Cognitive biases affect the way you perceive and judge the reality around you: being aware of them can help you improve relationships and decisions, in your personal life and at work. Here's what they are, with some practical examples.
Have you ever shouted, "I knew this would happen!" after your favorite team lost right in the 90th minute?
Or have you ever found yourself reading news stories that incredibly all support your opinion on that topic?
Yeah, just as I imagined: situations like these, or nearly similar ones, will feel like you experience them practically every day.
Don't worry, you are not the only one!
It happens to everyone: the way we see reality is not always objective--in fact, almost never!
What am I referring to?
To the fact that our brains are flooded with millions of information: too much, compared to how much it could process properly. Reason why it often resorts to "strategies" to be faster, save time and make less effort. These are real mental shortcuts, but they sometimes lead him a bit astray and cause him to stumble over some errors in reasoning and evaluation.
These errors have a name: they are called cognitive bias (reads baias).
What are they? They are basically distortions, affecting our judgment and decisions, and explaining why our behaviors are not at all as rational as we would like them to be.
And you may be asking yourself now, "Why are you telling me about this? What does this have to do with the web marketing?"
Well, on the one hand, since they are unconscious, knowing how to identify them is the first step in making better decisions, in any area of your life: it helps you to be more aware of the causes and consequences of your actions. But there is another reason: these mental mechanisms are in fact the basis of the most effective neuromarketing techniques, so understanding and applying them in promotional strategies can be of enormous benefit in increasing leads and conversions.
No, not that you have to become an expert in psychology: just knowing that they exist and what kind they can be is a great tool at your disposal to apply in your private and professional life.
So read on to fully understand What are cognitive biases and find practical examples about it.
Cognitive biases: what are they?
When you have to make a decision, you usually tend to rely on your logical, rational thinking in the belief that it knows the best way to go.
Yet sometimes you find yourself going in the opposite direction and getting a result that is exactly the opposite of what you hoped for.
We all, after all, make bad choices from time to time: from the longest way to get the children to school, to the wrong pizza on the menu, to pants that have nothing to do with the jacket.
Why does this happen?
Because your mind is constantly under the influence of the cognitive bias.
But what exactly are they?
The word bias refers to something oblique o slanted: Wikipedia defines them as "A tendency to create one's own subjective reality based on the interpretation of the information in one's possession, thus leading to misjudgment or lack of objectivity of judgment".
Okay, okay, I'll make it easier for you right away.
Cognitive biases are "system errors" put in place by your brain to make your life easier: given the incredible amount of information it has to process every day, it finds shortcuts to make sense of them in the quickest and easiest way.
The problem is that such ploys are not always perfectly objective, because they depend uniquely on your life experiences.
In other words, cognitive biases represent The way your brain distorts reality..
This is because they make you interpret information about the world around you and condition the judgments you make. They act on how you think, how you feel, and how you behave; they control your life outside of pure rationality.
Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes too subtle and unconscious to be recognized: you are often unaware of the attitudes and behaviors that result.
The question at this point is why does this happen?
Well, the mind is a mechanism that is as complex as it is unknown, but experts on the subject say there are two main reasons, which I have already partly anticipated.
The first is the energy saving: Our attention is a limited resource, and we cannot always evaluate every possible detail when forming thoughts and opinions. The brain wants at all costs to conserve cognitive energy and work effortlessly if possible. And this, often, causes it to take shortcuts, which may seem smart on the surface, but then lead to mistakes.
The second is the quickness: our mind also wants to complete its tasks as quickly as possible. And so this is the situation: not only do you take the wrong path, but you also go down it too quickly, thus losing the last chance to make up for it in the process.
And what are the consequences?
That you end up, on the one hand, avoiding all that somewhat uncomfortable information, focusing only on what aligns with your thinking, and on the other hand seeing patterns or connections between ideas that do not necessarily exist for real. You thus act illogically, based on your own values, memory, and personal experiences. The resulting conclusions can then only be inaccurate and influence a whole range of behaviors, beliefs, and social interactions not always in a positive way.
Cognitive Bias: 9 Types (with practical examples)
The number of cognitive biases that can be triggered in the brain every day is vast: there are dozens and dozens of categories, and no matter how rational and logical each of us may consider ourselves to be, we are affected every day.
To help you better understand, I have selected and schematized for you 9 of the most common types of cognitive bias, giving you practical examples for each. Here they are.
#1 Actor-observer bias
Actor-observer bias occurs when attribute your actions or what happens to you to external causes and the behaviors of others to internal causes.
- If you have high cholesterol, it's because of genetics; if others have it, it's because they eat poorly and don't exercise;
- If an important meeting goes wrong for you, it is because you were jet lagged; if it goes wrong for your colleague, it is because he is not competent enough;
- If you fail the exam, it's because the teacher asked you too many trick questions, while your friend failed it because he didn't study hard enough.
