What is a Cognitive Bias?
All humans develop patterns of thinking and judging the world around them that prevent us do some degree or another from thinking carefully and critically and drawing correct conclusions. These patterns cause us to ignore facts and abandon rationality in many aspects of our daily lives. A cognitive bias is a mental behavior that leads us to repeatedly come to incorrect conclusions about the world. There are many different kinds of cognitive biases, and the mechanisms behind them can be complex and layered. Some biases are the result of mental information-processing shortcuts we take that lead us astray. Other cognitive biases arise from our mind’s physical limitations in its capacity to process information. On a less structural level biases can involve emotion and moral motivations that cause us to make mental mistakes. Finally, social influence plays a big part in the biases we hold. Here are four of the most common cognitive biases in psychology.
1. Confirmation Bias
A Confirmation Bias is the tendency to look for new information that confirms a presently held notion or belief. This effectively closes us off to information that could possibly contradict our present assumptions or go against what we hope to be true. An example of this is a person going online to research a particular question when they already have a preferred answer and looking only for information that aligns with that answer by narrowing their search terms or only following links that fit with the answer they are looking for. Confirmation Bias is extremely common as it is a very human thing to want our beliefs and assumptions propped up by the information we encounter. This bias is separate but related to other biases such as status-quo bias and the The Semmelweis Reflex which involves actively rejecting or denying new information that challenges the views we already hold.
2. Fundamental Attribution Error
The Fundamental Attribution Error is discussed in social psychology as the propensity to give greater weight to explanations of others’ behavior that center around their personality and less weight to explanations that take into consideration factors outside that individual’s control. This cognitive bias also manifests in the reverse when applied to one’s self: We give greater weight to outside factors when explaining our own behaviors and less weight to our own personality or disposition.
Did you know that a stereotype is a form of cognitive bias? Essentially to stereotype is to hold a belief or have an expectation about all members of a certain group of people based solely on their membership of that group. This bias is a way to shortcut evaluating individuals on an interpersonal level by assuming that your ability to categorize them justifies making judgments about them with little or no other information. This bias is the cognitive root of prejudice and discrimination.
4. The Causation Bias
The Causation Bias is the tendency to assume that a relationship of causation exists when in reality one does not. This includes assuming that because two events are correlated or associated that they are causally related. In other words, to assume that an event is caused by a previous event based solely on their occurring together is to demonstrate a Causation Bias. We do this all the time in daily life when we fail to take into consideration factors that could have lead to the two events occurring together that are unrelated to the relationship of the events themselves.
Sarah Miller is a clinical psychologist and guest author at Best Psychology Degrees, where she contributed to the guide to the Top 10 Online Psychology Degrees.
What is a Cognitive Bias?