Bias: Defining the types of bias and why we should care about them

An overview:

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines bias as ‘the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way, because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgement.’ A bias is ‘the fact of preferring a particular subject or thing.’ There are multiple different kinds of bias ranging from apophenia to unconscious bias. When making a decision, we must be careful not to let bias cloud our judgement. If we did, the decision wouldn’t necessarily be classified as an informed decision. I believe we should care about bias because it influences our cognitive patterns. Psychologists who are in agreement with me, have long identified a list of  cognitive biases.  Peoples’ judgements will dictate perspective and therefore form respective worldviews. 

Types of cognitive biases

Some cognitive biases serve as adaptive behaviour and help a person cope appropriately, minimising conflict and leading to further successes. Other cognitive biases lead to irrationality. Cognitive biases typically lead to speedier decision making and are referred to as a cognitive shortcut. While there are hundreds of cognitive biases, as listed here, this article shares seven of the most common cognitive and social biases:

  1. Confirmation bias: This is an unconscious bias (you aren’t conscious of it appearing). This occurs when you try to manipulate facts to fit your pre-existing worldview or belief system. Examples can be found with religion, politics and scientific inquiry. Human beings have schemas (independent knowledge systems) so it can be uncomfortable to look at the other side of things. However, each argument has two sides to it. Confirmation biases are a reminder to look beyond a singular side.
  1. Loss Aversion: This is a principle of behavioural economics. This occurs when someone works harder to keep something than to make a change. E.g. Firing an employee because you think “Well, I’ve already trained them and poured resources into it.” This happens when people are unable to consider the future without an attachment to their past. The sunk cost fallacy falls under the loss aversion bias.
  1. Gambler’s Fallacy: This is a notion that past events can somehow influence future outcomes. E.g. Analyzing the stock market in order to predict future trends and choose stocks that will go up in their value. This can hold people back from important decisions and result in further losses. 
  1. Availability Cascade: This is the belief that hearing something frequently contributes to its validity, thereby making it true. E.g. Bats are blind. This is a false statement but if we repeat it enough times our brain will cease to remember its falsehood.
  1. Framing Effect: This is the effect of framing something in a manner which makes the information appealing. Marketing and PR companies use this to their advantage. This is true of both positive and negative information. E.g. If a patient has a chronic illness, the way in which a doctor presents this information will influence the outcome. 
  1. Bandwagon Effect: This describes a herd mentality. The idea is that if many people believe it, then it must be true. This makes information easier for the brain to accept because the brain can rationalize this as “proof.”  It is important to do your own research in this situation and differentiate between facts and opinions. 
  1. Dunning-Kruger Effect: This is a cognitive bias which explains arrogance and egotism. People have the habit of assessing their own abilities and capabilities as more than what they really are. People who do this generally have a superiority complex. This can be conquered by increasing self-awareness and pausing to reflect.
  1. The Forer Effect: This describes the desire for things to make logical sense. Human beings have schemas (their own personal knowledge systems) and like when information can fit neatly into their own schemas. E.g. Horoscopes – People believe in information that is mass-tailored to multiple other people because they think that it is indicative of their personality type. They also think that this information is unique to them.

Why should you care about biases?

When biases go unchecked, they can be detrimental to decision-making. For instance, if you were hiring multiple people for a job at your company, an affinity could lead you to favour one candidate over the others. This is known as an affinity bias. This occurs when there are similarities between you and another person. For example,  sharing the same hometown or reminding us of a younger version of ourselves. 

Other examples of evident bias are bribery, favouritism and prejudices (gender, race, language, etc.). I believe that you should care about biases in order to raise your children with minimal bias and to maintain relationships in your life with sensitivity. Staying vigilant about your own potential biases will help you continue to be the best possible version of yourself. 

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