3 Common Cognitive Biases and How to Avoid Them
Cognitive biases are errors in our thinking that are not necessarily grounded in logical or rational thought. These biases can ultimately influence our judgements, beliefs, decisions and points of view. Everyone is subject to cognitive biases, but being aware of them is the first step to avoiding them.
Psychologists continue to discover a growing number of cognitive biases that we may be susceptible to. These biases arise from what are known as “heuristics”, which are shortcuts that we take in our thinking to make quick judgements. These shortcuts, however, can result in biased assessment of a particular circumstance, ultimately influencing our decisions.
This article explores three common cognitive biases and also gives insight into methods that we can use to avoid them.
1. Fundamental attribution error
This is a well-known cognitive bias that arises from our inclination to attribute someone else’s behaviour to who they are as a person rather than to a particular situation. For example, a person might judge someone who parked their car in a way that left little room for others to park alongside as inconsiderate or incompetent — when in fact, that someone may have parked in the way they did because there was an emergency. Asking ourselves “what else could be the reason” for someone else’s behaviour avoids this bias from influencing our thinking and decreases the chance of making snap judgements.
2. Confirmation bias
This bias occurs when we use information that we come across to support our preconceived notions. For example, a person might believe that all dogs are vicious. With this belief, they are primed to notice news reports or anecdotal stories of dog attacks to support their belief, when in fact, many dogs are docile and each has a different personality just like we do. Another example might be a radiographer looking for a particular anomaly to confirm their bias while examining a patient’s scan—possibly missing features to an alternate diagnosis in the process. These examples illustrate that we are all prone to confirmation bias, and the steps to avoid this is to first be aware of it, and second, to keep an open mind and make a conscious effort to refrain from forming preconceived ideas.
3. Self-serving bias
As the name suggests, this bias is indeed self-serving because it is the tendency to attribute our successes to our own adeptness and skill, while attributing our failures to outward factors. This bias serves us well in insulating our self-esteem from elements that might undermine it. Research shows that the dynamics of self-serving bias may differ between cultures. A person from an individualistic society might attribute their successes as described, whereas a person from a collectivistic culture might attribute their successes to their family or society. Because the self-serving bias is beneficial to us, it might not necessarily be in our best interest to avoid it entirely. However, it does sometimes pay to be realistic about our successes and failures so that we can improve and learn from them.
In summary, we are all prone to cognitive biases. They are processes of our thinking borne out of efficiency of thought. In this way, some cognitive biases can be beneficial, but they can sometimes lead us to making irrational judgements. Being aware of these three common cognitive biases ultimately serves to help us in understanding our thinking better which can aid us in making better decisions.