#13: Projection Bias

#13: Projection Bias

We tend to assume that our tastes and preferences are consistent over time. “I’m always going to want my boyfriend’s name tattooed on my wrist”, or “I’ll always love my girlfriend” for that matter. “I’m never going to be one of those people that stays in on a Friday night”, or “This salary increase is more than enough for me”. Sound familiar?

Needless to say, our tastes and preferences change as we do. This is partly due to a process called hedonic adaptation. We get used to new life experiences as their novelty wanes. Just as that initial rush of love, or elation with your new job tends to fade as you familiarise, so do the extreme negative feelings associated with disability or death. Our tastes, preferences, emotions and values evolve with us, and underestimating their capacity to do so tends to lead into bias.

Projection bias is so prevalent because many of the important decisions that we have to make in life are weighted and determined according to the preferences and sentiments that we feel today, at this very moment. Studies have shown that people will pay more for a home with a swimming pool on a hot than a cool day, and are more likely to buy 4×4’s than convertibles directly after snowstorms. This is because we tend to assume (often without our conscious awareness) that we’re always going to feel ‘this way’.

Projection bias also has a role in leading many of us to save less than we should, or less than we’ll need, in retirement. This is also in part due to a failure of empathy. We struggle to predict and anticipate our own future requirements because our current tastes, preferences and emotional states are so much ‘stronger’ and more evident in the moment.

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Heather Scott

I work and write for Gravity Ideas, specialising in behavioural science, communication and African affairs.

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