DON’T HAVE BIASES, THEN THINK AGAIN!
Last month I shared with you six of the twelve thinking biases we are all subject to.
You can review these six here.
To recap, we are all subject to biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. A bias is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).
We, humans, tend to be apprehensive of change, which often leads us to make choices that guarantee that things remain the same or change as little as possible. Needless to say, this has ramifications in everything from politics to economics and to our personal lives. We like to stick to our routines, political parties, and our favourite meals at restaurants. Part of this bias is the unwarranted assumption that another choice will be inferior or make things worse. The status-quo bias can be summed with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — an adage that fuels our conservative tendencies.
People tend to pay more attention to bad news — and it’s not just because we’re morbid. Social scientists theorize that it’s on account of our selective attention and that, given the choice, we perceive negative news as being more important or profound. We also tend to give more credibility to bad news, perhaps because we’re suspicious (or bored) of proclamations to the contrary. More evolutionarily, heeding bad news may be more adaptive than ignoring good news (e.g. “sabre tooth tigers suck” vs. “this berry tastes good”). Today, we run the risk of dwelling on negativity at the expense of genuinely good news.
Though we’re often unconscious of it, we love to go with the flow of the crowd. When the masses start to pick a winner or a favourite, that’s when our individualized brains start to shut down and enter into a kind of “groupthink” mentality. But it doesn’t have to be a large crowd or the whims of an entire nation; it can include small groups, like a family or even a small group of office co-workers. The bandwagon effect is what often causes behaviours, social norms, and memes to propagate among groups of individuals — regardless of the evidence or motives in support. This is why opinion polls are often maligned, as they can steer the perspectives of individuals accordingly. Much of this bias has to do with our built-in desire to fit in and conform.
As individuals trapped inside our own minds 24/7, it’s often difficult for us to project outside the bounds of our own consciousness and preferences. We tend to assume that most people think just like us — though there may be no justification for it. This thinking shortcoming often leads to a related effect known as the false consensus bias where we tend to believe that people not only think like us, but that they also agree with us. It’s a bias where we overestimate how typical and normal we are, and assume that a consensus exists on matters when there may be none. Moreover, it can also create the effect where the members of a radical or fringe group assume that more people on the outside agree with them than is the case. Or the exaggerated confidence one has when predicting the winner of an election or sports match.
The Current Moment Bias
We, humans, have a really hard time imagining ourselves in the future and altering our behaviours and expectations accordingly. Most of us would rather experience pleasure or reward in the current/present moment rather than waiting for a larger future reward. This is a trend of overvaluing immediate rewards while putting less worth in long-term consequences. This is a bias that is of particular concern to economists (i.e. our unwillingness to not overspend and save money) and health practitioners. It has been found that when making food choices for the coming week, 74% of participants chose fruit. But when the food choice was for the current day, 70% chose chocolate.
It’s called the anchoring effect because we tend to fixate on a value or number that in turn gets compared to everything else. Anchors can be as simple as a comment from a colleague, a number, or a statistic from the morning’s paper. One of the most common types of anchor is a past event or trend. Anchors can establish the terms on which a decision will be made and are often used as a bargaining tactic. It is also why, when given a choice, we tend to pick the middle option — not too expensive and not too cheap.
Do you recognise any of these in your decision making? If so, what do you think you could do to limit the impact of your biases on your decision making?