How cognitive biases impact your decisions

cognitive biases

cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive processes, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. Whether we realize or not, cognitive biases influence our memory, reasoning and decision making. So, if our memory of past experiences is biased i.e, we didn’t absorb all of the facts for whatever reason, this untrue perception can (and often does) influence our future decision making. Scary right?

How cognitive biases work

A cognitive bias is a type of error in our thinking, that happens as we absorb the world around us. Attention is a limited resource, therefore, people are selective about what they remember. Cognitive biases are often a result of our brain’s attempt to simplify processing information.

The cognitive bias becomes a benchmark which allows us to make sense of a new situation by relying on old experiences. In essence, the world is complicated so our brains feel a necessity to rely on mental shortcuts allowing us to process information at an increased speed.

It’s easy to see why cognitive biases add value in threatening situations but outside of primitive living, they can negatively impact decisions because we skip logical reasoning. The way to prevent our cognitive biases from distorting our thinking is to be self-aware of the most common bias types.

Types of common cognitive biases

1. Anchoring bias

This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information you learn (“the anchor”) when making decisions.

2. Confirmation bias

Instead of objectively searching for answers we tend to listen only to information that confirms our preconceptions and pre-existing beliefs.

3. Outcome bias

Judging a decision based on the outcome, rather than the actual decision. For example, believing gambling is good for you because you won last time you played.

4. Stereotyping

Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person.

5. Overconfidence

Some of us can be too confident in our abilities. Experts are more disposed to this since they are more confident in their abilities.

6. Availability Heuristic

This involves making decisions based on examples that immediately spring to mind, instead of considering wider facts. For example believing drinking alcohol everyday isn’t bad for your health because your grandfather drank everyday and he lived to be 100 years old.

7. Blind Spot Bias

Not recognizing your own cognitive biases is a bias in itself. People interestingly notice cognitive biases much more in others than in themselves.

For more information on cognitive biases read this helpful blog by Mental Flosshere

How a snap judgement impacts you and how to influence it

snap judgment


A judgment is defined as a decision or opinion you have formed about someone or something after thinking carefully. A snap judgment, on the other hand, is the contrary. It’s an almost irreversible opinion we make about people within just three seconds. That’s scary stuff. The only drivers that can reasonably form an opinion, in such a short space of time, are our cognitive biases. A whole host of tiny assumptions, developed through our life experiences and expectations. The most worrying thing about cognitive biases, apart from the fact that they exclude rational consideration, is that we are typically unaware when we rely on them.

The impact of a snap judgment

Snap judgments don’t only impede our perception of the world but they can greatly limit our chances when we focus on 1:1 first impressions. Snap judgments are a form of positional thinking — right/wrong, good/bad, desirable/undesirable. So, if you think about it this way, you can spend hours prepping for the job interview of your dreams but the recruiters will have already decided by the time you sit down and introduce yourself whether they like you or not. This may impact their final decision if, for example, they need to choose between two equally good candidates.

How to get around the snap judgment

The only way to maximize your success in first impression scenarios is to understand the well-researched, scientifically supported conclusions people tend to draw from appearances/ behavior. It’s important to remember that these are not inevitable conclusions any given person will draw.

Appearance/Behavior Likely First Impression
Physical beauty Healthy/ strong
Well-dressed Successful
Appearing wealthy Influential/important
More eye contact Intelligent/ confident
Speaking faster More competent
Smooth, effortless charm More adventurous, extroverted, trustworthy
“Baby face” (rounded, large eyes, small nose and chin) More trustworthy, naive
Straight posture More competent, focused

Whilst we can hope to achieve our goals through merit alone, the research shows that first impressions really matter. The only way to thrive is to be fully self-aware of the impression you make on others.

For more information on the drivers behind snap judgments read this very insightful article by Six-Degrees, on The Psychology of First Impressions.


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