As it turns out, humans are inherently biased. Psychological studies have shown that our minds are easily susceptible to favouring information that suits our own agenda. Scientists call these biases of the mind “Cognitive Biases.” They are not rare, in fact they characterise normal human cognitive function. (Krieger, 1995)
Basically, he’s saying that bias is a completely normal and natural part of how humans think.
“The ability to think logically is a hallmark of human intelligence, yet our innate inferential abilities are marked by implicit biases that often lead to illogical inference.”Ogawa, 2010
Three common types of cognitive biases
We are all biased, whether we want to admit it or not.
There are too many types of cognitive biases to cover in detail here, however these are the three most common.
This bias is the most common. Do you ever find yourself only reading certain newspapers or watching specific channels? Have you considered this may be because those channels or papers confirm opinions you already have or believe in?
Can you remember reading an article that shared statistics that contradicted your opinion, and decided to double check they were true? Now think about whether you have ever read an article with statistics that confirmed your opinion. It’s likely you didn’t think twice about checking their credibility…
This is the phenomenon of confirmation bias.
This bias shows humans are more likely to agree with things that confirm their values and beliefs. Even when you search on Google to find out information you are subconsciously trying to confirm – not challenge – what you already believe to be true.
Let’s look at an example.
Imagine you thought saturated fat was bad for you. Which would you search?
- “How bad is saturated fat for you?”
- “How can saturated fat benefit your body?”
Exactly. You would search for the phrase that helps you find out what you want to know, the first one. However this means you are subconsciously searching with an aim to prove yourself right.
Next time you want to ask Google something, try and challenge your own views. You may be surprised at what you find.
Have ever heard the saying “If everyone jumps of a cliff would you jump too?”
This is an easy way to explain bandwagon bias. The act of subconsciously doing something just because everyone else in the group is doing it. The act of conforming to a larger group is part of what psychologists call social influence. When people go along with a crowd, they follow ‘descriptive norms.’ These norms act as invisible guidelines, which humans have created over time, and dictate how certain individuals should behave,.
Bandwagon bias is often present in work meetings. Have you ever witnessed a good idea get ignored because it came from an unpopular co-worker? Perhaps the ideas were put to a vote, and a more popular colleague had an idea that wasn’t as good. Maybe, even though you knew the unpopular coworker had a better idea, you didn’t vote for them as you didn’t want to ‘stand out.’
Bandwagon bias also exists within markets that buy and sell. Take the stock exchange for example. Brokers will often sell their corporate bonds simply because they have seen other brokers selling theirs.
Selective Perception Bias
This type of bias is all about your frame of reference, and the way you see the world. What you look at, and what you don’t look at.
How you select what you listen to, the information you choose to believe, and the facts you decide to agree with.
Specifically, it’s about how our minds can ignore negative information about things we already know or agree with. Often it is our subconscious mind filtering this other information out.
This can happen when you’re watching a video, reading a newspaper article or watching a TV show. For example, many Australians who watch the ABC will not watch Sky News, and vice versa. This can often lead to Sky News fans assuming that everything on ABC is wrong and “overly left.” Similarly, ABC fans can end up thinking that everything on Sky News is “right-wing facism” with no facts.
However, apart from the political commentary, both channels often report many similar, if not the same, stories.
Can you overcome your cognitive biases?
If you want to try and overcome the cognitive biases that naturally exist within your mind, start challenging your own views.
Look at arguments, opinions and evidence from all angles. Watch news channels you would usually scoff at. Read articles by journalists you openly dislike. Double check statistics that confirm your own opinion, before passing them on as facts.
By contesting your own views, rather than confirming them, you will end up more intelligent, more aware and hopefully, less biased.
Krieger, L. H. (1995). The content of our categories: A cognitive bias approach to discrimination and equal employment opportunity. Stanford Law Review, 1161–1248
Ogawa, A., Yamazaki, Y., Ueno, K., Cheng, K., & Iriki, A. (2010). Neural correlates of species-typical illogical cognitive bias in human inference. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22(9), 2120–2130.