Can Biases Affect Our Thinking and Decision-making?

Posted On 2023-12-26

Author Shilpa Desai

Biases such as cognitive biases are as old as humankind, although we have been scientifically introduced to and made aware of this only by Daniel Kahneman in 2011. His book 'Thinking Fast and Slow' is everything that you would want to read about this subject. For some of us in a hurry, we can also read the book 'Art of Thinking Clearly' by Rolf Dobelli. Dobelli makes a list of nearly ninety-nine biases. 

This blog is my attempt to introduce the subject and inspire the reader to be interested in it - to read and observe more about it.

Biases, which affect our psyche, can modify human behavior to a large extent. Rolf Dobelli describes about ninety-nine biases affecting our thinking and decision-making capability. My blog talks about three of them – confirmation bias cognitive bias), action bias, and sunk cost fallacy (commitment bias).


What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias, a cognitive bias, is a tendency or pattern of systematic error or deviation from rationality. Confirmation bias can manifest as shortcuts or rules of thumb that help quick decision-making, but they might change our perception of rationality.  

Confirmation bias leads us to believe or agree with facts that go with our existing beliefs and ignore the facts or the evidence that is not in line with our current beliefs. 

Here are a couple of examples of confirmation bias 

1 - When you read a book about the benefits of meditation, it will never talk about people who are happy but do not meditate or talk about people who meditate but are not happy. Does it mean that meditation is the only key to happiness? No, but when somebody writes a book on it, the writer might ignore all other evidence and focus only on the tiny part where the people are happy and meditate. In this case, the writer has a confirmation bias, and the readers can get it passed on after reading the book.

The readers of this book start believing that meditation is a key to happiness, but if you look closely around, you will find plenty of happy people who probably do not meditate daily, or there will be some who meditate but are still not happy.

2 - Let us take another example of confirmation bias – We say Google is successful because it has a culture of creativity. However, plenty of other startups have a culture of creativity and are not as successful. But we will never talk about them, and that's confirmation bias. 

How does confirmation bias affect our thinking? 

Confirmation bias can result in humans making poor decisions and create an echo chamber around us where we only see what we want to see and only believe what we want. 

How do we overcome confirmation bias?

But there are ways to overcome this bias. 

Step 1 - Start with the first step of awareness- knowing you don't want to fall prey to confirmation bias. 

Step 2 - Then invite diverse opinions and review the facts you believe from different angles. 

What is Action Bias?

Another form of bias that is very common is action bias. Everyone will agree to take action when a problem or a decision is required. But then there are many instances where not doing anything is the best thing to do. But we prefer doing something because we don't want to be seen as lazy or indecisive. 

This kind of action bias results in wasted resources and hurried decision-making. So next time you want to decide, pause and reflect and see whether it will help your cause or not doing anything is a better option.

Here is an example - When you go grocery shopping, how many varieties of biscuits do you see, or when you want to buy clothes, how many different types of T-shirts and their styles do you browse through? 

Does it help you make a decision? 

It's counterproductive; the more choice we get, the more confused we are, and we need help figuring out what to do. 

In fact, after making a decision or making a choice, there is always an after-thought about whether we made the right choice: should it have been this T-shirt or the one I did not buy? 

The paradox of choice means that more options are not always good. Sometimes it can be counterproductive. 

And how do you get out of this? 

You get out of this by listing the essential things that will impact your decision-making, sticking to the options that are part of your pointers, and ignoring the rest. 

Avoiding perfectionism is another way; perfect is the enemy of good. 

The more you read and think about these biases, the more you will notice that some of these biases are opposite to each other. 

When I say perfection is the enemy of good, it is also one kind of action bias.

What is Commitment Bias?

Commitment bias is a tendency to escalate our commitment to whatever we did or said in the past and continue doing the same behaviour, especially in public.

Sunk Cost Fallacy is an example of commitment bias. 

What is the Sunk Cost Fallacy?

The sunk cost fallacy means that we value something or are attached to a cause where we have invested time, energy, and effort, and we are unwilling to move away even when we see no real benefit. 

It also helps our belief in being consistent. Would you like to agree on something and then change your mind after a few months and not do it anymore? 

Rational decision-making means you need to remember the cost, energy, or effort that has gone into it but view the project or decision only from the angle of the future benefit. 

What are the disadvantages of having sunk cost fallacy? 

If we fall into the trap of the sunk cost fallacy, we end up wasting resources, missing opportunities, and getting sub-optimal decision outcomes. 

How to Overcome the Sunk Coast Fallacy?

It is relatively easy to get out of this fallacy. We have to evaluate the decision only based on the future outcome rather than on what has already gone so far in the action. So, take a divergent perspective and cut your losses when necessary.


So, this is just a trailer for the entire book. 

There is no practical way to get out of the bias in our thinking, but it's possible to be mindful of the bias we encounter. Being aware of these pointers is a constant practice of your decision-making skills. 

So, give the book a good read, and let me know your thoughts on how it has helped you.

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