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Published on February 7, 2020

9 Types of Bias That Cloud Our Everyday Judgement

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition.

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Published on May 26, 2020

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

Problems are, by their very nature, problematic. There are life problems, work problems, creative problems, and relationship problems. When we’re lucky, intuition takes over, and we solve a problem right away. When we’re not so lucky, we get stuck.

We might spend weeks or even months obsessing over how to write that term paper, get out of debt, or win back the love of our life. But instead of obsessing, let’s look at some effective problem solving techniques that people in the know rely on.

Ideation Vs Evaluation

It’s important to first understand and separate two stages of creativity before we look at effective problem solving techniques. Ideation is like brainstorming. It’s the stage of creativity where we’re looking for as many possible solutions as we can think of. There’s no judgment or evaluation of ideas at this stage. More is more.

After we’ve come up with as many solutions as possible, only then can we move onto the evaluation stage. This is when we analyze each possible solution and think about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s when all those good ideas from ideation rise to the top and the outlandish and impractical ones are abandoned.

7 Problem Solving Techniques That Work

Everyone has different ways of solving problems. Some are more creative, some are more organized. Some prefer to work on problems alone, others with a group. Check out the problem solving techniques below and find one that works for you.

1. Lean on Your Squad

The first of our seven problem solving techniques is to surround yourself with people you trust. Sometimes problems can be solved alone, but other times, you need some help.

There’s a concept called emergence that begins to explain why groups may be better for certain kinds of problem solving. Steven Johnson describes emergence as bottom up system organization.[1] My favorite example is an ant colony. Ants don’t have a president or boss telling them what to do. Instead, the complicated organization of the ant colony comes out of each individual ant just fulfilling their biological destiny.

Group creativity can also take on an emergent quality. When individuals really listen to, support, and add onto each other’s ideas, the sum of that group creativity can be much more than what any individual could have created on their own.

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Therefore, if you are struggling to solve a problem, you may want to find a group of people with whom you can collaborate, so you can start riffing with them about possible solutions.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

The next of the problem solving techniques is to be honest about how you’re feeling. We can’t solve problems as efficiently when we’re stressed out or upset, so starting with some emotional self-awareness goes a long way in helping us problem solve.

Dr. Daniel Siegel famously tells us to “Name it to tame it.” [2] He’s talking about naming our feelings, which offers us a better chance of regulating ourselves. I have to know that I’m stressed or upset if I want to calm down quickly in order to get back to a more optimal problem-solving state.

After you know how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate that feeling. If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, you can take a walk or try breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can also help you regain your sense of presence.

3. Listen

One thing that good problem solvers do is listen. They collect all the information they can and process it carefully before even attempting to solve the problem.

It’s tempting to jump right in and start problem solving before the scope of the problem is clear. But that’s a mistake.

Smart problem solvers listen carefully in order to get as many points of view and perspectives as possible. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the problem, which gives them a huge advantage in solving that problem.

4. Don’t Label Ideas as Bad…Yet

The fourth of the seven problem solving techniques is to gather as many possible solutions as you can. There are no bad ideas…yet.

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Think back to the two stages of creativity. When we are in the ideation stage, we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas, input, and possible solutions.

When we evaluate, judge, and criticize during the ideation stage, we inadvertently hamper creativity. One possible outcome of evaluating during ideation is creative suppression.[3]

When someone responds to someone else’s creative input with judgment or criticism, creative suppression can occur if the person who had the idea shuts down because of that judgment or criticism.

Imagine you’re at a meeting brainstorming ways to boost your sales numbers. You suggest hiring a new team member, but your colleague rolls their eyes and says that can’t happen since the numbers are already down.

Now, your colleague may be 100% correct. However, their comment might make you shut down for the rest of the meeting, which means your team won’t be getting any more possible solutions from you.

If your colleague had waited to evaluate the merits of your idea until after the brainstorming session, your team could have come up with more possible solutions to their current problem.

During the ideation stage, more is more. We want as many ideas as possible, so reserve the evaluation until there’s no more ideating left to do.

Another trick for better ideating is to “Yes And” each other’s ideas[4] In improvisation, there’s a principle known as “Yes And.” It means that one improviser should agree with the other’s idea for the scene and then add a new detail onto that reality.

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For example, if someone says, “I can’t hear over your loud music,” the other person needs to go along with that idea and then add onto it. They might say, “Sorry, I’ll turn it down, but I don’t think everyone else here at the club will appreciate it.”

Now the scene is getting interesting. We’re in a club, and the DJ is going to turn the music down. Playing “Yes And” with each other made the scene better by filling in details about who and where the improvisers are.

Yes Anding also works well during ideation sessions. Since we’ve already established that we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas yet, Yes Anding gives us something we can do. We can see the merits of each other’s ideas and try to build on them. This will make all of our possible solutions more fully realized than a simple laundry list.

5. Approach Problems With Playfulness

Approaching problem solving too seriously can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes we get too fixated on finding solutions and lose a sense of playfulness and fun.

It makes sense. When there are deadlines and people counting on us, we can try to force solutions, but stepping back and approaching problems from a more playful perspective can lead to more innovative solutions.

Think about how children approach problem solving. They don’t have the wealth of wisdom that decades on this planet give. Instead, they play around and try out imaginative and sometimes unpractical approaches.

That’s great for problem solving. Instead of limiting ourselves to how things have always been done, a sense of play and playfulness can lead us to truly innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Let the Unconscious Mind Roam

This may seem counterintuitive, but another technique to try when you become too fixated on a problem is to take a break to let the unconscious mind take over for a bit.

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Our conscious brain can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. Plus, it’s energetically exhausting to use our conscious brain for problem solving. Think about a time when you were studying for a test. It’s draining.[5]

But we’re in luck. There’s another part of our brain that isn’t draining and can integrate tons more information at a time—our unconscious.

This is why you come up with your best ideas in the shower or on your way to work or while you’re jogging. When you give your conscious brain a break, your unconscious has a chance to sift through mounds of information to arrive at solutions.

It’s how I write my articles. With my conscious brain, I think about which article I’m going to write. My problem is how to write it, so once I think carefully about the topic, I take a break. Then, the structure, sources, content, and sometimes phrasing happens in fits and starts while I’m not thinking about the article at all. It happens when I’m lying in bed, showering, and walking in the woods.

The key is to get in the habit of practicing this alternation between conscious and unconscious problem solving and to absolutely not force solutions. Sometimes, you just need to take a little break.

7. Be Candid

The last of the problem solving techniques happens during the evaluation stage. If we’re going to land on the best possible solution to our problems, we have to be able to openly and honestly evaluate ideas.

During the evaluating stage, criticism and feedback need to be delivered honestly and respectfully. If an idea doesn’t work, that needs to be made clear. The goal is that everyone should care about and challenge each other. This creates an environment where people take risks and collaborate because they trust that everyone has their best interest in mind and isn’t going to pull any punches.

Final Thoughts

In order to come up with the best solutions for problems, ideation and evaluation have to be two distinct steps in the creative process. Then, you should tap into some of the above techniques to get your ideas organized and your problems solved.

Hopefully, these seven problem solving techniques will help your problems be less…problematic.

More Tips for Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Steven Johnson: Emergence
[2] Dr. Dan Siegel: The whole-brain child
[3] American Psychological Association: Creative mortification
[4] Play Your Way Sane: And What?: Yes And
[5] Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

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