Cognitive bias

Cognitive bias

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A cognitive bias
Bias
Bias is an inclination to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of alternatives. Bias can come in many forms.-In judgement and decision making:...

is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations. Implicit in the concept of a "pattern of deviation" is a standard of comparison; this may be the judgment of people outside those particular situations, or may be a set of independently verifiable fact
Fact
A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be shown to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts...

s.

Cognitive biases are instances of evolved mental behavior. Some are presumably adaptive, for example, because they lead to more effective actions in given contexts or enable faster decisions when faster decisions are of greater value. Others presumably result from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms, or from the misapplication of a mechanism that is adaptive under different circumstances.

Cognitive bias is a general term that is used to describe many observer effect
Observer effect
Observer effect may refer to:* Observer effect , the impact of observing a process while it is running* Observer effect , the impact of observing a physical system...

s in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation. It is a phenomenon studied in cognitive science
Cognitive science
Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary scientific study of mind and its processes. It examines what cognition is, what it does and how it works. It includes research on how information is processed , represented, and transformed in behaviour, nervous system or machine...

 and social psychology
Social psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...

.

Overview



Bias arises from various processes that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. These include information-processing shortcuts (heuristics), motivational factors and social influence.

The notion of cognitive biases was introduced by Amos Tversky
Amos Tversky
Amos Nathan Tversky, was a cognitive and mathematical psychologist, a pioneer of cognitive science, a longtime collaborator of Daniel Kahneman, and a key figure in the discovery of systematic human cognitive bias and handling of risk. Much of his early work concerned the foundations of measurement...

 and Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel laureate. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology....

 in 1972 and grew out of their experience of people's innumeracy, or inability to reason intuitively with the greater orders of magnitude. They and their colleagues demonstrated several replicable
Reproducibility
Reproducibility is the ability of an experiment or study to be accurately reproduced, or replicated, by someone else working independently...

 ways in which human judgments and decisions differ from rational choice theory
Rational choice theory
Rational choice theory, also known as choice theory or rational action theory, is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior. It is the main theoretical paradigm in the currently-dominant school of microeconomics...

. They explained these differences in terms of heuristics, rules which are simple for the brain to compute but introduce systematic errors. For instance the Availability heuristic
Availability heuristic
The availability heuristic is a phenomenon in which people predict the frequency of an event, or a proportion within a population, based on how easily an example can be brought to mind....

, when the ease with which something comes to mind is used to indicate how often (or how recently) it has been encountered.

These experiments grew into the heuristics and biases research program which spread beyond academic psychology into other disciplines including medicine and political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

. It was a major factor in the emergence of behavioral economics, earning Kahneman a Nobel Prize
Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics, but officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel , is an award for outstanding contributions to the field of economics, generally regarded as one of the...

 in 2002. Tversky and Kahneman developed prospect theory
Prospect theory
Prospect theory is a theory that describes decisions between alternatives that involve risk i.e. where the probabilities of outcomes are known. The model is descriptive: it tries to model real-life choices, rather than optimal decisions.-Model:...

 as a more realistic alternative to rational choice theory.

Critics of Kahneman and Tversky such as Gerd Gigerenzer
Gerd Gigerenzer
Gerd Gigerenzer is a German psychologist who has studied the use of bounded rationality and heuristics in decision making, especially in medicine...

 argue that heuristics should not lead us to conceive of human thinking as riddled with irrational cognitive biases, but rather to conceive rationality as an adaptive tool that is not identical to the rules of formal logic
Formal logic
Classical or traditional system of determining the validity or invalidity of a conclusion deduced from two or more statements...

 or the probability calculus.

Types of cognitive biases


Biases can be distinguished on a number of dimensions. For example, there are biases specific to groups (such as the risky shift) as well as biases at the individual level.

Some biases affect decision-making, where the desirability of options has to be considered (e.g., Sunk Cost fallacy
Sunk cost
In economics and business decision-making, sunk costs are retrospective costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken...

