Advertising

9 Types of Bias That Cloud Our Everyday Judgement

Advertising
9 Types of Bias That Cloud Our Everyday Judgement

Do you consider yourself to be an objective, unbiased thinker? I think it’s safe to say that most people assume they are. We think we’re able to weigh all sides equally and reach logical, unbiased conclusions.

What most people don’t know is that there are many types of bias that prevent us every single day from doing exactly that.

Psychologists continue to find new types of bias that cloud our judgment and prevent us from reaching the fairest, most accurate conclusions. For example, the overestimation bias has only recently been named and defined. That’s when you overestimate how much other people will enjoy or dislike something. With the overestimation bias, we know how we feel about various pros and cons, so we allow ourselves to have a nuanced perspective on something while assuming others will simply like or hate it more than us. [1]

For example, we overestimate how much someone else would like a tropical vacation because we know how we will feel about the mosquitos and the sunburn, but we don’t think about others having that same nuanced ambivalence. Or we overestimate how much someone would dislike drinking hot sauce from the bottle. Again, we can weigh the pros and cons for ourselves but not for others, so we tend to think people will dislike distasteful things more than we do.

The overestimation bias is just one of many types of bias, and there is an easy way to adjust our thinking to not fall prey to it — By knowing about the overestimation bias, we are better able to reach fairer, more accurate conclusions about how much or how little people will enjoy things.

Knowing about the bias will help you think more carefully the next time you buy someone a gift or determine the price others are willing to pay for something you’re selling. You’ll be better equipped to take a more nuanced view of how others will be thinking about that gift or product and, therefore, better equipped to compensate for the overestimation bias.

Let’s take a look at 9 other common types of bias and how you can be mindful of them and not let them cloud your judgment.

1. Anchoring Bias

We tend to put more weight on the first piece of information we hear. Imagine you are selling your house. The first offer you receive is for $50,000 less than your asking price. The anchoring bias says that you will put more weight, give more importance, to this offer because it is the first.[2] This first offer is more likely to change your mind about how much your house is worth than any future offer.

Advertising

How to Be Less Biased

The anchoring bias often involves money and what we think things are worth, so it’s important to keep it in mind when making financial decisions. Know that the first piece of information you receive does not have any more importance than the fifth.

You can also get the upper hand in negotiations by establishing the first offer. Because of the anchoring bias, this will have a better chance of swaying how much the other person thinks what you’re buying or selling is worth.

2. Availability Heuristic

The availability heuristic is a fancy way of saying that we overestimate the importance of whatever information we have easy access to.[3] We rely too much on examples that come to our minds quickly, instead of weighing all information equally.

Watching the news is one example of this type of bias. We see many more stories about violence and disaster, so we’re much more likely to think that the world is dangerous even though we could do some easy googling to see that the world is actually safer in many ways than it was decades ago.

How to Be Less Biased

Again, knowledge is power when dealing with the availability heuristic. Remind yourself that anecdotal evidence is not statistically relevant in decision-making. Your Aunt Sue winning the lottery in no way improves your odds of winning big.

3. Bandwagon Effect

When we’re talking about types of bias, the bandwagon effect is a fairly common one. We’re more likely to be swayed the more people around us think a certain way.[4]

Think about serving on a jury. If in the initial vote, everyone says guilty except you, you’re much more likely to also think the defendant is guilty. The bandwagon effect looks a lot like peer pressure.

How to Be Less Biased

Stick to the facts. Know that people thinking a certain way doesn’t make them right, even if lots of people think that same way.

Advertising

4. Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias may be the most common type of bias. It’s when people only listen to information that confirms what they already believe.

Social media is like confirmation bias heaven. Think about your Uncle Steve who loves Political Candidate A. He only watches news and shares posts about how great his candidate is. This creates an echo chamber where any information to the contrary is avoided.

How to Be Less Biased

Listen to the counterargument and seriously consider it. If you only watch Fox News, start checking out MSNBC. If you only read The New York Times, start reading The Wall Street Journal. The more we seriously consider other perspectives, the more likely we are to reach a better conclusion.

Learn more about this here: What Is Confirmation Bias in Psychology and What to Do About It

5. Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains why the more you know about something, the less confident you are in your expertise. On the other hand, the less you know, the more simplistic your understanding is. Therefore, you are more confident in your grasp of something.[5]

How to Be Less Biased

If you find yourself being extremely confident about your expertise in something, take a step back and focus on what you don’t yet know or understand.

Aim for complexity. If something seems too simple, the problem is probably that you don’t yet know enough for it to be complex.

6. Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error is when you make contextual excuses for your own mistakes and failings but don’t do so for others.

Advertising

The most famous example is bad driving. If we are swerving all over the road, we’re quick to take a nuanced view of our own driving. We know that we’re just having a bad morning or that we have a lot on our minds today.

However, when we see another so-called bad driver, the fundamental attribution error means we’re quick to blame their driving on the fact that they’re old or a woman or some other stereotype or generalization, even though the other driver’s situation is just as nuanced as our own.

How to Be Less Biased

Any time you stereotype someone based on their flaws, check yourself. You have probably fallen victim to the fundamental attribution error.

Tell yourself that they are probably having a bad day or that you simply don’t know what their situation is. If you’re allowed to be nuanced and complex, so should they.

7. In-Group Bias

In-group bias is similar to the fundamental attribution error, but instead of thinking we are better than others, we think members of our group are better than members of other groups. We have a more favorable view of the people in our group just because they are in our group.

How to Be Less Biased

Just like with the fundamental attribution error, you need to actively think about the nuance and complexity of people outside of your group if you want to compensate for your in-group bias.

8. Optimism/Pessimism Bias

The next bias is really two different types of bias. The optimism bias is when you are more likely to think things will turn out well when you’re in a good mood. Whereas, the pessimism bias is when you’re more likely to think things will turn out badly when you’re in a bad mood.

How to Be Less Biased

Become emotionally intelligent. If you want to compensate for these types of bias, know and understand what you’re currently feeling and save important decisions for when you’re in a more beige mood.

Advertising

9. Selective Perception

This bias explains why some people seem to only see what they want to see. Selective perception is all about our expectations affecting our perception.

For example, you might expect your friend to do well in their presentation because they’re your friend and you think they’re amazing. Selective perception is the reason you may not notice all your friend’s mistakes but notice all the other presenters’ errors.

How to Be Less Biased

Keep your expectations in check to avoid selective perception. You may even want to pretend you don’t have any expectations. To put it simply, be aware of all types of bias and try your best to keep an open mind about everything.

Final Thoughts

One final bias gives us the best remedy for combatting all other types of bias: the blindspot bias. The blindspot bias explains why people notice other people’s cognitive biases but fail to notice their own.

So the best solution for overcoming all types of bias is to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Educate yourself about types of bias and then do a thoughtful inventory about your own biases.

And if you don’t think you have any biases, keep looking in the mirror because that’s your blindspot bias talking. Just like the rest of us, you have biases. But being aware of them and introspective about the way they affect your decision-making is a good way to not let them have the final word.

More on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Jan Tinneberg via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential How to Think Smart (If You Think You’re Not Smart Enough) 7 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Long Term Memory What Is a Fixed Mindset And Can You Change It? 9 Steps to Make Self-Regulated Learning More Effective

Trending in Smartcut

1 10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner 2 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People 3 50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry 4 How to Break Bad Habits (The Only Effective Way) 5 15 Daily Rituals of Highly Successful People

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Advertising
How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

Advertising

After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

Advertising

Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

Advertising

Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

Advertising

Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

Read Next