Cognitive Bias

Cognitive Biases That Explain Why We Make Stupid Decisions

Cognitive Biases. Do you think the decisions you make are rational? Are they the fruit of a deep reasoning exercise? The truth is that most are not. The decisions that we face day to day we make them almost automatically thanks to mechanisms called heuristics and cognitive bias. Find out more about cognitive biases, how they help us make decisions, sometimes stupid decisions and how to reduce their negative impact on our lives.

Cognitive biases

What are Cognitive Biases?

A cognitive bias can be defined as a deviation from our reasoning and cognitive process that leads us to illogical conclusions, distortions, and errors of thought. Cognitive bias distorts the way we see reality and are very common.

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us make decisions quickly. However, sometimes cognitive bias can have negative consequences by drastically distorting reality. Cognitive biases affect our daily social communications skills and interactions, even our scientific work.

Our brain tends to save energy. You will try to make things as easy and quick as possible. If we had to analyze every possible variable every time we made a minor decision our brain would overload. It is, therefore, useful to use heuristics or shortcuts that can make our decision-making processes lighter. Particularly when we can’t access as much information as possible.

However, we use these shortcuts even when we have a lot of reliable information. When these heuristics lead us to incorrect judgments, then we are faced with cognitive biases. These biases make us act irrationally and make decisions, often stupid or incorrect ones. It was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who first spoke about heuristics and cognitive biases, which earned Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics shared with Vernon L Smith. When most of our decisions take us down the wrong path it’s important to be aware why and work on them as well as on our emotional intelligence. Since cognitive biases are based on your reasoning and cognitive processes it’s important to keep our cognition in shape. Find out how you can do this through CogniFit.

Types of Cognitive Biases and how to avoid them

What types of cognitive biases do we use? How can we stop using them or minimize their use to enhance our critical thinking?There are a lot of biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used, but there are

There are a lot of cognitive biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used.

1. Cognitive bias of the bandwagon effect

This bias relates to believing in something cause many other people do. The probability of a person believing in something increases depending on the number of people who support it. The more people believe the more the person is likely to believe. People tend to follow the crowd, without thinking about whether, really, what they are doing makes sense or not. However, not necessarily because everyone does it, does it have to be good.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Before doing something because most people around us do, think first if it is really something you want to do or is it simply to follow others. Weigh out as much information as possible, investigate whether it makes sense or not.
For example, before starting a detox diet, ask yourself, investigate and reflect. Is this diet healthy?

2. Cognitive Confirmation Bias

It is the tendency to seek and interpret the information that comes to us in a way that confirms our beliefs and, in parallel, ignore or give less importance to the information that contradicts them. For example, if I think that drinking milk is bad, I will give more importance to arguments, research, and news that say that milk is harmful and will detract importance to those who say that milk is beneficial. Even if I drink milk and then I have a stomach ache it is easier to attribute it to the milk than to the vegetables I ate at noon.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Always consider the full range of opinions, both those that are in favor and those that are against your beliefs or opinions. This way you can see the situation more objectively and you can create an opinion, based on all possible data, instead of biased and partial information. Also try to ask yourself how or why you know something, where did you get that information? Is it truthful?

3. Cognitive bias of fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error consists in giving external explanations to our errors and internal to our successes. As well as, we will give internal explanations to the errors of the others and external to their successes. For example, if our favorite team wins, we will think “we are the fastest, we have the best players”. If our rival team wins, we will think “the referee was biased” “the other team cheated”.

When we make a mistake we tend to give an external explanation, for example, if we arrive late we will think: “there was a lot of traffic”, “someone held me up”. , on the contrary, our companion is late, we will think ” he is always late”, “he woke up late”.

This mistake helps us protect our self-esteem, yet it is still a misconception.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Try being open-minded when someone makes a mistake, it might not be his fault. Give praise to people for their success that it can also be because of their abilities, not just because of others. Mistakes are part of a set of circumstances that can be to ability or situation. Therefore, we should analyze it carefully to know which circumstance has more proof. Don’t be so quick to judge others or yourself. 

4. Hindsight Cognitive Bias

Surely, after something happened, you have thought, “I knew it.” and actually believed you saw it coming. This is the retrospective cognitive bias.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? When you think that you had predicted something, think about the real odds. If there were really low odds, it’s hard for you to have known it was going to happen.

5. Anchoring Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency of human beings to “anchor” them or to focus on the first piece of information we receive and then make judgments or make decisions. Different anchor points will give different results, even if these initial values are random. For example, imagine that you are going to buy a car and the first place you go you are asked 50,000 euros. You know that’s a very high sum, but to the places you go after, even if the price reduction is minimal, comparing it with the first one, you’ll see it more reasonable (even if it’s still not).

And this applies not only to the financial sphere. A doctor can anchor himself to the diagnosis of some illness by the first symptoms that he sees, and ignore other symptoms or data.

Anchoring- Cognitive Bias

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Reflect carefully on whether the offer they have made is really reasonable or we are comparing it with the initial price. Think about whether you really believe that what you’re doing is because you think it’s the right thing or you’re “anchoring” some facts and giving up other data.

6. Blind Spot Cognitive bias

It is the tendency to believe that we are less biased or less prejudiced than we are. What happens is that we often think that what we believe is true. We are convinced we have the truth in our hands making it more difficult for us to identify our prejudices.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Realize that we all have prejudices, to a greater or lesser extent, nobody is free from them. Reflect on what you think. Ask: What evidence do I have that this is so?  This will help you identify your prejudices and by being aware of them you will be able to not let yourself be guided by them.

7. Illusory Correlation Cognitive Bias

It consists in believing that two events are related when in fact we have no proof that it is so. This bias is related to superstitious behavior.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? That two events happen close together or you established they usually happen together it does not mean that they are related. For example:A woman believes that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. When she hears of a dog attack in the news, she assumes it is a pit bull that attacked. Therefore, it is best to be cautious and not assume relationships between two events or things until you have more information.

8. False Consensus Effect- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that our beliefs and opinions are more widespread than they really are. It is the belief that our attitudes and beliefs are common and appropriate.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Everyone sees the world from their own perspective and sometimes it is difficult to get away from it. Before assuming that everyone else thinks alike, remember that everyone has their own mind, their own ideas, beliefs and opinions. We may share some, but that can only be known by talking to or getting to know others.

9. Illusion of Control- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that we can control or influence certain situations or events, when in fact it is not so.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Being realistic about what we can or can’t control. We will pass an exam thanks to our study and effort, not because of our lucky charm. People do not have the ability to control time, or the outcome of a football game.

10. Availability Heuristic – Cognitive Bias

We overestimate the importance of the information that we have more available and accessible. We will see a fact or situation as more frequent and probable if we have at our disposal information about that fact.

For example, we can argue that lifestyle is not so important in our health because we know someone who smokes, drinks, does not exercise and does not eat healthily and is 90 years old.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? He thinks that the most frequent or most frequently presented information is not the most representative. What will really be reliable when determining the frequency of something is the statistical basis of the fact.

Find out more about cognitive biases behind irrational decisions in the following video.

We hoped you enjoyed this article and that you can put into practice these tips. Feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.