Tag Archives: Decision-Making

Is “A” Really the Best Option or is it Just that It’s Better Than “B”: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 18

The other day, someone was talking to me about my series on biases in judgment and decision-making and it made me realize that I was missing a rather important bias — the contrast effect! I’m not sure how this one slipped through the cracks, but I’m glad to be able to write about it for you today.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote something for this series, so let me refresh your memory. Each week, I took a cognitive bias and explained it. I provided an example and then I offered some ways for mitigating that cognitive bias in your own life. So, without further adieu, the contrast effect.

What’s the contrast effect? Well, as with many of the biases, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an effect that occurs because of a comparison. That is, people are more likely to perceive differences that are bigger or smaller because of something they’ve seen first. This is something that is used in sales — all — the — time. If you’re shopping for a new car, the salesperson may show a series of cars that are way out of your price range and then show you one that’s just a little out of your price range. After having seen so many cars that are way out of your price range, the one that’s just a little out of your price range won’t seem that far out of your price range. The contrast effect.

That’s not to pick on folks who sell cars, it can even happen with smaller purchases, shoes, for instances. Let’s say you’re looking for a particular kind of footwear. The salesperson may show you a bunch of shoes that don’t quite fit your needs and happen to be priced rather cheaply. Then, the salesperson shows you a shoe that does fit your needs, but is quite a bit more expensive. As you’ve seen all these shoes that aren’t what you need and now you’ve finally come to one that meets you’re needs, you may ignore the price and buy the shoes.

One of my favourite examples of the contrast effect comes from Dan Ariely‘s book, Predictably Irrational:

One day while browsing the World Wide Web (obviously for work-not just wasting time), I stumbled on the following ad, on the Web site of a magazine, the Economist.

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I read these offers one at a time. The first offer-the Internet subscription for $59 seemed reasonable. The second option-the $125 print subscription-seemed a bit expensive, but still reasonable.

But then I read the third option: a print and Internet subscription for $125. I read it twice before my eye ran back to the previous options. Who would want to buy the print option alone, I wondered, when both the Internet and the print subscriptions were offered for the same price? Now, the print- only option may have been a typographical error, but I suspect that the clever people at the Economist‘s London offices (and they are clever-and quite mischievous in a British sort of way) were actually manipulating me. I am pretty certain that they wanted me to skip the Internet- only option (which they assumed would be my choice, since I was reading the advertisement on the Web) and jump to the more expensive option: Internet and print.

But how could they manipulate me? I suspect it’s because the Economist‘s marketing wizards (and I could just picture them in their school ties and blazers) knew something important about human behavior: humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly. (For instance, we don’t know how much a six- cylinder car is worth, but we can assume it’s more expensive than the four- cylinder model.)

In the case of the Economist, I may not have known whether the Internet- only subscription at $59 was a better deal than the print- only option at $125. But I certainly knew that the print and-Internet option for $125 was better than the print- only option at $125. In fact, you could reasonably deduce that in the combination package, the Internet subscription is free! “It’s a bloody steal-go for it, governor!” I could almost hear them shout from the riverbanks of the Thames. And I have to admit; if I had been inclined to subscribe I probably would have taken the package deal myself. (Later, when I tested the offer on a large number of participants, the vast majority preferred the Internet- and- print deal.)

Before we movie into some of the ways for avoiding the Contrast Effect, I wanted to make it clear that sales isn’t the only place where this bias can creep up on us. Another good example is in evaluations (be they interviewing job candidates or marking term papers). If one doesn’t have a rubric by which one is scoring candidates (or papers), it can be easy to slip into the contrast effect: “Well, that candidate was much better than the last candidate, let’s put them through to the next round.” It could be that the latter candidate, while better than the first, still doesn’t meet your criteria to make it the next round, so putting them through would be wasting valuable resources — both yours and theirs.

Ways for Avoiding the Contrast Effect

1) Standardized Evaluation

In our most recent case involving interview candidates or term papers, creating a rubric or standardized method of evaluation prior to examining candidates/papers will go a long way to help one avoid falling into the trap of the contrast effect. This method could also be applied when it comes to shopping (i.e. sales). For instance, let’s say you’re looking for a car. Prior to arriving at the dealership, you could create a table for how you’re going to evaluate the cars you view while at the dealership. In this way, you can guard against the salesperson knowingly (or unknowingly) showing you cars at either end of the spectrum before showing you the cars you might actually purchase.

2) Are There Other Options?

Often times, when we’re succumbing to the contrast effect, we’re looking at option A versus option B. This is why it’s so important to have some sort of standardized evaluation (see #1), but short of a standardized evaluation, it’s important to remember that almost never are those two options your only two options. “Should I get this car or that car?” Well actually, you have another option — neither of those cars. And another option, you could consider buying a bike or maybe taking public transportation. Whenever you find yourself faced with a decision between two options, it can be useful to consider other options, just in case you’ve fallen into the trap of the contrast effect.

