How many times have you given in to an impulsive purchase only to regret it within minutes? Or have you put off a project, ending up accumulating a thousand? Or maybe you went astray at the table, developing endless feelings of guilt? In all cases, cognitive biases may be to blame. 

Don’t you know what they are? Don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone. But the time has come to run for cover because it is a very important concept for your mental well-being and your psycho-emotional balance.

In fact, cognitive biases are mental constructs based on wrong perceptions, prejudices, judgments and ideologies that lead you to make decisions that almost always turn out to be very bad for you. That’s why you have to learn to know them and bypass them.

Cognitive Biases Are “Mistakes” Made By Our Mind

Cognitive biases are “mistakes” made by our mind. While we often think we are infallible, in reality we are not at all. Our brain, on average, makes 35,000 decisions every day: a truly impressive number. It shouldn’t surprise you, therefore, that it occasionally goes haywire: if most of these choices are correct, some are not at all.

To cope with the thousands of stimuli it receives daily, your mind uses shortcuts. In many cases these shortcuts are useful and help you to quickly and efficiently interpret situations and act promptly. In other cases, though, these shortcuts lead you down dead ends.

What Do Cognitive Biases Depend On?

Cognitive biases, therefore, are intuitive and hasty mental procedures, which derive from a distorted interpretation of reality. But what do they depend on? 

They are certainly related to data overload: if the mind is flooded with billions of information, it is more likely to “go ballistic”. However, a lack of detail can also be detrimental. In fact, if we don’t have indications to think about, we can fall into error and reach incorrect conclusions.

Speed ​​is another risk factor: if we want to think and act quickly, we are more likely to follow dysfunctional mental shortcuts. But it is not an absolute dogma: the brain is made to process data quickly, so it is sometimes perfectly capable of making the right decisions almost instantaneously.

Finally, we must not forget that our memory is selective: it keeps some memories, deleting others and even distorting some facts.

Cognitive Bias Shouldn’t Be Underestimated

Mental shortcuts are not negative a priori. On the contrary, they allow us to act quickly and make quick decisions in potentially dangerous situations. Cognitive biases, however, can generate significant consequences, so you should never underestimate them.

Some cognitive biases, while continuous and repeated, are “harmless”. Others, on the other hand, can give rise to consequences that are not insignificant, which impact not only your behaviors, but also your thought processes, causing you emotional pain. That’s why it’s essential that you learn what they are and above all that you become aware of their impact on your life.

For example, another typical short circuit is the self-serving bias, which leads you to think that the successes you have achieved are only thanks to your efforts and your skills, while the failures have been caused by external factors or by other people. It’s a negative belief because it doesn’t allow you to learn from your mistakes and grow.

Common Types Of Cognitive Biases

1. The Hindsight Bias

The hindsight bias is a common cognitive bias that involves the tendency to see events, even random ones, as more predictable than they are. It’s also commonly referred to as the “I knew it all along” phenomenon.

Some examples of the hindsight bias include:

  • Insisting that you knew who was going to win a football game once the event is over
  • Believing that you knew all along that one political candidate was going to win an election
  • Saying that you knew you weren’t going to win after losing a coin flip with a friend
  • Looking back on an exam and thinking that you knew the answers to the questions you missed
  • Believing you could have predicted which stocks would become profitable

2. The Misinformation Effect

The misinformation effect is the tendency for memories to be heavily influenced by things that happened after the actual event itself. A person who witnesses a car accident or crime might believe that their recollection is crystal clear, but researchers have found that memory is surprisingly susceptible to even very subtle influences.

For example:

  • Research has shown that simply asking questions about an event can change someone’s memories of what happened.
  • Watching television coverage may change how people remember the event.
  • Hearing other people talk about a memory from their perspective may change your memory of what transpired.

3. The Anchoring Bias

The anchoring bias is the tendency to be overly influenced by the first piece of information that we hear. Some examples of how this works:

  • The first number voiced during a price negotiation typically becomes the anchoring point from which all further negotiations are based.
  • Hearing a random number can influence estimates on completely unrelated topics.
  • Doctors can become susceptible to the anchoring bias when diagnosing patients. The physician’s first impressions of the patient often create an anchoring point that can sometimes incorrectly influence all subsequent diagnostic assessments.

4. The Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias is the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Through this bias, people tend to favor information that reinforces the things they already think or believe.

Examples include:

  • Only paying attention to information that confirms your beliefs about issues such as gun control and global warming
  • Only following people on social media who share your viewpoints
  • Choosing news sources that present stories that support your views
  • Refusing to listen to the opposing side
  • Not considering all of the facts in a logical and rational manner

How To Overcome Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive biases, therefore, can hide various dangers and give you an emotional overload. However, you can adopt strategies to avoid harmful consequences.

For example, to counter self-serving bias, you can ask yourself questions such as: “Could I have done something different to change what happened?“, “What did this outcome depend on?“…

To prevent the confirmation bias from making you stubborn about your position, preventing you from considering other opinions that maybe could be useful to you, try questioning yourself instead. 

Are you really sure that your idea is the best? And when planning a strategy, think about the ways you’ve ruled out a priori: are they really that wrong?

In conclusion, if you don’t want mental shortcuts to set you insidious traps, learn to recognize the ones you most often adopt and study moves to neutralize them. Emotional (and non-emotional) self-awareness also makes the difference from this point of view.