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How do cognitive biases influence your decisions ?

Picture by Francesco Ungaro

As we saw in our previous article, the right decision will be the result of the attention paid to the various parameters that make it up. 

But paying attention to these parameters does not protect us from cognitive biases that can negatively affect the quality of our decisions. 


1.                   What are cognitive biases ?  


Cognitive biases are (erroneous) thinking mechanisms that, usually unconsciously, interfere with cognitive information processing. These biases will influence our analysis — even if done meticulously — of the situation, distort our reasoning, and therefore change our judgment.  

These mental shortcuts are systematic, so that for each of us a certain situation will result in a certain cognitive bias. 

Cognitive biases affect us all. And being aware of their existence is often not enough to protect us from them.  


2.                   How do cognitive biases influence our decision ?   


There are more than 200 cognitive biases that can influence the rationality of our decisions. 

The best way to address these cognitive abnormalities is to classify them based on the decision-making parameter they affect.  

Let's recall the formula behind all decision-making  (see previous article):  


formule ENG.png

Cognitive biases will sometimes affect the information we have, sometimes the logical connections we will make between the information on the one hand and between the information and the goal pursued on the other, sometimes the goal itself! 


a.                   Cognitive biases that affect information  


These cognitive biases affect the way we perceive reality. They cause us to consider information that is not true and reliable, or lead us to not attach sufficient importance to the information available.  

Because information is the raw material of any argument, we quickly understand the dramatic impact that biased, incorrect information can have on our final decision. 

Let's take a look at some common biases below that affect the veracity of the information available:  


o        Confirmation bias 

Confirmation bias is the common tendency to seek and consider only information that confirms our beliefs and to ignore or discredit information that contradicts them. 


o        The illusory truth effect 

The illusory truth effect (or illusion of truth effect) is the tendency to link the degree of truth of information to the number of times we are exposed to it. The repetition of information tends to make us think it's acceptable. 


o        Representation bias 

Representation bias is a mental shortcut of considering just a few pieces of information that aren't necessarily representative or relevant. 


o        The contrast effect 

The contrast effect means that when we experience two similar things at the same time, our perception of the second is affected by that of the first.  


o        Overconfidence 
Overconfidence is the tendency to overestimate one's own abilities. In different domains, more than half of the participants are convinced that they have better skills than the median.  


o        Negativity bias 

Negativity bias is the tendency to give more weight to negative experiences than positive ones and remember them more. 

o        Optimism bias 

Optimism bias, on the other hand, is a tendency to pay more attention to good news than to bad news. 


o        The recency effect 

The recency effect is the tendency to better remember the latest information we have been confronted with. 


o        Primacy effect 

The primacy effect is the tendency to remember more of the first information we were confronted with. 


As we can see, these biases will  affect the quality of the information or the way we use this information as part of our decision-making.  

These biases will lead us to rely on false information, attach too much importance to information that doesn't deserve it, or omit relevant information from the analysis.  


b.                   Cognitive biases that affect thinking 


These cognitive biases affect the way we select and process available information. 

They will manifest themselves in a break in the logical relationship between the information between them on the one hand and between the information and the goal pursued on the other. 

We will then be guided to see logical connections where there are none, to create shortcuts that will harm the quality of our decision. 


Let's take a look at some biases below  that affect the quality of our thinking and impair our decisions:  


o        Faith bias 

Faith bias occurs when the judgment of the logic of an argument is biased by the belief in the truth or the falsity of the conclusion. So we will ignore logical errors if the conclusion matches our beliefs. 


o        The fundamental flaw of attribution 

The fundamental flaw of attribution is the tendency to overestimate personal factors (such as personality) to explain other people's behavior and underestimate contextual factors. 


o        The causality illusion 

The causality illusion consists of perceiving a relationship between two unrelated events or exaggerating a relationship that is weak in reality. For example, the association of a certain characteristic in a person with the fact that he belongs to a certain group, while the characteristic has nothing to do with the fact that he belongs to that group. 


o        Framing bias 

Framing bias is the tendency to be influenced by how a problem is presented. For example, the decision whether or not to proceed with the surgery may be influenced by whether the surgery is described in terms of success rate or failure rate, even if both figures provide the same information. 


o        The halo effect 

The halo effect consists of generalizing a judgment from an element. It occurs when the perception of a person or group is influenced by the opinion one previously has for one of its characteristics. For example, a person with a good physical appearance will be considered intelligent and trustworthy. The familiarity effect is also a halo effect. 


