Start perceiving the world as it is, by avoiding imperfect and irrational choices
We are imperfect humans. Our thinking is often far from perfect. It is not always based on logic, reasoning, and rationality. However, we remain ignorant of many things when we act, decide or make choices. Each one of us is prone to commit such errors, also known as cognitive bias (cognition means thinking process).
We tend to make illogical or irrational decisions on many occasions. Let’s see some of the common examples of cognitive biases and then you will realize how commonly we commit such errors in our day-to-day life.
- We tend to attribute success to our own superior/better qualities while blaming failure on others or outside factors.
- We tend to believe things because many other people also believe the same. This is also called crowd mentality or herd behavior.
- We have a tendency to overestimate our own abilities.
- We tend to look or search that information in a way that confirms our beliefs or perceptions
- We have a tendency to follow or adopt the opinions or behaviors of the majority so as to feel safe and to avoid conflict.
We can make out from the cognitive biases listed above that we are so tempted to process and interpret information that we gather or perceive from the outside world in a biased manner. The interpretation of information is not purely logical and rational. The result is that we make poor and irrational decisions. The decisions and choices we make are not purely on merit.
There are over a hundred such biases we commit or experience from time to time. Rarely, we are aware of such cognitive bias when we commit ourselves. Some of these biases we start experiencing at an early age mostly from our parents. Then gradually we see others and start interpreting information or imitate others in a similar fashion.
The question now comes as to why are we prone to such biases. The simple explanation is that the brain continues to process huge amount of information/data during the day but we attend to only a small part of that information that we consciously think about.
Hence, our conscious part of the brain is capable to focus only on one thing at a time, so our brain looks for shortcuts to help in making decisions. We are mostly in a hurry to make choices based on our past experiences.
Cognitive biases may also be described as the inherent imperfection in thinking that we all make in processing information.
These thinking errors prevent us from accurately understanding the reality around us. Even if we have with us all the necessary information or data but we would like to stick to our earlier experiences.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of biases. First, there are information biases, which include the shortcuts to information-processing that produce fast and efficient – though not necessarily accurate decisions based. We often attempt to simplify information-processing and, as a result, our thinking becomes biased.
The second kind of biases is that involve our ego. Here the decisions are motivated by our emotions, moods and feelings. Social influences such as peer pressure, or what others will think become the basis of our biases. Such biases invariably lead to irrational decisions based on distorted perception, inaccurate judgment, and illogical interpretation.
Indeed, not all biases are bad. Psychologists have found that many of our biases serve an adaptive purpose so that we can take quick decisive action based on the available information, especially when we are in a hurry or in any dangerous and threatening situation.
These biases are rooted deep in our psyche. These all biases lead to poor decisions, bad judgments and imperfect choice making. Sometimes small errors in our decision making can have wider implications on our lives. We never know when any judgmental mistake can have huge ramifications which can affect not only us but also others.
The time we get up from our bed in the morning and till the time we sleep, we keep on making choices, mostly routine and repetitive but many times fresh choices. We are completely unaware of the fact that quite often we make choices wrongly because of cognitive biases. Over the past few decades of research, large number of cognitive biases has been identified. More than hundred biases are documented now.
Some of the commonest biases are negativity bias, confirmation bias, overconfidence effect, outcome bias, choice supportive bias, bandwagon effect, gambler fallacy, self-serving bias, post-purchase rationalization, herd instinct, and hindsight bias. While taking decisions, we are very often using these biases.
We always considered ourselves as ‘better than others’ decision-maker. We think of ourselves as ‘above average. Most of therefore use this bias all the time in our life.
What is Confirmation Bias?
We always have a tendency to search or interpret information in a way that confirms our perceptions. This is called confirmation bias. It’s a cognitive bias that involves favoring the information that would confirm our previously held beliefs. For example, the investor would only seek out information that will confirm his existing belief and then accordingly filtered out information. Many people think that those who are religious and visit religious places frequently are morally honest and they can’t commit serious immoral acts.
Some think that left-handed persons are more emotional and sensitive compared to right-handed ones. Likewise, many medical practitioners have confirmation bias on many aspects especially while diagnosis the patients. Due to this bias, we tend to commit errors of judgment or make faulty decisions while making choices or making decisions. Such errors can have cascading effects on others.
Another extremely common cognitive bias is negativity bias. No one can escape from it. The media industry including print and electronic media suffers from this bias. When we read any newspaper or watch television, we can notice how negative news items are highlighted and repeated over and over again. They know very well that people love watching distressing and negative news.
We tend to give far more importance to news that is negative in nature. Negativity Bias is the tendency to give more weight to negative experiences or information than to positive ones.
Take one more example of self-serving bias. We have a tendency to attribute success to our own self while blaming failures on outside forces. This is how; our thinking and choice-making ability become flawed through cognitive biases.
Another common irrational choice or decision we make is because of the sunk cost fallacy. When we invest in something then we don’t want to leave in between. Suppose we put in 20 years of married life, despite having toxic and unhealthy marriage we don’t want to discontinue that marriage because the couple has invested huge time and energy.
When we watch a movie, after spending says 2 hours, we don’t want to leave the movie as we already spent money and time. The sunk cost fallacy keeps us wasting time, money, and energy on things that are long past the point where people had a chance of working out. That’s why many toxic relationships like bad marriage continue forever.
It’s extremely difficult to overcome these biases and fallacies that are hardwired into our thinking process. Since our early childhood period, many beliefs get embedded into our minds and these become part and parcel of our identity.
Many of the cognitive beliefs arose from our belief system. The most effective way to overcome these biases is to be aware and pay attention to our internal environment. Whenever we are about to take a big decision, pause and breathe. Give ourselves a few seconds to reflect. Ask whether our choice is rational and logical. There are fair chances that our choices will not be biased and irrational.
Through the practice of mindfulness, we can make our decisions and choices more rational and unaffected by our biases and prejudices. We can observe things non-judgmentally and openly. Many biases are related to the problem of attention. We don’t pay adequate attention while making choices. Therefore, by being aware and by paying attention in a non-judgmental way, we can overcome the problem of cognitive biases to a great extent.
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