). Others such as Illusory correlation
Illusory correlation
Illusory correlation is the phenomenon of seeing the relationship one expects in a set of data even when no such relationship exists. When people form false associations between membership in a statistical minority group and rare behaviors, this would be a common example of illusory correlation...

 affect judgment of how likely something is, or of whether one thing is the cause of another. A distinctive class of biases affect memory, such as consistency bias (remembering one's past attitudes and behavior as more similar to one's present attitudes).

Some biases reflect a subject's motivation, for example, the desire for a positive self-image leading to Egocentric bias
Egocentric bias
Egocentric bias occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would credit them....

 and the avoidance of unpleasant cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

. Other biases are due to the particular way the brain perceives, forms memories and makes judgments. This distinction is sometimes described as "Hot cognition
Hot cognition
Hot cognition is a motivated reasoning phenomenon in which a person's responses to stimuli are heightened. Hot cognition might be associated with cognitive arousal, in which a person is much more responsive to environmental factors regardless of the response's impact on learning. A learner who...

" versus "Cold Cognition", as motivated reasoning
Motivated reasoning
Motivated reasoning is an emotion-biased decision-making phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology. This term describes the role of motivation in cognitive processes such as decision-making and attitude change in a number of paradigms, including:* Cognitive dissonance reduction*...

 can involve a state of arousal
Arousal
Arousal is a physiological and psychological state of being awake or reactive to stimuli. It involves the activation of the reticular activating system in the brain stem, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure and a condition of...

.

Among the "cold" biases, some are due to ignoring relevant information (e.g. Neglect of probability
Neglect of probability
The neglect of probability bias, a type of cognitive bias, is the tendency to completely disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty and is one simple way in which people regularly violate the normative rules for decision making....

), whereas some involve a decision or judgement being affected by irrelevant information (for example the Framing effect
Framing (social sciences)
A frame in social theory consists of a schema of interpretation — that is, a collection of anecdotes and stereotypes—that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events. In simpler terms, people build a series of mental filters through biological and cultural influences. They use these...

 where the same problem receives different responses depending on how it is described) or giving excessive weight to an unimportant but salient feature of the problem (e.g., Anchoring
Anchoring
Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.-Background:...

).

The fact that some biases reflect motivation, and in particular the motivation to have positive attitudes to oneself accounts for the fact that many biases are self-serving or self-directed (e.g. Illusion of asymmetric insight
Illusion of asymmetric insight
The illusion of asymmetric insight is a cognitive bias that involves the fact that people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people's knowledge of themselves...

, Self-serving bias
Self-serving bias
A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure...

, Projection bias). There are also biases in how subjects evaluate in-groups or out-groups; evaluating in-groups as more diverse and "better" in many respects, even when those groups are arbitrarily-defined (Ingroup bias
Ingroup bias
In-group–out-group bias, also called intergroup bias, refers to the phenomenon of in-group favoritism, a preference and affinity for one’s in-group over the out-group, or anyone viewed as outside the in-group. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, linking, allocation of resources and many...

, Outgroup homogeneity bias
Outgroup homogeneity bias
The outgroup homogeneity effect is one's perception of out-group members as more similar to one another than are in-group members. I.e. "they are alike; we are diverse". The outgroup homogeneity effect, or "relative outgroup homogeniety" has been explicitly contrasted with the "outgroup...

).

Some cognitive biases belong to the subgroup of attentional bias
Attentional bias
Several types of cognitive bias occur due to an attentional bias. One example is when a person does not examine all possible outcomes when making a judgment about a correlation or association...

es which refer to the paying of increased attention to certain stimuli. It has been shown, for example, that people addicted to alcohol and other drugs pay more attention to drug-related stimuli. Common psychological tests to measure those biases are the Stroop Task and the Dot Probe Task
Dot-probe paradigm
The dot-probe paradigm is a test used by cognitive psychologists in order to assess selective attention, originally developed by MacLeod, Mathews & Tata . In many cases, the dot-probe paradigm is used to assess selective attention to threatening stimuli in individuals diagnosed with anxiety...

.