#2 Anchorage bias
Anchoring bias is the tendency, when you have to make a decision, to Getting too influenced by the first thing you hear or from the first information you find (which functions as a kind of anchor).
- You find that the average price of a car is tot and think that any amount less is a good deal;
- During a trade, the first price value expressed typically becomes the reference point on which all further proposals are based;
- a physician's first impressions of a patient may erroneously influence subsequent diagnosis.
#3 Availability heuristics
The availability heuristic is the case where you think something happens more easily because you can think of (or are exposed to) so many examples of it.
- After hearing several reports of burglaries in your neighborhood, you may begin to believe that such crimes are more common than they are;
- You might believe that plane crashes happen more often than they actually do, because they talk about them a lot on TV in those days;
- When you decide to buy a new car, you see all of them of the same make or model around (whereas until the day before you had never noticed them).
#4 Hindsight bias
Hindsight bias is the tendency to believe that you predicted exactly how things were going, but only after they have ended. It is the classic case where you finally think "I always knew it" or you tell someone else "I told you so."
- You insist that you knew who would win the game once it was over;
- You think you always knew that political candidate would win the election;
- You think back to an exam, convinced you know the answers to the questions you missed;
- Do you think you could have predicted which stocks would become profitable.
#5 Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias happens when you validate your hypotheses by finding only evidence in your favor that reinforces what you already believe, while not considering information that might refute them.
- Follow on the social Only people who share your views;
- Choose news stories that support your views (while not finding sources that challenge them);
- You refuse to listen to your competitor's or opponent's point of view.
#6 Effect of false consent
The effect of false consensus is the tendency to believe that everyone thinks like you and that your opinions, beliefs and preferences are more widespread than they actually are.
- You want to share bombshell news with your best friend and you think he will have the same reaction you had when you found out;
- You agree to do something that you may not like completely just because you think other people in the same situation as you do the same.
#7 Halo effect
The halo effect occurs when you are swayed by your first impression of something or someone, judging it accordingly (this often applies especially to outward appearance). Basically, you get a good or bad idea based on a single relevant trait (positively or negatively).
- You meet a very beautiful person and automatically assume that they are also nice or intelligent;
- If you are introduced to someone dressed in designer clothes, you think it's the classic stinky rich guy.
#8 Optimism bias
Optimism bias happens when you think that nothing bad or negative can ever happen to you (or that there is little chance of it happening anyway).
- You smoke, believing that your body will never get sick;
- You don't wear a seat belt because you believe you will never be involved in an accident;
- You eat out of order because you believe your health is not affected by nutrition.
#9 Selfish bias
Selfish bias is the tendency to believe that your successes are solely your own merit, while Your failures are the fault of others.
- If you win at poker it is because you are good, if you lose it is because you were dealt a bad hand;
- If you win an athletic competition it is because you worked hard to prepare; if you lose it is because you were put at a disadvantage by unfavorable conditions (such as rain).
Cognitive bias: can it be avoided?
Cognitive biases affect everyone. It may be easier for you to see them in others, but it is important to know that it is something that affects the way you think as well. Because every human being's brain is governed by precise mechanisms that work the same way for everyone.
Now, it is clear that you cannot control your mind 100%, let alone your thoughts. You are also made of instinct and emotions, so to think that you are logical and rational at all times is surely a utopia.
What you can do, however, is minimize them or at least contain their effects. Here are some things that can help you do that:
Be aware that they exist and affect the way you approach reality: the first step in "preventing" cognitive bias is to realize that they are there; only then can you be self-critical and challenge them;
When you have to make a decision, always consider all factors that may influence you;
Always seek and take in information from different sources than you normally would: a diverse group of people around you, for example, helps you approach any decision-making process differently;
Take time to analyze a given situation, evaluate the way you reason, and always seek other perspectives than the standard ones you tend to consider.
So what do you think?
Have you found yourself in any of the examples described?
Mind you, the fact that these biases affect you does not mean you should make a big deal out of it.
All of us, as human beings, have prejudices ingrained in our minds from the day we are born. They are the result of our upbringing, experiences and relationships.
It does not automatically mean that all your actions are wrong or guided by faulty reasoning: what is important is to know that sometimes your brain can be very adept at making you believe things that do not conform to reality.
This is an important step for your personal growth and one that will have a positive impact on a variety of areas of your life, including work.
Just think about your relationships with your family, friends or colleagues, or all the times you have had to negotiate or make an important decision for your company or business.
My advice? Use tools to help you evaluate background information systematically, surround yourself with people who will challenge your opinions, and listen carefully and empathy their suggestions, even when they tell you something you don't want to hear.