Human thought and perception is subjective. Individuals use cognitive leaps and biases to make better or quicker decisions if there are too many choices. Other biases arise from the mind’s limited capacity or from consciously ignoring information. The subjective social reality created by the mind can be a help or a hindrance, but being able to look inside oneself to assess those biases is the first step.
Cognitive biases arise from five general, closely-related qualities of the human mind.
- Shortcuts in information processing
- Distortions in memory storage and retrieval
- Limited processing capacity
- Emotional and moral motivation
- Social influences
Cognitive biases are deviations from rationality that produce conclusions drawn illogically. Hence, many are similar or overlap with logical fallacies. There are dozens of cognitive biases studied and some of the most common are listed here.
- Expectation bias: The tendency for experimenters to believe data that agree with their expectations for the outcome and to disregard data that contradicts their original expectations.
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to seek out, analyze and remember only information that confirms preconceived notions.
- Stereotyping: Expecting a member of a group to have the same characteristics of other members of that group.
- Bandwagon Effect: The tendency to believe and accept claims because many others do.
- Bias Blind Spot: The tendency to see oneself as less biased than others.
- Hindsight Bias: The tendency to view situations that occurred previously as predictable at the time they occurred.
Some cognitive biases are unavoidable, and some are great assets for making quick decisions or processing lots of information. Understanding one’s own biases and those of others can help foster compromise in difficult or in contentious situations.
Images: “James Webb Primary Mirror” by NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham; “Cognitive Bias Codex” by John Manoogian III licensed under CC BY SA 4.0