What is Cognitive Bias?
Cognitive Bias is a systematic error or pattern of deviation that occurs when people process and interpret information about the world. Individuals construct a subjective, constructed reality not based on objective inputs or facts, which in turn then impacts decision making and behaviour.
Cognitive biases can lead to inaccurate judgements, illogical interpretations or distorted perceptions and is sometimes referred to as irrationality. However, these biases are often a means of simplifying information by finding shortcuts or generalisations to help navigate the world. Cognitive bias results in faster decision-making.
Types of Cognitive Bias
- Decision-making biases
- Judgement based biases
- Memory based biases
- Motivation based biases
- Group based biases
Cognitive Bias #1: Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search, select, analyse, interpret and recall information that supports an existing belief or value. Individuals will ignore facts that contradict their view, and favour interpreting ambitious evidence that supports their beliefs. It is strongly displayed for deeply rooted values or on issues that are emotionally charged. Confirmation bias cannot be eliminated entirely but Critical Thinking skills can help mitigate and manage it.
An example of Confirmation bias is found during elections. Individuals tend to actively seek information that casts their preferred candidate in a positive light, and the opposition in a negative light.
Cognitive Bias #2: Anchoring Effect
The Anchoring Effect occurs when an individual’s decision making is influenced by a specific point of reference, known as an ‘Anchor’. Once an Anchor is established, all subsequent perceptions, estimates and suggestions are changed to accommodate for it. This is one of the harder biases to avoid or mitigate.
An example of the Anchoring Effect is when choosing to purchase a car. If two car models are placed side by side, one being more expensive, individuals are more likely to buy the cheaper car. However, this does not mean the chosen car is cheaper relative to all available options, only to the more expensive model. In this case the expensive car acts as an ‘anchor’ from which a price benchmark has been set.
Cognitive Bias #3: Groupthink
Groupthink is a socially driven psychological bias where the need to maintain harmony within a group of people can result in dysfunctional or irrational decisions. The desire for cohesiveness can lead to group members agreeing at any cost, in order to reach a consensus with minimal conflict. As a result, decisions are made without critical evaluation or proper analysis. Since controversial issues or alternative solutions are side-lined to maintain harmony, there is a loss of independent thinking and creativity.
An example of Groupthink is found in organisations with a strong hierarchical culture, where employees will always defer to and agree with the most senior individual.
Cognitive Bias #4: Halo Effect
The Halo Effect occurs when positive impressions formed about a brand, individual, product or organisation in one specific area then further positively influences someone’s feeling for them in other areas. This bias is built on an unfounded belief of things being either good or bad based on previous interactions and judgements.
An example of this would be judging an individual to be nicer or meaner based on their photograph despite never having communicated with them in any form. In HR and recruitment practices, the Halo Effect can bias an HR executive in preferring one candidate over another based on appearance alone instead of experience.
Cognitive Bias #5: Authority Bias
Authority Bias is the tendency to give greater weight and assign greater accuracy to the opinions of a person in a position of authority, regardless of the context. It is classified as a social cognitive bias since the authority figure greatly influences an individual’s own perceptions, beliefs and opinions on a given matter. This is the result of both social and cultural conditioning, which teaches that a person in authority has earned or deserves the position they are in.
An example of this is the Military, where the individual orders stemming from an rising Chain of Command is followed and expected to be followed without question, regardless of the ethical or moral issues associated to the order.