50 Cognitive Biases in the Modern World

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50 Cognitive Biases to be aware of so you can be the very best Version of you

Cognitive biases are widely accepted as something that makes us human.

Every day, systematic errors in our thought process impact the way we live and work. But in a world where everything we do is changing rapidly—from the way we store information to the way we watch TV—what really classifies as rational thinking?

It’s a question with no right or wrong answer, but to help us decide for ourselves, today’s infographic from TitleMax lists 50 cognitive biases that we may want to become privy to.

In the name of self-awareness, here’s a closer look at three recently discovered biases that we are most prone to exhibiting in the modern world.

Automation Bias

AI-infused applications are becoming incredibly good at “personalizing” our content, but will there come a time when we let algorithms make all of our decisions?

Automation bias refers to the tendency to favor the suggestions of automated systems.

Take Netflix, for example. Everything we see on the platform is the result of algorithms—even the preview images that are generated. Then, to harness the power of data and machine learning, Netflix categorizes its content into tens of thousands of micro-genres. Pairing these genre tags with a viewer’s history allows them to assign several of over 2,000 “taste profiles” to each user.

And while there’s nothing wrong with allowing Netflix to guide what we watch, there’s an enormous sea of content standing by. Estimates from 2015 claimed it would take nearly four years to watch all of Netflix’s content. Thousands more hours of content have since been added.

If we want to counter this cognitive bias, finding a new favorite series on platforms like Netflix may require some good old-fashioned human curiosity.

The Google Effect

Also known as “digital amnesia”, the aptly named Google Effect describes our tendency to forget information that can be easily accessed online.

First described in 2011 by Betsy Sparrow (Columbia University) and her colleagues, their paper described the results of several memory experiments involving technology.

In one experiment, participants typed trivia statements into a computer and were later asked to recall them. Half believed the statements were saved, and half believed the statements were erased. The results were significant: participants who assumed they could look up their statements did not make much effort to remember them.

Because search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up.

– Sparrow B, et al. Science 333, 777 (2011) 

Our modern brains appear to be re-prioritizing the information we hold onto. Notably, the study doesn’t suggest we’re becoming less intelligent—our ability to learn offline remains the same.

The IKEA Effect

Identified in 2011 by Michael Norton (Harvard Business School) and his colleagues, this cognitive bias refers to our tendency to attach a higher value to things we help create.

Combining the Ikea Effect with other related traits, such as our willingness to pay a premium for customization, is a strategy employed by companies seeking to increase the intrinsic value that we attach to their products.

For instance, American retailer Build-A-Bear Workshop is anchored around creating a highly interactive customer experience. With the help of staff, children (or adults) can assemble their stuffed animals from scratch, then add clothing and accessories at extra cost.

Nike also incorporates this bias into its offering. The footwear company offers a Nike By You line of customizable products, where customers pay a premium to design bespoke shoes with an extensive online configurator.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with our susceptibility to the Ikea Effect, understanding its significance may help us make more appropriate decisions as consumers.

What Can We Do?

As we navigate an increasingly complex world, it’s natural for us to unconsciously adopt new patterns of behavior.

Becoming aware of our cognitive biases, and their implications, can help us stay on the right course.

The Top Fifty Cognitive BIases

Here are other common types of bias and examples of them from real life: 

