Cognitive bias causes us to routinely deviate from rational judgment, and to make inferences about other people and situations illogically.
A good example in the workplace is when you receive recognition, or an award, and you assume that your colleagues are all as happy for your success as you are; it makes us hurt and frustrated when we find out that this is not necessarily the case.
Cognitive bias can lead to decisions that have negative consequences for us and for those around us; but how do you recognise when it’s happening? What should you be on the lookout for?
It helps to identify some of the common types of bias that affect people: ten of these are detailed below:
1. Confirmation bias
This is a common one, and is present whenever you selectively search for, or interpret, information in a way that confirms your own preconceptions or hypotheses. If you often say “see! I told you so!” this bias may be in action – but it can lead to short-sightedness and restrictive thinking.
2. Endowment effect
This is the tendency to demand more to give up something than you would be willing to pay to acquire it. Think of trying to get customers to change to your product without a compelling reason to do so.
3. Gambler’s fallacy
This is the tendency to think that future probabilities are changed by past events, when in reality they are unchanged. The flip of a coin is still 50-50 to land on ‘tails’ even if it has landed on ‘tails’ for the previous 100 times.
4. In-group favouritism bias
This is where we give preferential treatment to those who are perceived as part of our own group. Such treatment may involve more attention, allocation of more resources, or better evaluation amongst peers for instance.
5. Mere exposure effect
This is where people develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. You probably know the phrase “Better the devil you know” – often used when this bias is active.
6. The ‘Bandwagon’ effect
This is the tendency to ‘go with the flow’, even when doubts about that course of action are present. A type of ‘group-mentality’ may take over individual thoughts and instincts. You’ve probably seen this at play in the office, where social pressures can be especially strong.
7. Anchoring bias
This is active when we rely too heavily on the first piece of information we receive, when making decisions. We use this initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments, even when new and relevant information comes to light.
8. Self-serving bias:
This is where we take responsibility for things that go our way, but not when they have negative outcomes. We have an in-built desire for success and self-esteem, which accounts for this bias. This is commonly the source of workplace conflict.
9. Negativity bias
Despite craving success, people are more likely to make decisions based upon negative memories and feelings than positive ones – another common bias. We tend to let setbacks affect us more than success, which may lead to risk aversion behaviour.
10. Projection bias
There is a natural tendency to assume that other people see the world the way we do – and we can get frustrated and disappointed when this is not the case.
The example from the introduction about others not necessarily celebrating our successes the way we expect is caused by this projection bias.
The above ten examples are just a few of the biases that may be at play in the human mind in any given situation. Being aware of them does not help us become completely free of them, but reducing their influence may help us reach better decisions.
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