If you have ever looked at an attractive person and without speaking to them assumed they are also kind and intelligent, then you have succumbed to what is known as a cognitive bias.

When you read this post you will learn what cognitive biases are, why we have them, where they come from and how to reduce their impact.

You will also learn 21 of the most common cognitive biases that affect our everyday lives.

Cognitive Bias Definition

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that affects how we perceive and interpret information. It influences how we make judgments and decisions.

Cognitive biases can lead us to make poor choices and overlook important facts.

21 Common Cognitive Biases

Here are 21 common cognitive bias examples people experience on a day to day bases.

Cognitive BiasDescriptionExample
Confirmation BiasTendency to seek or interpret information that confirms existing beliefs.Watching news channels that align with your political views.
Anchoring BiasRelying heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions.Pricing a product based on its initial cost instead of its actual value.
Availability HeuristicOverestimating the likelihood of events based on how easily they come to mind.Assuming flying is more dangerous than driving after hearing about a plane crash.
Bandwagon EffectAdopting beliefs or behaviors because many others do.Buying a trendy product simply because it’s popular among peers.
Sunk Cost FallacyRefusing to abandon a decision or project because of past investments.Continuing to watch a boring movie because you’ve already paid for the ticket.
Gambler’s FallacyBelieving that past random events influence future outcomes.Thinking a roulette wheel is “due” for a black number after a series of reds.
Overconfidence EffectOverestimating one’s abilities or the accuracy of judgments.Thinking you’ll ace an exam without proper preparation.
Self-Serving BiasAttributing successes to internal factors and failures to external ones.Taking credit for a project’s success but blaming external factors for its failure.
Halo EffectLetting an overall impression of a person influence judgments about specific traits.Assuming a physically attractive person is also intelligent and kind.
Hindsight BiasBelieving an event was predictable after it has occurred.Claiming you “knew it all along” when a stock you predicted rises in value.
Framing EffectDecisions influenced by how information is presented.Choosing a product described as 90% fat-free over one described as 10% fat.
Dunning-Kruger EffectUnskilled individuals overestimating their abilities and vice versa.Inexperienced drivers thinking they are better than they are, leading to accidents.
Loss AversionPreferring avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains.Holding onto a declining stock to avoid admitting a loss.
Negativity BiasFocusing more on negative information than positive information.Remembering a single criticism among many compliments about your work.
Social Desirability BiasPresenting oneself in a favorable light to be socially accepted.Responding positively to survey questions to appear more virtuous.
Authority BiasGiving more weight to opinions of perceived authority figures.Accepting medical advice from a celebrity rather than a qualified doctor.
In-group BiasFavoring members of one’s own group over outsiders.Hiring and promoting employees from the same university as the hiring manager.
Fundamental Attribution ErrorOverestimating internal factors and underestimating external factors when judging others.Assuming a coworker is always late due to laziness rather than traffic issues.
False Consensus EffectOverestimating the extent to which others share our beliefs and behaviors.Assuming everyone in a country agrees with your political views because your friends do.
Status Quo BiasPreferring the current state of affairs over change.Resisting updating an outdated software system because “it’s always been this way.”
Choice-Supportive BiasRetroactively ascribing positive attributes to choices we’ve made.Praising a car you’ve purchased, downplaying its flaws after the decision.

Why Do We Have Cognitive Biases and What Causes Them?

Cognitive biases are not random mistakes or glitches in our brains. They are adaptive mechanisms that help us cope with the complexity and uncertainty of the world.

Our brains are constantly processing a huge amount of information, which means we need shortcuts and rules of thumb to simplify and speed up our decision making

As you will see, even though these short cuts are there to help us, they have drawbacks.

For instance, when we see other people doing something we will assume it is safe without knowing what we are getting ourselves into.

Just from that one example, you can see the issues a mental bias can cause us. It can make us feel over confident, we will miss important evidence, succumb to social pressure and ignore alternatives that may be better for us.

How Can We Overcome a Cognitive Bias?

Can we overcome a cognitive bias?

We cannot get rid of cognitive biases completely, which is good thing, we need them, without them we would have to think things through from first principles every time. We just don’t want them to affect us and others negatively.

For instance, a perception bias (making assumptions based on what people and things look like) is a cognitive bias affect that is useful when we go to a new country. The short cut will allow us to greet people with the local polite greeting who look like they live there. But it can become negative when we use it to stereotype people in the work place. Especially if we use a negative trait to make our first impression.

Good news is we can reduce this natural human bias impact so it does not influence us in negative ways.

Another example I like to use is that of negotiation. Whether you are negotiating a business deal or a salary, you do not want to have the anchor bias used against you.

If you remember, the anchor bias means when making decision’s we will rely heavily on the first piece of information we encounter.

So in this case, if the employer comes in with a low starting salary you will use that as your starting point for negotiation. You will make a counter offer with a lower value than you otherwise would have done.

I made this mistake and I found it hard to motivate my self to do the job because I knew I low balled myself in the salary negotiations.

You want to be aware of this this tendency to anchor, and counter it with much higher amount, even more than what you originally had in mind.

Here are Some Strategies that Can Help You Reduce the Impact of a Psychological Cognitive Bias…


Know Your Bias:

The first step is to recognize that you are not immune to cognitive biases, and that they can affect your thinking in various situations.

Seek out different perspectives:

The second step is to expose yourself to different sources of information and opinions that challenge your existing beliefs or assumptions. Make sure you look at different aspects of an issue.

Think critically and Analytically:

The third step is to evaluate the quality and validity of the information and arguments that you encounter. This will add balance to your inherent brain bias.

To do this, ask yourself questions such as:

Where does this information come from?

How reliable is it?

What are the assumptions behind it?

Are there alternative explanations or interpretations?

What are the potential biases or motives of the source?

Seek Feedback and Learn from Mistakes:

The fourth step is to admit when you are wrong or uncertain, and learn from your gaps in knowledge, see it as an opportunity for growth. Ask for feedback from others who can point out your biases.

A Cognitive Bias is Not a Logical Fallacy

A logical fallacy is an a error in reasoning. A common one is the straw man. This is where someone simplifies or exaggerates a point you are making.

Cognitive biases meaning is different, it is a description of how the brain interprets data it receives from world.

Conclusion

A cognitive bias is a psychological bias inherent in our brain.

Biases are short cuts and rules of thumbs that help us make faster decisions and reduce the amount of brain power we need, saving us time and energy. Two of our most valuable resources.

However biases can lead us to make bad choices by not seeing valuable evidence and they make us open to being influenced and follow other people blindly.

We cannot get rid of them but we can reduce their negative impact by knowing they exist and becoming aware of how they show up in our life.

The great thing I found is that once I learned about biases, much of my confusing decisions and “mistakes” made sense. I improved my emotional intelligence because I understood myself and others better.

I found it useful to download an online biases poster and keep it handy, just to keep them fresh in my mind.

When you see what your bias is in any given situation you will experience the same light bulb moments as I did.

See also Living in the Present Quotes and Elephant and Rope Mindset