognitive biases, we can improve our ability to recognise situations where we may be more vulnerable to them.
We can also seek out ways to establish objectivity in our decision-making, such as allowing more time for it. There are also tools and strategies we can use to assess background information analytically – for example, surrounding ourselves with others who will challenge our opinions, and listen empathetically and carefully to their views – even when they tell us something we don’t want to hear!
Author: Tara Pisano, BA (Psych) (Hons), M Psych.
Tara Pisano is a Brisbane psychologist with a special interest in early intervention in adolescents and young adults, as this is when three quarters of mental health conditions emerge. In her practice, she draws on a range of evidence-based therapies such as CBT, DBT, IPT, ACT and Motivational Interviewing, to promote recovery and positive outcomes.
Tara is not currently taking bookings, however, we have a number of clinicians available for bookings. To make an appointment for counselling please visit our webpage here to learn about our highly qualified clinicians, or call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
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