  1. Fundamental Attribution Error: We judge others on their personality or fundamental character, but we judge ourselves on the situation. (Example: Sally is late to class; she’s lazy. You’re late to class; it was a bad morning.) 
  2. Halo Effect: If you see a person as having a positive trait, that positive impression will spill over into their other traits (this also works for negative traits). (Example: “Taylor could never be mean; she’s so cute..”
  3. Availability Heuristic: We rely on immediate examples that come to mind while making judgements. (Example: When trying to decide on which store to visit, you choose the one you most recently saw an ad for.) 
  4. Forer Effect (aka Barnum Effect): We easily attribute our personalities to vague statements, even if they apply to a wide range of people. (Example: “This horoscope is so accurate.”) 
  5. Reactance: We do the opposite of what we’re told, especially when we perceive threats to personal freedoms. (Example: One of Alice’s students refuses to do his homework even though both she and his parents tell him to.)
  6. Availability Cascade: Tied to our need for social acceptance, collective beliefs gain more plausibility through public reception. (Example: A story about razor blades appearing in candy eventually led many people no longer offering homemade treats on Halloween in America.) 
  7. Zero-Risk Bias: We prefer to reduce small risks to zero, even if we can reduce more risk overall with another option. (Example: “You should probably buy the warranty.”) 
  8. Placebo Effect: If we believe a treatment will work, it often will have a small physiological effect. (Example: Alice was given a placebo for her pain, and her pain decreased.)
  9. IKEA Effect: We place higher value on things we partially created ourselves. (Example: Don’t you love this pot I spent $20 on? I painted it myself.) 
  10. Cryptomnesia: We mistake real memories for imagination. (Example: Greg thinks he visited a graveyard, but he’s pretty sure he just had a spooky dream.). 
  11. Self-Serving Bias: Our failures are situational, but our successes are our responsibility. (Example: You won that award due to hard work rather than help or luck,  
  12. Moral Luck: Better moral standing happens due to a positive outcome, worse moral standing happens due to a negative outcome. (Example: “X” culture won X war because they were morally superior to the losers.) 
  13. Defensive Attribution: As a witness who secretly fears being vulnerable to a serious mishap, we will blame the victim less and the attacker more if we relate to the victim. (Example: Sally sat too long at a green light because she was playing with her phone. She got rear-ended. (Example: Greg, who is known to text and drive, got out and yelled at the person who smacked into her.) 
  14. Dunning-Kruger Effect: The less you know, the more confident you are. The more you know, the less confident you are. (Example: Frances confidently assures the group that there’s no kelp in ice cream. They do not work in the dairy industry.) 
  15. Confirmation Bias: We tend to find and remember information that confirms our perceptions. (Example: You can confirm a conspiracy theory based on scant evidence while ignoring contrary evidence.)
  16. Declinism: We tend to romanticize the past and view the future negatively, believing that societies/institutions are by and large in decline. (Example: “In my day, kids had more respect!”)
  17. Framing Effect: We often draw different conclusions from the same information depending on how it’s presented. (Example: Alice hears that her favorite candidate is “killing it” with a 45% approval rating. Sally hears that the candidate is “disappointing the country” with a 45% rating. They have wildly different interpretations of the same statistic.) 
  18. Survivorship Bias: We tend to focus on these things that survived a process and overlook ones that failed. (Example: Greg tells Alice her purse business is going to be great because a successful fashion company had the same strategy, while 10 other failed companies also had the same strategy.) 
  19. Ben Franklin Effect: We like doing favors, we are more likely to do another favor for someone if we’ve already done a favor for them than if we had received a favor from that person. (Example: Greg loaned Francis a pen. When Frances asked to borrow $5, Greg did it readily.) 
  20. Clustering Illusion: We find patterns and “clusters” in random data. (Example “That cloud looks like your cat, Alice.”) 
  21. In-Group Favoritism: We favor people who are in our in-group as opposed to an out-group. (Example: Francis is in your church, so you like Francis more than Sally.) 
  22. False Consensus: We believe more people agree with us than is actually the case. (Example: “Everybody thinks that.”)
  23. Just World-Hypothesis: We tend to believe that the world is just, therefore, we assume that acts of injustice are deserved. (Example: Sally’s purse was stolen because she was mean to Francis about their T-shirt and had bad karma.) 
  24. Anchoring: We rely heavily on the first piece of information introduced when making decisions. (Example: “That’s 50% off, it must be a great deal.”)
