These common cognitive biases are rampant and can easily skew your thinking. We’re all vulnerable to being misled and not thinking as clearly as we could – even when we think we’re behaving in our best interest.
These cognitive biases can negatively affect our decision-making, critical thinking, and behavior, getting us stuck in ways that work against us.
It’s important to be aware of them so we can recognize when we fall into these mind traps.
Cognitive biases are mind traps we easily fall into. If we’re not aware of them, we’ll get stuck without even knowing it.
Leigh Espy, Project Bliss
Since I’ve become more aware of cognitive biases, I’m seeing them leveraged everywhere. They’re clearly used in marketing, political speeches, and ad campaigns. I was acutely aware of some but wondered if there were others I didn’t know about, that were tricking me into behaving in ways that were not in my best interest.
One of the most fascinating aspects of these cognitive biases is that even though I’m aware of them, I still fall for them. We all do.
QVC shopping network is a master of using cognitive biases. They successfully use scarcity, social proof, celebrity influence, and more to get people to fork over billions of dollars. In 2020, they generated over $11 billion in sales.
To combat the risk of falling prey to these tendencies, it’s helpful to be aware of these mind-tricks all around us.
What does Cognitive Bias mean?
Cognitive biases are shortcuts in thinking that our brain takes to help us make sense of the world. They help you simplify the way you process information, so it makes more sense to you. You’ve got information coming at you every day. Sometimes you need these shortcuts so that the information isn’t so overwhelming and you can navigate and make decisions more easily.
Why It’s Important to Know These Common Cognitive Biases
It’s helpful to know what these common cognitive biases are because they can trick you into making assumptions and decisions that aren’t always in your best interest. And if you think you’re immune to them because you’re smart enough to recognize them, then you’re probably wrong. There are triggers everywhere and it’s easy to fall prey to them.
We often interpret information and the world in ways that keep us stuck or acting in ways that are harmful. Knowing many of these common cognitive biases can help you avoid getting tripped up by them. Once you notice them, you’ll more readily see when you fall victim to them yourself.
17 common cognitive biases that trick your thinking
These 17 common cognitive biases can easily trick you into thinking or acting in ways that aren’t always in your best interest.
Anchoring happens when we base decisions on one piece of data, even though there are many others available. It’s usually the first piece of information that people base impressions on. People form opinions on only a small piece of information rather than on a larger number of details.
Example: Seeing a price tag marked $50 and then seeing the seller has marked it down 30% to $35 makes people believe they’re getting a great price – even if the value isn’t there.
Seeing someone drive up in an old car may cause you to believe they’re poor, when in reality they may have many other reasons for driving that car.
First impressions are important because people anchor their opinions of you based on them.
2. Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for information that confirms our existing views rather than seeking new ways of viewing the situation. In short, we believe what we want to believe. Then we seek information that supports those beliefs. We either ignore or discount contradictory evidence.
Example: I want to drink coffee each day, so I search for articles and information that support the perspective that drinking coffee daily has health benefits.
3. Social Proof
Social proof occurs when we’re influenced by the actions of others. We believe that if others are engaging in a behavior or belief, then it must be agreeable.
This bias is also known as the “bandwagon effect.” It’s known by this term because seeing people behave in a certain way can influence others to do the same.
One common example is the use of customer product reviews or testimonials. If other people think the product is great, then it must be true.
4. Availability Heuristic
Availability heuristics occur when we assume that whatever comes easily to mind is more important, or likely, than other possibilities. People judge the likelihood of something happening based on how quickly it comes to mind.
Example: You must travel across the country and have seen airplane crashes on the news. Therefore, you now believe traveling by airplane is more dangerous and decide to travel by car instead.
5. Halo Effect
The halo effect is our tendency to judge a person’s overall traits based on one positive trait. For example, we believe that because they are friendly, they must be trustworthy, or maybe even smart.
People may believe that because someone is attractive, they must be smart and competent.
Example: You strike up a conversation with the person at the next table at a cafe. They’re warm and friendly. As a result, you believe they must be honest. Later, when you take your infant daughter to the bathroom, you ask them to watch your purse and other belongings at your table while you’re away since you believe you can trust them.
