Two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes“-but we can’t trust everything behind our eyes.
Watching a scary movie alone at home will activate emotions that cause us to interpret furnace noises as possible intruders.
Media attention towards gay-lesbian issues makes homosexuals cognitively available. In the U.S., the average adult estimated in a poll that 25 % of Americans are gay or lesbian – seven times more than the real number.
A student fails an exam. She blames the teacher and accuses him of including too difficult questions in the test.
The human mind is fascinating, isn’t it? Through our mind we perceive our environment; we manage our emotions and express our experiences. As rational as we like to think we are, our brain is riddled with ingrained patterns of thought which can lead us to be very irrational. This irrationality is caused by mistakes made by our brain when we evaluate ourselves or the environment. Individuals perform this so called „cognitive bias“every day even if they are unaware of it. You should know that politicians or sales people use these little shortcomings of our brains to use them against us. Therefore I would like to present some of them to you.
Confirmation Bias is the tendency to look for information that confirms one’s preconception. We love to agree with people who agree with us and we seek as friends the ones that bolster our own self views.
A journalist that cites in his article only experts that confirm his or her hypothesis is handling with confirmation bias. People in general have a tendency to visit only websites that approve their ideology, for example political views.
Or in other words, „what is beautiful is good principle“. The Halo-Effect, is the tendency to rate attractive individuals more favorably characteristics than those who are less attractive. One great example in action is our impression of celebrities. Imagine Angelina Jolie, a lot of people perceive her as an attractive woman. Some people also tend to see her as creative, funny or even intelligent. A teacher that sees a well-behaved student will assume this student is also bright, diligent, and engaged before that teacher has objectively evaluated the student’s capacity in these areas.
Availability Heuristics is a cognitive rule that judges the likelihood of things in terms of their availability in memory. After hearing or reading stories of rapes or robberies, people tend to overestimate the percentage of crime in their environment. Another example is that after watching a TV spot about lottery winners, you start to overestimate your own likelihood of winning the 1 mio. € Jackpot. Probably you will start spending more money than you should each week on lottery tickets.
Within this cognitive bias we attribute our successes to internal characteristics and blaming failures on external forces. Depending on our explanation we may interpret a homeless person as lacking initiative or as victimized by job and welfare cutbacks. Happy couples often more externalize their explanations (He was late because of heavy traffic). In contrast, couples with problems, attribute the cause more often internally (He was late because he doesn’t care about me). People often misattribute a behavior to the wrong source.
When people are trying to make a decision, they often use a focal point as a reference or starting point.
Imagine that you are trying to negotiate a pay raise with your boss. You might be uncertain to make an initial offer, but you should! Research suggests that being the first one to lay your cards down on the table might actually be the best way to go. Whoever makes that first offer has the control, since the anchoring effect will essentially make that number the starting point for all further negotiations. Not only that, it will bias those negotiations in your favor.
Failing to recognize your mistakes made by your brain is a bias in itself. Sometimes people notice cognitive errors more in others than in themselves.
What can you do to reduce such biases in your future, if you have been guilty in the past of allowing your brain to make mistakes such as the ones presented? Well, the good news is that just being aware of your cognitive biases is the first step. Giving some of these errors a name – such as ‘Self-serving bias’ – can alert you to their possible impact. Try to find your cognitive bias and become more rational in your daily life. Do not judge your environment by making mistakes.
To practice, go to the top of this article and put a name on the three mentioned cognitive bias in the introduction.