Most of us consider ourselves to be reasonable people, with plenty of common sense. We like to think that when we make decisions, at work or personal life, we do so based on a rational, logical process.
But research is showing that this is not really the case. Our minds tend to take shortcuts when making decisions, most likely as a survival mechanism resulting from evolutionary pressures. But while these shortcuts may have been helpful during primitive times, they can be counterproductive when dealing with the complex issues facing us today in modern society, causing us to make decisions that are based on emotion or instinct, rather than reason. Here are a few of these so-called cognitive biases we need to guard against.
1. Survival Bias
This is a false assumption people make about other people or groups who have made it past certain obstacles or reached certain positions. If we see that they share any common traits, we automatically assume those traits were instrumental in their success.
It is a confusion of correlation with causation. Just because those common factors are associated with the successful people we see, it doesn’t mean those factors caused their success. What we fail to take into account are the people or groups who share the same traits but who failed to surmount the same obstacles or reach the same positions.
2. Availability Bias
This is another mental shortcut our minds take that can distort our thinking. We tend to give greater weight to the thoughts, ideas, or concepts that come readily to mind when considering a certain topic or issue.
For example, if asked which job is more dangerous, a policeman or logger, most would respond that being a policeman is more dangerous. That is because generally, we know more about what they do. We see stories about them often in the news, usually involving some kind of assault. This is what pops into our mind when asked the question about the more dangerous job.
But, in actuality, the logging job is more dangerous.
3. Clustering Bias
This is a proclivity humans have of finding patterns or clusters where there really are none. Our minds look for patterns. We cannot abide randomness.
The most common example of this is gambling. If people go on a run of winning at the slot machines, for instance, they tend to think it is because they are having a run of good luck, that it is some kind of trend, rather than what it really is – a series of completely random, unrelated events.
These are just a few of the mental errors we all need to be on guard against, which will improve our decision making at work and outside it as well.