“You’re way too hot to be acting like that.” Yungblud
6. Framing Effect
The framing effect is the tendency to make choices based on how information is presented, rather than on the content of the information. We perceive options differently based on how it’s explained or presented to us.
For example, if your child is asking to stay up 30 minutes past her bedtime, she might point out that this would give you more time to be together and cuddle. She frames the option focused on the positive outcome, rather than focusing on the negative loss of sleep. This sways your decision based on how she presented the information to you.
7. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The tendency to believe that because you’ve put a great deal of time, effort, or money into something, continuing on that path is the best course of action. We’re far more likely to continue down a path if we’ve made a significant investment, even if it’s not the best choice.
For example, you purchased a used car that needed a good deal of work, and ongoing maintenance will be expensive. Because you’ve already put so much money into the car, you choose not to sell it, even though it would be more cost-effective to sell it and purchase a car that has lower maintenance costs.
Another example is the desire to continue on a project you’ve put a lot of money and effort into, even if it no longer provides the best solution or outcome.
8. Planning Fallacy
The planning fallacy is the tendency to underestimate how long a task will take to complete, although it’s taken longer when you’ve done it in the past.
For example, you believe you’re going to write an article quickly, even though it always takes you much longer than you plan for. Or creating that project document always takes at least 3 hours, but you think you can knock it out in 30 minutes.
Groupthink occurs when a member of a group goes along with the overall group opinion to maintain harmony. People prefer congruence and consistency. In order to maintain order, they will ignore preference or dissenting beliefs to instead “go with the flow” and follow the group’s choices.
Example: You want to point out that the project vendor may not be the best choice, but all other group members want to vote for this vendor and move forward. As a result, you don’t resist and instead go along with the group’s opinion.
10. Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two or more conflicting beliefs. People want consistency, so holding conflicting beliefs causes discomfort. People will adjust their thoughts or behaviors to accommodate for this.
A personal example of cognitive dissonance might be my belief that parenting is the most important job an adult can do, but I also want to work long hours to get a lot of work done and, therefore, I miss family time. This causes me discomfort and I try to justify my behavior (or at least I feel very guilty.)
Another simple example is holding the conflicting beliefs that sugar is bad for you but you would enjoy a sugary treat after a dinner out, so you justify allowing yourself to have it.
11. The Curse of Knowledge
Once you know something, it’s hard to unlearn it or see from the perspective of others who don’t understand. This can cause you to assume that others know more than they actually do. It can also make it very hard to explain that topic to others, since you don’t remember what it was like to not know the material or information.
Example: it’s hard to explain elements of your project to customers or others who are new to it, since you assume they must already be familiar with some elements of it.
12. Commitment Bias
Also known as consistency bias, commitment bias refers to the desire to stay consistent with what we’ve said or done in the past.
Example: If we publicly declare support for a political figure or a vegetarian diet, we’re far more likely to publicly follow through and continue to voice our support.
13. Inattentional Blindness
Inattention blindness occurs when you fail to notice something because your attention has been focused so acutely on something else.
Example: You’re walking across the room looking at and talking to your sister, and trip over the dog who was right in your path all along. Or you’re driving down the road looking at a Ferrari and fail to notice a stop sign.
14. Hindsight Bias
Hindsight bias is the tendency to think past events are highly predictable. It’s referred to as the “I knew it all along” bias.
Example: If your football team wins the game, you believe you always knew they were going to win. If a politician you voted for lost, you believe you knew in advance that they would lose.
15. The Dunning-Kruger effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency for people with low competence or skills to overestimate their skills and abilities. When a person has a little knowledge, their confidence jumps very high, as they assume they’re highly skilled in an area simply because they know a little about it. But as they gain more information, their confidence drops. Then, as they learn more or gain more experience or skill, their confidence rises again.
Example: When I first started learning project management, I assumed I know a lot about it. Then I started studying for my PMP and learned that there was a great deal of information I still didn’t yet know! Oooof!
It’s easy to get tricked into the distorted thinking these common cognitive biases pull us into. And when we do, we’re not thinking as clearly as we could, and as a result, we’re not making the best choices or acting in ways that best serve us.
Knowing these common cognitive biases helps you catch them when they happen and make better decisions. Even when you know them, it’s easy to fall victim to them, but you’re better equipped than if you didn’t know them at all.