How biased are you?

Post date: 05-Feb-2014 20:55:18

We make judgements and decisions all day, every day. What to wear, what to eat, who to sit next to, and what opinion to put forward in a heated discussion. Undergraduates strive to find evidence and research to support the most rational of academic arguments (or at least their tutors hope they are doing this). Many exercise professionals like to base their methods on research and evidence-based practice and many others may believe that positive outcomes and reflections on their own practice are good enough evidence to perpetuate the practice in itself.

As much as we all believe that we can be as rational and objective as possible in making key decisions, an individual’s particular construction of social reality will dictate their own behaviour in a way that can cause unknown deviations in their judgement. This has become known as a cognitive bias.

Many cognitive biases serve us well, in particular when tasks are complex or time is limited when making complex decisions, but many can cause us to make decisions that are not really in our best interest. Concepts such as the framing effect, anchoring and distinction bias are used against us all the time in marketing and sales practice and may. for example, make us feel we have the bargain of the century when we have just signed up to a phone contract for £30 a month as the “usual price” is a whopping £40 a month.

Here are just a few (thanks Wikipedia!) of a wide range of identified cognitive biases:

Anchoring - The tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions

Availability cascade - A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or "repeat something long enough and it will become true").

Belief bias - An effect where someone's evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion

Base rate fallacy - The tendency to ignore base rate information (generic, general information) and focus on specific information (information only pertaining to a certain case).

Confirmation bias - The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions.

Hindsight bias - Sometimes called the "I-knew-it-all-along" effect, the tendency to see past events as being predictable at the time those events happened.

Hot-hand fallacy - The "hot-hand fallacy" (also known as the "hot hand phenomenon" or "hot hand") is the fallacious belief that a person who has experienced success has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts.

Loss aversion - The negative feeling of giving something up is far greater than the positive feeling associated with acquiring it or something similar.

Normalcy bias - The refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before.

Planning fallacy - The tendency to underestimate task-completion times

Dunning–Kruger effect - An effect in which incompetent people fail to realise they are incompetent because they lack the skill to distinguish between competence and incompetence. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

Zeigarnik effect - That uncompleted or interrupted tasks are remembered better than completed ones.

For students, a greater understanding of the potential for bias in decision making can go some way to helping understand more about the assumptions and “evidence” that is put forward in their assignments. For exercise professionals, a greater understanding of bias may help to reflect on current practice by developing more rigorous methods of programme evaluation as well as bring attention to some of the preconceived ideas that many professionals have regarding their various sub-groups of clients.

There are lots more on this wikipedia page and I would also recommend reading Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow”.