Our life is a collection of the choices we make. The decisions that we take every day on different topics shape the path that we follow. No matter how inconsequential the choice is, it adds up to the grand scheme of things and snowballs into something big that creates a massive impact on our lives. Hence, if we want to avoid problems, we need to avoid making problematic choices. But what if I tell you that we are destined to choose wrong, and our very rationality is the one to blame for it? What if I tell you that our decision-making skill is inherently flawed, and no matter how hard we try, it is always going to fall short of perfection?
The revelation is not totally unexpected if you take a quick glance at the decisions you made last weekend or the one before that. Don’t want to get into examples too extreme? Fine. What about the new coffee that you tried (and maybe vouched to stick to your regular from next!) this morning? Your preference for the coffee over the 10 other new fall special coffee collections might seem to be built on solid reasoning, you reckon, but an in-depth analysis can show you that the selection is a result of something we call- Bias.
Biases are defined by Merriam Webster as an inclination of temperament or outlook. They are the preconceived notions that we nourish and yet stay completely unaware of their existence. They help us to make our decisions, build our perceptions and form our opinion on any topic. That is why it is crucial for us to know our biases and understand how they impact our lives.
Confirmation Bias: We can call this one the grandfather of all biases. This particular bias refers to the strong inclination to accept information that aligns with our existing beliefs and write off the rest of the evidence. We only look out for examples that “confirm” our convictions, effectively resulting in a Tunnel Vision of decision-making. These biases are extremely notorious as they actively fuel our ego and thus become harder to get rid of. To reveal confirmation bias, try to find deficiencies in your own logic. Look for ideas that counter your reasoning and evaluate them with equal weightage.
Survivorship Bias: We, as a species, love to idolize heroes. Success stories capture all the limelight, and we follow the footsteps preached by the heroes to emulate their triumph. And before you know it, the ground is set for Survivorship Bias. We fail to consider that countless others stayed in the rag for each grand rag-to-riches story. Hence, the probability of attaining the same level of success is similar to winning a lottery, maybe even more elusive. History is written by victors- and the tales of losses get suppressed. Don’t fall into the trap of overlooking the failures; they are often rich with lessons.
Sunk Cost Fallacy or Loss Aversion: People become hypersensitive to losses than to similar benefits while making decisions. We react more aggressively to save losses than to gain comparable benefits. This is known as Loss Aversion or Sunk Cost Fallacy. The effect of this bias is diverse. To maintain continuity or to justify a bad investment, we often choose to stick the course. We fail to recognize that the expenses have already been incurred, and no amount of alternative outcomes can justify it. Costs that occurred in the past have no bearing on the assessment of rational decision-making in the future.
Availability Bias: Most of our opinions are developed on the information that is available to us. This phenomenon leads to Availability Bias. We evaluate most of the things around us based on the facts at our disposal, which almost always are nowhere close to painting the complete picture before us. Our thinking tends to focus on the flashy headlines, thus suffering from high chances of ignoring finer details. This limits our access to more relevant information, and we continue to follow the half-baked truth. Instead of having the discomfort of not knowing, we prefer to follow the wrong leads that are easily available to us. Protect yourself from this bias by consulting with as many reliable sources as possible.
Self-Serving Bias: Whenever something goes in our favor, we end up attributing it as an indication of our ability. But the opposite happens; the onus gets shifted on to external factors, anything else but us. This misconception is referred to as Self Serving Bias. We tend to protect our self-esteem from negative exposure, thus avoiding the responsibilities of unwanted outcomes. Do not entertain this bias as they might cause more harm than good.
Yes, it is indeed true that Biases are and will always continue to be an integral part of the human mind. We are evolved to have preconceived beliefs to guide us in uncertain times. But that does not mean we can allow all sorts of prejudices to cloud our judgment. According to Wikipedia, there are at least 159 types of cognitive and social biases, and the list is by no means exclusive. It is impossible to evade all of them, but we can know about them and equip ourselves with the ability to recognize them in our decision-making process.