The following is a list of the more commonly studied cognitive biases:
  • Framing
    Framing (social sciences)
    A frame in social theory consists of a schema of interpretation — that is, a collection of anecdotes and stereotypes—that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events. In simpler terms, people build a series of mental filters through biological and cultural influences. They use these...

     by using a too-narrow approach and description of the situation or issue.
  • Hindsight bias
    Hindsight bias
    Hindsight bias, or alternatively the knew-it-all-along effect and creeping determinism, is the inclination to see events that have already occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place. It is a multifaceted phenomenon that can affect different stages of designs,...

    , sometimes called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect, is the inclination to see past events as being predictable.
  • Fundamental attribution error
    Fundamental attribution error
    In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors...

     is the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.
  • Confirmation bias
    Confirmation bias
    Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.David Perkins, a geneticist, coined the term "myside bias" referring to a preference for "my" side of an issue...

     is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions; this is related to the concept of cognitive dissonance
    Cognitive dissonance
    Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

    .
  • Self-serving bias
    Self-serving bias
    A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure...

     is the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.
  • Belief bias
    Belief bias
    Belief bias is a cognitive bias in which someone's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by their belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion...

     is when one's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by their belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion.

Practical significance


Many social institutions rely on individuals to make rational judgments. A fair jury trial
Jury trial
A jury trial is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which are then applied by a judge...

, for example, requires that the jury ignore irrelevant features of the case, weigh the relevant features appropriately, consider different possibilities open-mindedly and resist fallacies such as appeal to emotion
Appeal to emotion
Appeal to emotion is a potential fallacy which uses the manipulation of the recipient's emotions, rather than valid logic, to win an argument. The appeal to emotion fallacy uses emotions as the basis of an argument's position without factual evidence that logically supports the major ideas endorsed...

. The various biases demonstrated in these psychological experiments suggest that people will frequently fail to do all these things. However, they fail to do so in systematic, directional ways that are predictable.

Cognitive biases are also related to the persistence of superstition, to large social issues such as prejudice, and they also work as a hindrance in the acceptance of scientific non-intuitive knowledge by the public.

Criticism


In heuristics and biases literature, it is almost impossible to make an accurate and unbiased decision as the "rational" decision is usually sandwiched between two contradictory biases. For example, overestimating one's abilities can be due to the Dunning–Kruger effect, and underestimating them because of the false consensus effect
False consensus effect
In psychology, the false consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are 'normal' and that others also think the...

. As a practical example, if one should estimate his skill in throwing a flying disc as far as possible, one must get his estimate right on the spot or else he has demonstrated biased judgement.

Further reading

  • Eiser, J.R. and Joop van der Pligt (1988) Attitudes and Decisions London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-01112-9
  • Fine, Cordelia (2006) A Mind of its Own: How your brain distorts and deceives Cambridge, UK: Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-678-2
  • Gilovich, Thomas (1993). How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: The Free Press. ISBN 0-02-911706-2
  • Haselton, M.G., Nettle, D. & Andrews, P.W. (2005). The evolution of cognitive bias. In D.M. Buss
    David Buss
    David M. Buss is a professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, known for his evolutionary psychology research on human sex differences in mate selection.-Biography:...

     (Ed.), Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, (pp. 724–746). Hoboken: Wiley. Full text
  • Heuer, Richards J. Jr. (1999) Psychology of Intelligence Analysis. Central Intelligence Agency. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/psych-intel/art5.html
  • Kahneman D., Slovic P., and Tversky, A. (Eds.) (1982) Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. New York: Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0-521-28414-1
  • Kida, Thomas (2006) Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking New York: Prometheus. ISBN 978-1-59102-408-8
  • Nisbett, R., and Ross, L. (1980) Human Inference: Strategies and shortcomings of human judgement. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall ISBN 978-0-13-445130-5
  • Piatelli-Palmarini, Massimo (1994) Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-15962-X
  • Sutherland, Stuart (2007) Irrationality: The Enemy Within Second Edition (First Edition 1994) Pinter & Martin. ISBN 978-1-905177-07-3
  • Tavris, Carol and Elliot Aronson (2007) Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts Orlando, Florida: Harcourt Books. ISBN 978-0-15-101098-1

External links