Cognitive biases affect virtually everything in our day-to-day lives. This isn’t necessarily an inherently bad thing, either. Human beings naturally have biases as a way of making decisions that feel safe and right. The non-so-good aspect of this is that sometimes, the biases we hold might lead to bad decisions or at the very least decisions that are not healthy or fair. Luckily, biases are not set in stone. In fact, when one understands a bias that they might have, one can learn to combat that bias and think more critically.
We make thousands of decisions each and every day. Factors like our environment, lived experiences, upbringing, and emotions heavily influence our ability to make decisions. Some of those decisions are very benign, while others are very important. In order to make the healthiest and most informed decisions, it helps to recognize the kinds of biases that one might have. In this guide, we’ll break down ten common biases that affect how everyone makes their everyday decisions, so you can learn and improve your mental health.
10 Common Biases That Affect How We Make Everyday Decisions
Most people will be able to identify with these very common biases, but some of these biases might just surprise you!
The Bandwagon Effect Bias
This bias involves believing or even performing an action based on the fact that the people around you are also doing or believing the same thing. Human beings are social creatures by nature, and the behavior of the heard is determined by our perception of majority thought. When we look at positive or affirming indications from online reviews, it might seem like purchasing an item is a good idea because everyone else is doing this. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the wisest decision to make. Try to think critically and avoid relying heavily on the opinions of your peers. Rather, look at the facts and measure all the factors involved. The herd isn’t always right.
The Anchoring Effect
The Anchoring Effect involves focusing a little too much on the first bit of information you are given when making a decision. For example: You’re negotiating the cost of a product and are happy when you are able to purchase that product for the negotiated discount of $5. However, the product may not be worth what you paid for it and may not even be something you really wanted. This can be quite an issue when purchasing small or very large things. You can tackle this bias by taking a step back to think is the price is actually a good price, or if you are perceiving the value of the product incorrectly.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is one that we’ve all seen before– and sometimes even have fallen victim to. This bias involves the overestimation and underestimation of one’s abilities. For example: A dad with absolutely no plumbing skills is confident he can fix an extremely complex leak. A skilled biologist makes a discovery but wonders if they were wrong due to a lack of perception of their own skills.
You should not make decisions based on your assessment of your own skills, as it can be easy to overestimate and underestimate your abilities. A person with limited abilities may tap into their ego and think they are more qualified than they are. Likewise, a person with significant competence should avoid the urge to overprocess and overthink their skill-based decisions.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy Bias
We invest our energy into a lot of things, even things that do not reward us. The Sunk Cost Fallacy involves the refusal to abandon a thought or investment that is not rewarding or possibly even damaging simply because we have invested a lot of time, thought, energy, effort, or even money into it. If you’ve ever sat through a bad movie simply because you’ve already put an hour into it, you’ve fallen victim to this fallacy. To battle this bias, remind yourself to remove your emotional investment from the choice you are making. This way, you’ll be able to more effectively rationalize your lost time or money in order to sever your ties.
Optimism and Pessimism Bias
Human beings have the annoying tendency to overestimate how likely a positive outcome will occur, especially if we’re in a good mood. We also have the tendency to overestimate the negative outcome of an event if we are not happy or in a bad mood. Optimism and pessimism inform a lot of our decisions in the moment. If you are making a particularly important decision, this tried-and-true phrase is great advice: “Sleep on it!” Wait until you are in a different mood or have had time to think the decision through, so your predictions are not overly positive or negative.
The Framing Effect Bias
The Framing Effect is a common bias that involves drawing a number of different conclusions about something, based on the different ways the exact same data is presented. For example, a friend might tell you that George isn’t a nice person because he isn’t very nice to his mother. That information, presented in that way, may not be enough to sway you on George’s character. However, another friend might present that same information but with more convincing language and details, thus swaying you. This is a tactic used in politics and media quite a bit. In other ways, the framing effect can be an excellent way to make more informed decisions based on an approach that is easier for one to understand. Regardless, listen to all of the data offered to you and really try to pick apart its true meaning.
Confirmation bias involves the (usually unconscious) act of looking for information that confirms your deeply-held beliefs and making that information a priority over different information that can prove you wrong. Think of it as approaching a challenging view as automatically wrong because you already have information (whether true or not) that confirms what you want to hear. You can deal with this bias by looking at your deeply held beliefs and doing the kind of research that one would do to prove YOU wrong. Is there actually a lot of information out there that doesn’t align with your beliefs? By overcoming confirmation bias, you will be able to make decisions that are significantly more informed and open yourself up to new perspectives.
Reactance is the need to do the opposite of what someone requests. This is deeply rooted in the idea that we view certain things as a violation of our freedom of choice and thus reject it entirely. Many people have this bias towards corporate marketing and advertising, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, reactance can be rooted in other psychological roadblocks that can keep one from making an informed decision. If you are offered information that does not align with your existing understanding of the subject, ask yourself this: Are you resistant to this new information because you know it to be wrong, or because your ego does not want to admit that you were wrong or incorrectly informed?
We’ve all been there. “My professor hates me, that’s why he failed me out of the class.” “This person is only mad at me because they’re jealous.” The tendency to be self-serving in our opinions is rooted in our egos. Nobody wants to be wrong or admit they were not right. Just as well, we tend to assign our successes to our own ability and shine in the light of our “goodness.” When something objectively bad or good happens and your knee-jerk reaction is to award yourself or blame others, revisit the timeline of your actions and the actions of the person or situation you are blaming it on.
After something occurs, especially something negative, it is common to think that you could have predicted the occurrence after it happened. For particularly ridiculous situations, you might kick yourself for not noticing how obvious the outcome will be. You might even convince yourself that you have incorrectly remembered a prediction made before the occurrence in order to confirm your hindsight bias. Fight this bias by reminding yourself of the odds: Could you REALLY be sure that a person you deeply trusted would run away with the money you lent them? Sometimes hindsight bias can be accurate. But more often than not, it is the result of us kicking ourselves for making a choice that turned sour.
How was our guide to ten of the most common biases human beings make on an everyday basis? Tell us which bias surprised you personally in the comments section below!