Cognitive biases: Everything you need to know

Cognitive biases: Everything you need to know

    Whats Inside?

A cognitive bias is a particular fault in thinking that happens when individuals are handling and decoding data in their general surroundings, that influences the choices and decisions they make. Andrews, Haselton & Nettle (2005), define cognitive biases as, “systematic patterns of deviation from the norm and/or rationality in judgment.” Cognitive biases are at times a result of the brain's attempt to simplify information for processing. Biases often help to make sense of the world and reach decisions promptly. This article will explore cognitive biases and give insight and a better understanding of them.


The concept of cognitive biases was first introduced by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972 (Frederick & Kahneman, 2002). Since then, researchers have described several different types of biases that affect decision-making in a wide range of areas including social behaviour, cognition, behavioural economics, education, management, healthcare, business, and finance. At times, people confuse cognitive biases with logical fallacies, however, these two are different. A logical fallacy comes from an error in a logical argument, while a cognitive bias is entrenched in thought processing errors often arising from problems with memory, attention, attribution, and other mental mistakes (Cherry, 2020).


Cognitive biases List

There are debates on how to classify cognitive biases. Gigerenzer (2006) argues that cognitive biases cannot be framed as errors in judgment, and rather classifies them as arising from rational deviations from logical thought. There are several types of biases and below is a list of some of the cognitive biases.



  1. The Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values (Nickerson & Raymond, 1998). The confirmation bias is based on finding that people tend to listen more often to information that confirms the beliefs they already have. Through this bias, people tend to favour information that confirms their previously held beliefs (Nickerson & Raymond, 1998).


  1. The Hindsight Bias

The hindsight bias is the common tendency for people to perceive past events as having been more predictable than they were (Roese & Vohs, 2012). This bias is premised on the belief by people after an event has occurred, that they would have predicted, what the outcome of the event would have been before the event occurred.


  1. The Anchoring Bias

Anchoring is a cognitive bias where an individual depends too heavily on an initial piece of information offered to make subsequent judgments during decision making (Sherif, 1958). When the estimate of this anchor is set, all future debates are examined according to the anchor. Data that lines up with the anchor will be absorbed toward it, while data that is more discordant or less related will be dislodged.


  1. The Misinformation Effect

The misinformation effect occurs when a person's recall of episodic memories becomes less accurate because of post-event information (Weiten, 2010). In a study by (Loftus, Toland & Weingardt, 1994) participants were shown one of two different slides that showed a university student at the bookstore, with different objects of the same type changed in some slides. One version of the slides would show a screwdriver while the other would show a wrench, and the audio narrative associated with the slides would only refer to the object as a "tool".


In the second stage, students would read a narrative description of the events in the slides, except this time the specific tool was named, which would be the incorrect tool most of the

time. Lastly, in the final stage, students had to list five examples of specific types of objects, such as tools but were told to only list examples which they had not seen in the slides. Subjects who had read an incorrect narrative were far less likely to list the written object than the control subjects (28% vs. 43%) and were far more likely to incorrectly list the item which they had seen (33% vs. 26%) (Loftus, Toland & Weingardt, 1994).


  1. The Actor – Observer Bias

According to the actor-observer bias, when people judge their behaviour, and they are the actor, they are more likely to attribute their actions to a particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. However, when an observer is explaining the behaviour of another person (the actor), they are more likely to attribute this behaviour to the actors' overall disposition rather than to situational factors. (Miller & Norman 1975).


People are more knowledgeable with the situational factors affecting their own decisions, therefore they are more likely to see their behaviour as affected by the social situation they are in. However, because the observer is less aware of the situational effects influencing the actor’s behaviour, observers see the actor's behaviour as influenced more by the actor's personality.


  1. The Halo – Effect

The halo effect is the tendency for positive impressions of a person, company, brand or product in one area to positively influence one's opinion or feelings in another area (Ries, 2006). This cognitive bias can have a powerful impact in the real world. For example, job applicants perceived as attractive and likeable are also more likely to be viewed as competent, smart, and qualified for the job.




  1. The Self-Serving Bias

A self-serving bias is any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favourable manner (Myers, 2015). Essentially, when people succeed they take the credit for this success, however when they fail, they are more likely to blame it on circumstances or bad luck.


Cognitive biases and Decision Making

Cognitive biases are weaknesses in thinking that can lead an individual to draw inaccurate conclusions. They can be harmful because they cause one to focus too much on some kinds of information while overlooking other forms of information. Cognitive biases can affect decision-making skills, limit one’s problem-solving skills, obstruct an individual’s career success, increase anxiety and depression, and impair relationships.


Though cognitive biases are examples of poor decision-making, they do not always negatively affect people. Cognitive biases can sometimes influence our thought process in a positive way that helps us make good decisions.


For example, the pessimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to miscalculate the likelihood of negative things and underrate the likelihood of positive things, especially when it comes to assuming that future events will have a bad outcome. (Sheppered, et. al., 2002).


This bias can negatively influence people in some cases when they end up avoiding making an effort, as they perceive that they will certainly fail. However, the pessimism bias can also positively influence people in cases when it causes them to adequately prepare for the future, as they expect to encounter difficult challenges.






Haselton MG, Nettle D, Andrews PW (2005). "The evolution of cognitive bias." (PDF). In Buss DM (ed.). The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc. pp. 724–746.


Gigerenzer G (2006). "Bounded and Rational". In Stainton RJ (ed.). Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science. Blackwell. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-4051-1304-5.


Kahneman D, Frederick S (2002). "Representativeness Revisited: Attribute Substitution in Intuitive Judgment". In Gilovich T, Griffin DW, Kahneman D (eds.). Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52.


Cherry, K. (2020). “What Is Cognitive Bias?”

Nickerson, Raymond S. (June 1998), "Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises", Review of General Psychology, 2 (2): 175–220


Roese, N. J.; Vohs, K. D. (2012). "Hindsight bias". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 7 (5): 411–426.

Sherif, Muzafer; Taub, Daniel; Hovland, Carl I. (1958). "Assimilation and contrast effects of anchoring stimuli on judgments". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 55 (2): 150–155.


Wayne Weiten (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations: Themes and Variations. Cengage Learning. p. 338

Weingardt, Kenneth R.; Toland, H. Kelly; Loftus, Elizabeth F. (1994). Reports of suggested memories: Do people truly believe them?. Adult Eyewitness Testimony: Current Trends and Developments. pp. 3–26.

Al Ries (17 Apr 2006). "Understanding Marketing Psychology and the Halo Effect". Advertising Age. Crain Publications. Retrieved 2017-07-31.


Myers, D.G. (2015). Exploring Social Psychology, 7th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill Education.


Shepperd, James A.; Patrick Carroll; Jodi Grace; Meredith Terry (2002). "Exploring the Causes of Comparative Optimism" (PDF). Psychologica Belgica. 42: 65–98





Lindah Mavengere is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.


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This article was written by Lindah a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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