Definition of a Cognitive Bias
“A systematic pattern of deviation from rationality in judgment and decision making.”
I hope that it’s not news to you that our brains are quite far from being rational super-computers. Brains don’t process every bit of information in a totally rational way.
Emotions, attachments, impressions come into play.
They determine our perception of reality.
If you are not aware of that, it happens without your knowledge.
Why is That?
Since your brain cares first about survival, it has to manage resources.
There is only so much time and energy that you can dedicate to making sense of the world around you.
Even though those shortcuts are quite useful, sometimes they can actually hinder us.
In other words, our brain plays tricks on us (kind of like an optical illusion)
Cognitive biases can be quite dangerous if you are not aware of them. In the same time, it is impossible to eliminate them completely.
If you don’t want to fall for common bias traps, you should at least be aware of the tricks your brain is pulling on you.
Here is a list of the most popular cognitive biases and how it affects our logical thinking:
Logical Thinking & Cognitive Biases
1) Anchoring Bias
Imagine that I am trying to sell you a house for $300.000 and you are interested in buying it.
You decided that you want to wait a week and think about it. If a week later I offer to sell it to you for $200.000 this will appear to be a great deal.
What would happen if the initial price of the house was $100.000 and a week later I would try to sell it to you for $200.000? All of a sudden you would feel like I’m ripping you off, right?
The first information will have a big impact on the stuff that comes afterward. It will affect the perception of all the information that comes later. It does that, by creating a positive or negative contrast.
That is also the reason why first impressions matter.
MORE: The Effect of Anchoring Bias on Human Behaviour
Top 5 Things Women Notice About You When You First Meet Them
2) Availability Heuristic Bias
I don’t watch the news. Other reason then the fact that I’m busy with other stuff is that it is fear based.
News like to focus on stuff that gets them views or clicks.
If you want to get clicks and views you have to provoke some kind of emotional response.
That emotion is usually fear.
“Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism”
Some people think that the biggest threat to the USA is terrorism because the news always talks about it.
I heard somewhere that it is actually more likely to be killed by a cow than a terrorist.
Dying from a terrorist attack sounds scarier than death by a cow so media won’t cover it.
There’s not much money in it.
People tend to over-estimate the importance of the facts that they have.
Without realizing it, you think that you know everything there is to know about the subject.
You ignore the big picture that the facts are a part of.
Sometimes the context is actually more important then what you know and it may flip the meaning on its head.
Let me give you an example:
A man is jumping to take a bullet for a president
Same facts, different context. Big picture matters a lot when it comes to logical thinking skills.
How to Deal With It
Always assume there is more to the story. Be aware that usually there are things you are not aware of, that can completely recontextualize the facts you are presented with.
MORE: Availability Heuristic & Making Decisions
3) Bandwagon Effect
How can you be sure that the Earth is round?
Have you ever seen it curve around the edges?
Yet, I bet you are quite certain it is not flat, square or rectangular. (unless you belong to Flat Earth Society)
I’m not challenging that belief. All I’m saying is that you most likely haven’t seen it first hand.
People tend to believe in things, not because they actually do believe it, but because that’s what the rest of the world believes in.
Same happens in stocks. Once a couple of people buy in, the value rises and other people start to buy in as well.
Value of a stock didn’t rise but at a certain point, the hype is all it takes.
In politics, this phenomenon gives rise to groupthink. It throws logical thinking into the trash.
Minimize conflict – with a few exceptions, most people don’t want to fight.
Suppress dissenting viewpoints – authority figures are usually, very strongly opinionated and convincing. The flip side of this is that they tend – consciously or otherwise – to stifle viewpoints that contradict their worldview.
Isolate outside influences – While this may be very useful in getting everyone aligned on an objective. If taken too far it is dangerous, leading to “not invented here” syndrome and hubris.
Appeal to authority – people must be encouraged to “speak truth to power” and call out the elephant in the room.
MORE: What is Group Think
4) Confirmation Bias
That’s my personal favorite.
Let’s say you are shy and don’t think much of yourself. When you walk past a group of people, you hear them laughing.
You are more likely to assume that they are laughing at you given the belief you hold about yourself.
On the flip-side, if you think you’re awesome. You walk tall, with your shoulders back. This would never bother you. Cause all the interpretations you make about the event are in alignment with the belief – I’m awesome.
Some people believe they are so awesome that they have developed blind spots to anything that is not congruent with that belief. This can be quite dangerous too, so be careful.
Once you start to believe something is true, you will seek the evidence supporting your argument. You are likely to completely ignore any disapproving arguments.
If you are Trump supporter you don’t see his flaws, if you are Hilary supporter, all you see is Trump’s flaws.
Perspective matters as we have a tendency to interpret and recall information that fits our worldview.
5) Ostrich Bias
Have you ever crammed all the information a night before the exam?
Or left the important assignment to couple days before the deadline cause you didn’t feel like writing it?
As much as I was hoping that the task would go away it never did.
And I know that if you’re honest with yourself you will admit that you did too.
Well, you and I were a victim of an ostrich bias or good old-fashioned procrastination.
Ostrich bias is a subconscious decision to ignore negatives of the situation and act as if they didn’t exist.