  25. Backfire Effect: Disproving evidence sometimes has the unwarranted effect of confirming our beliefs. (Example: The evidence that disproves your conspiracy theory was probably faked by the government.) 
  26. Status Quo Bias: We tend to prefer things to stay the same, changes from the baseline are considered to be a loss. (Example:  Even though an app’s terms of service invade Sally’s privacy, she’d rather not switch to another app.) 
  27. Stereotyping: We adopt generalized beliefs that members of a group will have certain characteristics despite not having information about the individual. (Example: “That guy with the fancy mustache is a hipster. He probably has a vinyl collection.”) 
  28. Tachypsychia: Our perception of time shifts depending on trauma, drug use, and physical exertion. (Example: “When the car almost hit me time slowed down…”)
  29. Bystander Effect: The more other people are around, the less likely we are able to help a victim. (Example: In a crowd of students, no one called 9-1-1 when someone got hurt in a fight) 
  30. Pessimism Bias: We sometimes overestimate the likelihood of bad outcomes (Example: “Nothing will ever get better.” 
  31. Bandwagon Effect: Ideas, fads, and beliefs grow as more people adopt them. (Example: “Sally believes fidget spinners help her children. Francis does, too.) 
  32. Curse of Knowledge: Once we know something, we assume everyone else knows it, too. (Example: Alice is a teacher and struggles to understand the perspective of her new students.) 
  33. Naive Realism: We believe that we observe objective reality and that other people are irrational, uninformed, or biased. (Example: “I see the world as it really is – other people are dumb.”) 
  34. Automation Bias: We rely on automated systems, sometimes trusting too much in the automated correction of actually correct decisions. (Example: Your phone auto-corrects “its” to “it’s,” so you assume your phone is always correct.) 
  35. Third-Person Effect: We believe that others are more affected by mass media consumption than we ourselves are. (Example: “You’ve clearly been brainwashed by the media.”) 
  36. Sunk Cost Fallacy (aka Escalation of Commitment): We invest more in things that have cost us something rather than altering our investments, even if we face negative outcomes. (Example: “In for a penny, out for a pound.”) 
  37. Outgroup Homogeneity Bias: We perceive out-group members as homogenous  and our own in-group members as more diverse. (Example: Alice is not a gamer, but she believes “all gamers are the same.” 
  38. Law of Triviality (aka “Bike-Shedding): We give disproportionate weight to trivial issues, often while avoiding more complex issues. (Example: Feather than figuring out how to help the homeless, a local city government spends a lot of time discussing putting in a bike path and bike sheds). 
  39. Suggestibility: We, especially children, sometimes mistake ideas suggested by a questioner for memories. (Example: “So, did you fall off the couch before or after your mom hit you.”) 
  40. Optimism Bias: We sometimes are over-optimistic about good outcomes. (Example: “It’s going to turn out great.”) 
  41. Groupthink: Due to a desire for conformity and harmony in the group, we make irrational decisions often to minimize conflict. (Example: Sally wants to go get ice cream. Francis wants to shop for T-shirts. You suggest getting T-shirts with pictures of ice cream on them.) 
  42. Spotlight Effect: We overestimate how much people are paying attention to our behavior and appearance. (Example: Sally is worried everyone’s going to notice how lame her ice cream T-shirt is.) 
  43. Naive Cynicism: We believe that we observe objective reality and that other people have a higher egocentric bias than they actually do in their intentions/actions. (Example: “The only reason this person is doing something nice is to get something out of me.”) 
  44. Google Effect: (aka Digital Amnesia): We tend to forget information that’s easily looked up in search engines. (Example: “What was the name of that actor in that funny movie? I’ve looked it up like eight times.”) 
  45. Belief Bias: We judge an argument’s strength not by how strongly it supports the conclusion, but how plausible the conclusion is in our own minds. (Example: Sally mentions her supporting theory about your conspiracy theory, which you adopt wholeheartedly despite the fact that she has very little evidence for it.) 
  46. Gambler’s Fallacy: We think future possibilities are affected by past events. (Example: Alice has lost nine coin tosses in a row, so she’s sure to win the next one.) 
  47. Authority Bias: “We trust and are more often influenced by the opinions of authority figures. (Example: “My teacher told me this was fine.”) 
  48. Zeigarnik Effect: We remember incomplete tasks more than completed ones. (Example: Greg feels guilty for never getting anything done, until he sees all of the tasks he’s checked off on his task list.)
  49. False Memory: We mistake imagination for real memories. (Example: Greg is certain Sally told a really funny joke about pineapples, when that joke actually came from a TV show.) 
  50. Blind Spot Bias: We don’t think we have bias, and we see it in others more than ourselves. (Example: “I am not biased.” 

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