Cognitive biases can make our judgments irrational and less objective
As I wrote in the previous blog post on how your biases can make you a poor decision maker, biases are actually neither good nor bad.
In fact, biases allow us to efficiently process information about people. In some ways, biases are merely mental shortcuts based partially on social norms and stereotypes. Having biases does not make you (or anyone else) a bad person, but it can make you a bad decision maker.
For instance, making a decision based on a conscious or unconscious bias goes astray when we make a wrong assumption about a person and then take action or make decisions based on this wrong assumption. To avoid doing this, you need to become more aware of how your biases are influencing the decisions you make.
As Mahzarin Banaji wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that is in our, and our organization’s, best interests. But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”
Cognitive biases, which include both conscious and unconscious biases, impact the way we each see the world around us. This is neither good nor bad. It is merely an aspect of being human. The important thing is that by becoming acutely aware of our individual biases, and by understanding how our specific biases impact our own decision making, we can overcome them, or at least limit their impact if we choose to do so.
On the other hand, cognitive biases can make our judgments irrational and less objective. For instance, there is the cognitive bias known as hyperbolic discounting, which is to give more weight to the option closer to the present time when considering a trade-off between two future moments.
There is also the famous gambler’s fallacy that makes a person totally convinced that, if a coin has landed heads up four times in a row it is more likely to land tails up on the fifth toss. This is incorrect. On the fifth toss the odds are still 50-50 for both heads and tails.
Unconscious biases directly influence our emotional feelings, which in turn directly impacts and sways our decision-making processes. We may think we are making rational decisions, but often we are simply rationalizing decisions based partially or majorly on emotions. As psychotherapist Kathleen Saxton says, “We may think we lead with thinking, but fundamentally what we are feeling is a greater driver.”
This article is partially excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes: How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.