You are Biased

You are Biased

A living library of the cognitive biases and heuristics that structure our thinking and decision making.

Most of us (like to) think of ourselves as being pretty reasonable, rational, in control and objective – able to understand and evaluate complex ideas and situations, and thereby act in the best way possible for ourselves and others. And we are, occasionally.

A lot of the time, though, the way that we think, the things we perceive and the decisions we make are riddled with irrationality, errors and – you guessed it – bias.

Our brains are incredible, incredibly powerful and complex organs that we’re only just beginning to understand. A little bit like quantum computing. While they are surely our greatest assets, like any computer they do most of their work without our really understanding how, when or why, and often without our prompting. Like computers, too, sometimes our ‘software’ is a little out of date and unable to perform the actions that we want and need it to as optimally and efficiently as possible.

Cognitive biases are “systematic errors in thinking that affect the decisions and judgments that we make”. These biases are the by-product of heuristics: simple, (often) efficient ‘rules of thumb’ that our brain has developed to run on autopilot as we go about our everyday lives.

A lot of the time these heuristics work to our advantage. They’ve played a fundamental role in helping our hairy hominid ancestors get us to where we are today. Even when they’re not entirely useful (and potentially harmful), they mean well… When these simplified mental strategies lead to errors in logic, probability and decision making, however, they are called a cognitive bias.

Sometimes these biases affect our memories, our ability to recall past events and to allow these to optimally guide and inform our acting in the future and present. Other times they are biases of attention, skewing our focus in certain directions and ‘blinding’ us to others. They are most often the result of our brain’s attempt to simplify information processing; to help us make decisions and make sense of the world with ease, at speed, and without our active involvement. Most importantly, they are inbuilt in all of us, glitches in our code, operating below our conscious radars.

Like it or not – You are biased. The first step to beating your biases is understanding them. Explore our You are Biased library, updated regularly, to better understand yours.

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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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