These biases will therefore affect the selection and processing of available information and reduce the relevance of our argument.   


c.                   Cognitive biases that affect the goal pursued 


We have seen that cognitive biases are by nature unconscious mechanisms. 

However, the cognitive biases that affect the pursued goal are particularly deceptive because they lead us to insidiously replace the initial goal with another goal, without us being aware of it.  


The information and reflection will not be wrong in absolute terms, but will meet a goal that is not the one we initially pursued. 


Examples include: 


o        Conformism bias

Conformism bias is the tendency to think and act as others do. It is the result of our natural need to belong. 

Circumstances, others, our need to belong, will thus insidiously change our original purpose and transform it into a new goal: to make the same choice as others. 

The only useful information then becomes the choice of others, with the reflection limited to: if others do X, then I must do X  to achieve  the goal of conformity. 

Instead of quietly and freely thinking about the option that best fits the goal we had set ourselves, we will consider and reflect on the group's information to achieve this new objective. 

The information and reflection are therefore correct and meet the set objective. The problem lies precisely in this goal, which is no longer the originally set goal, but that of compliance: this mutation being caused by the bias. 


o        Intra-group favoritism bias 

Intra-group favoritism bias is the tendency to favor people who belong to the same group as us over people who do not belong to it. 

Here, too, the bias will impact our wish, our goal. The bias will make us long for something we hadn't imagined when setting the goal. 

We will then use the available information and think in the right way to achieve this – unconsciously – biased goal. 

The problem here is not at the level of information or reflection, but at the level of the goal pursued. 


o        De status quo bias  

The status quo bias is the tendency to prefer to leave things as they are, where a change seems to bring more risks and disadvantages than potential benefits. 

It can therefore be assumed that the final choice is not rational in relation to the original objective. But the final choice will be very rational in view of the biased goal, which will contain a risk aversion of which we were not aware. 

Here too it is the objective pursued that is biased and not information or reflection. 


This kind of prejudice will lead us to unconsciously incorporate our (equally unconscious) fears and needs into the original purpose. The objective will be changed and the selection of information and reflection will adapt to this new objective. 

The information used will be correct, the logical links will be correctly established, but they will not meet the goal we initially had in mind. They will meet the biased objective. 


3.                   How  to limit  the impact of cognitive biases ? 


Cognitive biases are the major enemies of decision-making:  

·                     They have a significant impact on our decisions and can make them completely irrational and inappropriate; 

·                     They impose themselves on us, whether we are aware of it or not. 

It is particularly difficult to protect ourselves from them, because we remain subject to them even if we all know them and have them constantly in mind. 

So, what can be done to limit their impact? 

The solution will differ depending on the parameter affected by the bias. 


a.                   Biases that affect information and information processing (arguments) 


1.                   Knowledge 

Be aware that our information and thoughts may be biased. Knowing the existing biases will allow us to recognize them and identify them more easily. But, as we have seen, even if knowing these biases will allow us to limit their impact, it will not be enough to remove them. 


2.                   Collective intelligence 

Everyone is affected by cognitive biases, but not everyone is affected in the same way and under the same circumstances. 

The use of collective intelligence therefore makes it possible to cross-refer, control, challenge, complete information. 

This collective reflection will allow everyone to become aware of the biases that would have affected their information and/or reflections and will dilute the risk and impact of cognitive biases. 


b.                   Biases that affect the goal to be achieved with the decision to be made 


1.                   Knowledge 

In the same way as for prejudices that affect arguments, we need to realize that our goals may be biased and that we know the existing biases so that we can more easily recognize and identify them. But, as we have seen, even if knowing these biases will allow us to limit their impact, it will not be enough to remove them. 


2.                   Conditions surrounding decision-making 

We will make sure that we put ourselves in the best conditions so that our purpose is not altered by external circumstances, and in particular by conformism that intervenes very often. 


It can be helpful for the decision maker to distance himself from these social pressures, to isolate himself, or even to anonymize participations in the context of collective intelligence to limit this bias of conformism. 


In any case, it will be necessary to ensure that the opinions of others are taken into account only as information and do not change our purpose. 


Other circumstances such as timing, our own fears and needs (not considered at the time of setting the original goal) can likely affect this original goal. It will be necessary to pay attention to this and regularly ask the question whether the original goal is still the goal that is pursued - consciously or not. 



Qwiid allows you to avoid all cognitive biases through the use of collective intelligence on the one hand, and by providing structure, potential anonymity, and optimal thinking conditions (via distance and asynchrony).  


In future posts, we will dissect the concept of collective intelligence to understand its benefits and limitations. 


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