Personal Learning

Are you biased? Most of us are. Read on to find out.

Are you biased?  It turns out, most of us are.

The fact is, bias is a part of the human experience and occurs because of the way our brains operate. However, it’s important to recognize the presence of our biases because they can impact the decisions we make and have real world consequences. When our bias affects how we view and interpret information – and we don’t recognize that bias exists – then our opinions and decision making process is skewed without us knowing it.

While psychologists and social scientist have known for some time that cognitive biases exist, the topic has become popularized over the past decade thanks to the work of psychologists, researchers, and social economists. The work of 2 economists in particular – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (who won the Nobel Price in Economics in 2002) – have helped shape our understanding about how cognitive biases play a role in our daily lives.

In fact, over 180 different cognitive biases have been identified up to date.  Below, I’ve identified some of the more common biases that many of us experience. As you read through them, take a moment to think about whether any of these biases may have impacted any of the decisions you’ve made in the past.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias occurs when we use out existing beliefs to help justify an idea while dismissing information that conflicts with current beliefs. When we have confirmation bias, we make an internal decision to choose which information is the most relevant, but that decision is not necessarily based on fact.

Anchoring Bias

One of the most common cognitive biases, anchoring occurs when information that you receive first directly influences information you receive later, even if it shouldn’t. Anchoring is commonly used in sales and negotiation processes, where the initial offer is made by one side in order to set the stage for future discussions and influences the perception of the other party.


Have you ever reimagined your past experiences and, to some extent, left out all the bad stuff? Or have you even worried that nothing was going to go right in the future, but when the time comes, it does go right?

If so, you’re not alone. Declinism occurs when you remember the past even better than it actually was while assuming the future will be worse than it most likely will be. While it is certainly understandable why we may not want to relive all the bad stuff from the past – or fear the future – when we distort the most likely outcome, the decisions we make may not be optimal.

Negativity Bias

If you allow negative events, including loss, pain or missed opportunities, to guide your perception of a current situation, you are experiencing a negativity bias. As humans, we are built for survival and try to avoid pain and suffering. However, avoidance of pain and suffering can impact the quality of our decision making process and thinking.

One way to minimize negativity bias is to use analytical, point based systems for decisions. By using numbers and values to calculate the exact expected benefits and drawbacks of a decision, we can minimize our negativity and make decisions that are more aligned with the most likely outcomes.

Spotlight Effect

We all know what it means to be in the spotlight, but we don’t always realize how we put ourselves in the spotlight each day. The spotlight effect occurs when you overestimate the degree to which others notice what you do, wear, how you look, or how you act.

The principle behind the spotlight effect is that, in general, people take notice of us less then we think. The way we believe others think or feel about us can affect how we interact with them or how we feel about ourselves, even though our initial assumptions may be wrong or overstated.

The Takeaway: How to avoid cognitive biases

The first step is minimizing our cognitive biases and viewing the facts as they are is simple: learn more about cognitive biases. The more we understand what the biases are and how they work, the easier spot them and rethink our understanding of the information at hand. While we can never be 100% impartial, the more we understand how we shape our perceptions and process information, the more the impartiality we can be.

Here’s a trick to help get you started. The next time you are analyzing a situation or using information to make a decision, think of yourself as a computer that uses intelligent software to make decisions. Your computer is very analytical, has no emotions, and only relies on factual data. How would your intelligent computer analyze the situation and what would it’s likely opinion be?

By comparing that decision to the decision you would have made otherwise, you may gain insight into some of the cognitive biases you’re experiencing.   Give it a try and let me know how it it goes!

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