Cognitive Biases and how they impact your life!

Cognitive biases are hot topics in psychological circles and it is an area that is sure to invoke some heavy debate. A cognitive bias is like a lens, through which we ‘see’ or experience our individual version of reality. All of us have cognitive biases that are formed because of our experiences, preconceptions, environmental, social and even emotional factors.

We’ve all been in a conversation and heard, “…that’s not quite how I see it…” or something along those lines. This is because we each have our own ways of thinking and these can become habitual!

Cognitive Biases are not science fiction, most of them have been reproduced scientifically since the term was coined by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky around four decades ago, so we know they are real. What becomes controversial is the categorising, explaining and labelling of these biases.

There are over one hundred known cognitive biases and they, like all human behaviour, range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Cognitive Biases and how they impact your life!

Of course, we all believe that our individual view of the world is the view of the world but the truth is that none of us can be truly objective.

This is down to the mental shortcuts, or heuristics, that the brain uses to make decisions and form judgments. We all know what a tennis ball is because we have attached that label to a thing we all see, but what evidence do we have that each of us sees the same thing? Don’t think about it too much, it’s a rabbit hole that should be approached with caution.

For those of you thinking, not me there’s even a known cognitive bias to describe you and it’s the Bias Blind Spot. Here are five of the most common cognitive biases and how to overcome them:

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

This is arguably one of the most common cognitive biases and an excellent example of this is political candidacy; when reading or watching the news you are more likely to pay attention to things that suit a belief that you about a candidate you have chosen, or that is aligned with a party you have chosen. This cognitive bias will filter information that does not suit your belief.

How to overcome confirmation bias

The best way to challenge Confirmation Bias is to try to prove yourself wrong. This forces you to look at your belief from different viewpoints.

Status Quo Bias

The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same (see also loss aversion, endowment effect, and system justification)

This is an emotional bias where any change from the perceived is seen as a loss. This bias is another common one and can be recognised when a person seems to make what seem like irrational decisions. For example, when a person stays in an unhealthy relationship this could be as a result of the cognitive bias leading to the view that being in an unhealthy relationship is better than being single.

How to overcome Status Quo Bias

The key here is to find something bigger than the current focal point, that is to determine how the current behaviour fits in with the mission or purpose of life. Thinking about the bigger picture is important because the realisation of a mission or purpose supersedes the status quo.

Negative Bias

The psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. (see also actor-observer bias, group attribution error, positivity effect, and negativity effect).

This is what I consider to the cruellest of all the cognitive biases because it is this that makes us feel the bite of disapproval more powerfully than we feel the satisfaction of praise.

This cognitive bias will make us remember a microcosm over a macrocosm. For example, a lovely summers day out with a picnic would be remembered by getting a flat tyre on the way home.

How to overcome Negative Bias

Ultimately it’s all down to how the story that each of us tells ourselves about our lives. Instead of making a mistake and saying “You idiot!” change that narrative to a kinder one such as “I could have made a better choice, I must remember that for next time”.

Curse of Knowledge

When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people

This can cause issues with communication when one person assumes that everyone in a group has the same knowledge, it can often mean that the person experiencing this bias finds people unpredictable.

There is a saying that goes, You can’t know what you don’t know and you can’t un-know what you know, but you can know that you don’t know all that there is to know. As a communication issue, this is often not accounted for when jargon, acronyms or technical terms are used in a given field that others may not understand.

How to overcome the curse of knowledge bias

Knowing that this bias exists is a good start, but overcoming this bias is close to impossible because we spend, by virtue of our egocentric being, the majority of time experiencing things from our own myopic point of view.

Another way to account for, or overcome, this bias is to not use jargon, acronyms or terms that are specific to a given field and instead explain in a way that is accessible by laypeople.

Bandwagon Effect

The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behaviour

We see a lot of this on Social Media in today’s society. This is the reason that we see those copy and paste updates about privacy being posted on Facebook and it’s also the reason we see the same ‘lessons of life’ storytelling posts on LinkedIn.

This bias is used by everyone at some point and wherever you see testimonials, recommendations, quotes etc. this is a capitalisation of this bias.

What is unnerving about this bias is that it doesn’t need evidence to support it further than the knowledge it has been adopted by other people.

How to overcome the Bandwagon Bias

Slow down, explore the alternatives methodically and only make decisions when you are able to assess the situation alone, those in groups are more vulnerable to the Bandwagon Bias.

Have a look at the full list of Cognitive Biases and see which ones you recognise in yourself. Comment below with your findings and responses.

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