You bury your head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist until it becomes “an elephant in the room”.
6) Outcome Bias
You are on a first date with a girl and you can’t help yourself but tell her that you love her.
Oh, you also bought her flowers and wrote her a romantic serenade that you performed under her balcony.
She reacts positively and says she likes you!!!
This was a low probability of success, risky move.
But hey it worked, lucky you.
Does that mean that that was the best course of action?
It would seem that that is the conclusion since the outcome was positive.
The outcome of this example was positive but the chances of taking this course of action and it working out were very slim.
Next time you may not get so lucky.
We tend to judge the efficacy of the decision mostly by the outcome that this decision produced.
MORE: What We Miss By Judging Decision By The Outcome
7) Overconfidence & The Planning Fallacy
If you flip a coin 5 times and it lands on heads 5 times, what are the chances of it landing on heads when you flip it again?
Just cause you were right bunch of times in the row, doesn’t mean you will be always right.
People who build an ego around being right cause they have been successful in the past start to get sloppy.
Now they may overlook a lot of objective data and always go with what their gut tells them.
Five times in a row it was right, but sixth it was a catastrophe.
This happens more often then you think.
Lots of millionaires lost their money only to have their egos humbled by the experience and rebuild their fortune later on.
Planning fallacy is a specific type of overconfidence.
In this case, your assessment of time and effort needed to complete the task is usually overly optimistic.
Funny enough this happened with this article.
What sucks most is that the more confident you are, the more likely your judgment is off.
MORE: WHAT IS OVERCONFIDENCE
8) Placebo Effect
Imagine that you are sick.
Just common flu, nothing too serious.
The doctor prescribes you a medicine and soon after you feel better.
Even if that medicine was a candy and you believed that it was a correct medicine, chances are you will recover faster.
If you believe that something will have an effect on you, then it will actually cause that effect.
This doesn’t seem to make sense but there was a lot of studies that prove it to be the case.
Mind can be quite powerful like that.
The placebo effect is one of the reasons why you should be positive.
Positive people tend to have a positive life and negative people seem to attract negative circumstances.
Positive thoughts create positive self-fulfilling prophecy and negative thoughts cause the opposite.
That is known as the Pygmalion effect.
Your beliefs influence your actions -> your actions impact your results -> your results reinforce your beliefs.
MORE: PYGMALION EFFECT
9) Survivorship Bias
If you are into personal development, you might have read articles like:
“5 Morning Habits of Millionaires”
It’s fair to assume that not everyone who performs the five morning habits of rich people becomes rich.
You will never hear about those guys (or gals) who nailed the habits perfectly and yet, never seen a million dollars in their life.
People might be claiming that their success came as a result of specific reasons.
This may not be true cause the article will never take into consideration personal circumstances as well as other factors that are outside of your control.
10) Selective Perception
If you love Coca-Cola, you are more likely to ignore the fact that it contains unhealthy amounts of sugar.
I mean you are aware of it, but you will fail to assign the appropriate amount of importance to it.
It’s fine if you drink one every now and then, but it becomes a problem if you’re chugging gallons of that stuff every day.
Same happens with smoking.
If you are a smoker, you will block all the rational reasons why you should stop smoking.
It feels too good to stop.
Your mind a Nobel Prize-winning scientist at inventing different ways to rationalize your behavior.
Even though deep down you know it’s not good for you.
Reality is too confusing and overwhelming.
Selective perception is a way to filter out all the unnecessary stuff and only leave things that have value in your field of awareness.
12) Correlation Vs Causation
Did you know that rates of violent crime and murder have been known to jump when ice-cream sales go up?
Does that mean that when people get hungry for ice-cream they also get thirsty for blood?
Humans are predisposed to see patterns everywhere.
We tend to jump into conclusions when there is an event A that proceeds B and they seem to vary together.
Just because one thing occurs after the other doesn’t mean that the thing B was caused by the thing A.
It might, but so many times it turns out that A and B were correlated and the real reason and cause was the thing C.
Or maybe it was just a coincidence.
The point is, don’t assume causality where there is none.
And you thought that at this point in life you can be pretty confident about cause and effect, huh?
13) Sunk Cost Fallacy
You started having a good streak on the poker table but something went horribly wrong.
You lost a bunch of money…
I know that losing money stinks like a pile of cow shit, but if you try to get it back now, you may as well set your money on fire.
At least you can warm up your hands.
Sunk cost bias happens when you continue to rationalize bad decisions that lead to negative outcomes.
You want to win your money back, but the desperation, the need and the negative state of mind cause you to lose more.
If you find yourself “flogging the horse”, do yourself a favor and get off the table.
Get your head straight first and then you can come back to the game.
You’re not going to remove your biases, cause you read one article on the subject.
In fact, those biases are quite stubborn.
As long as you are a human you will most likely be biased one way or another.
The only thing you can do is to build your awareness and catch yourself if you happen to fall pray to overly biased thinking.
Asking yourself different questions that make your brain think about the problem in new light won’t hurt either.
Other then that, we are all stuck with imperfect brains and we have to accept that.
Don’t take my word for it though, my logical thinking might be biased.