Cognitive Bias is the tendency to acquire and process information by filtering it through our own preferences and experiences. These “errors” in thinking affect our decisions and judgements, and often occur as a result of attempting to simplify information processing. Just think how long it would take to make even the simplest decision if we had to consider every single option!
Here are 7 examples of cognitive bias that you’re almost definitely guilty of:
- The Bandwagon Effect
So-called because you’re ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, this is essentially thinking or acting in certain ways because other people do too.
This explains, for example, the popularity of Apple products or why watching ‘Made in Chelsea’ is your guilty pleasure.
It also helps to explain how echo chambers form. People trust information more when it’s provided by their social circle, rather than news media. All it takes is for one person to say something, and someone else to overhear it and repeat it, and the process continues exponentially. This leads us nicely onto…
- Confirmation Bias
If you have ever sought information that supports your preconceived beliefs, then you are guilty of confirmation bias!
No-one likes being wrong, so we surround ourselves with people and information that confirms our beliefs. This can be illustrated by echo chambers – I only have to think back to the EU Referendum to see this in action. As a student of European languages at the time, I was surrounded by people who had the same attitude as I did! My Facebook feed was more of the same, and there is no way that I could have predicted the result. Evidently, I had made subconscious choices about what information I read and actively “liked”. In fact, the Semmelweis Reflect might have had something to do with that…
- The Semmelweis Reflex
Named after Ignaz Semmelweis, whose discovery that hand-washing reduced incidences of puerperal fever and related mortality rates was a break-through, the Semmelweis reflex is the act of only believing what we want to believe, and rejecting new information that challenges our views. Back in the 1800s, Doctors rejected Semmelweis’ theory, often for non-medical reasons – some even claiming that it was impossible for a gentleman’s hand to transmit disease!
- Causation Bias
Okay, so, you’ve sent a couple of messages on WhatsApp, the ticks have turned blue, but still no reply. They’re annoyed at you, right? Wrong! (Unless, you know, you have *actually* annoyed them – oops!). Causation bias is the belief in a non-existent cause/effect tendency. Maybe they’re distracted, and just forgot to reply!
This is also how stereotypes are formed, particularly negative ones. A common example is the false correlation between belonging to a statistical minority group and a type of rare, usually negative behaviour – one that features heavily in today’s society is the link between Muslims and terrorism, despite Islam being a religion that promotes peace, love and kindness. Which leads to…
- Negativity Bias
Think of one excellent and one awful experience of customer service. Which was the first to spring to mind? I predict that, in most cases, you thought of the negative experience first. This is Negativity Bias – a tendency to recall more unpleasant memories and experiences than pleasant ones. In fact, our bodies and brains are hard-wired to react more intensely to negative information; studies have shown that negative stimuli trigger more neural activity than positive ones. This makes them more memorable!
- Loss Aversion
Remember way back in January when you signed up to your local gym? Remember how you promised yourself you’d go at least once a week? Remember how busy you were, but it was okay – you’d go next week instead? Remember how ‘next week’ turned into ‘next month’ and then ‘not at all’?
Why not just cancel your membership?
Loss Aversion is the reason why not! We tend to prefer to avoid incurring losses where possible, over acquiring an equivalent gain. In fact, the psychological effect of a loss is said to be twice as powerful than that of a gain. So, that gym membership – you’re more worried about losing it than you are about using it!
How much would you expect to spend on a pint in London? A quick poll in the office came up with £5. Decent price, no surprises there.
So, if I told you could get a decent pint for £3.90, that’d be cheap, right? Or maybe it’s poor quality?
Now, what if I told you the average price of a beer in London is actually £3.92. I bet that £5 seems expensive now! It certainly makes the £7.50 for a pint at Singer Tavern in Shoreditch seem eye-wateringly expensive, even if it is a craft beer from Sweden!
This is anchoring in action: making all future decisions and judgements based on one, and usually the first, piece of information you have.
So, there you have it – we’re all guilty of these cognitive biases, and the research and reading I did to write this blog proves it. Oops – a hint of confirmation bias there! Guilty!
Charlotte Robinson, Administrator