Note: the images in this post are all examples of the contrast effect.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:

The Confirmation Bias in Action: “When I Looked Closer, It’s Obvious I’m Right”

Decision-making biases are challenging, to say the least. Often times, we don’t know that they’re affecting our ability to make logical and rational decisions. The first step in combating these biases is knowing what they are. The next step would then be identifying when we use these biases. On that note, I came across a funny comic that perfectly illustrated the confirmation bias in action.

The confirmation bias is just dripping from this comic. It might not always be easy to see when we’re operating under the confirmation bias, but “luckily,” we might have an easier time of seeing it in someone else.

A couple of years ago, I offered some other ways for combating the confirmation bias (once you know that it’s a thing). One of these ways is a two-pronged approach: seeking out contradictory information. It may sound easy to go out and look for information that doesn’t conform to your opinion, but it can actually be quite difficult. The difficulty is amplified by the fact that much of our social media sites are doing their best to show us content that conforms to our beliefs and opinions (in part because that’s what they think we want). As a result, it *might* be easier to seek out people with contradictory opinions.

When you’re trying to combat the confirmation bias by being exposed to different information, seeking out a person with a contradictory opinion is usually superior to seeking out contradictory information. Why? Because the person can engage with you and refute the things you might mutter under your breath as you’re reading the contradictory information. Essentially, you’d be engaging in the Socratic method.

If seeking out someone with a contradictory opinion sounds interesting to you, I’d encourage you to find someone who’s aware that you’re trying to combat your own confirmation bias. That is, you don’t want your first experience in this regard to be with someone who’s going to screech at you that your ideas are crazy.

Why Not Saying “No” Might Get You Into More Trouble Than You Think

A quick Google Search will tell you that we have a hard time saying no — almost 70,000,000 results for the exact phrase of “how to say no.” A study published this last fall showed that our proclivity for not saying no might actually lead us into unethical behaviour.

The researchers begin by establishing that studies have shown how we tend not to say no when someone asks us to do something for them (i.e. engage in prosocial behaviour) and use this as the basis for testing whether this might also lead us to comply with unethical requests. To test this hypothesis, the researchers conducted four studies.

In the first study, students had to get another student to tell a “white lie.” The ‘recruiter’ was also instructed to predict how many people they’d have to ask before they’d find someone willing to tell this white lie. Results show that students had to ask approximately half as many people as they expected (8.5 vs. 4.4).

The researchers thought that telling a white lie might not have been “unethical” enough, so in the second study, they had students recruit other students to vandalize. As one would expect, students predicted that they would have to ask more people (10.7) before finding someone willing to help them out. However, as was the case with the white lie, it only took asking 4.7 people before they found someone to help them out.

In studies three and four, the researchers were trying to determine whether or not the people who were asking others do take part in unethical behavior were aware of their influence and whether the people partaking in the unethical behavior actually had a harder time “doing the right thing” if they were asked to partake in unethical behavior. In both cases, they found evidence for their hypotheses. That is, when we try to convince someone to partake in unethical behavior, we underestimate our influence and as the person doing the unethical behavior, we find it harder to “do the right thing” when someone suggests unethical behavior.

The key finding, according to the researchers:

The truly startling finding is the lack of awareness people appear to have of this tendency when they are in a position to influence someone else’s ethical behavior. Overall, the current research suggests that we may not recognize the extent which our words and actions affect others’ ethical behavior and decisions.

I’ve certainly written about the importance of our words. Although, it was in a different context. The finding from this study is, as the researchers’ say, startling.

Prior to reading the study, I wouldn’t have predicted that we would so easily be susceptible to partaking in unethical behaviour. In fact, one of my potential critiques was cross-cultural. That is, would results like these hold in different cultures? According to the researchers, yes. With that being said, I do wonder if conducting this study with a different population — Americans, rather than Canadians — might provide different results.

ResearchBlogging.orgBohns, V., Roghanizad, M., & Xu, A. (2013). Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (3), 348-362 DOI: 10.1177/0146167213511825

Meditation Mitigates Effects of Cognitive Biases

There have been thousands of scholarly articles written about the myriad benefits of meditation, but the one I came across recently was one of the first that confirmed one of my previously held beliefs: meditation helps you make better decisions.

The thing that struck me most about this study were the similarities to an experiment I conducted (on intuition and decision-making) as a research assistant. I had a condition where students would meditate for a short time and then use their intuition to make decisions. The results weren’t as I, (the research assistant I was working nor the professor), had hoped. I wrote it off as the the reluctance of undergraduates to meditate, but in this study, in particular, studies 2a and 2b, the researchers used undergraduates (approximately 200 combined) and they meditated!

In the second study, the researchers had the undergraduates listen to a 15-minute audio track, which was was specifically designed for this study. In one condition, students listened to a mindfulness meditation created by a professional mindfulness-meditation instructor and in the other, the students listened to a track, again, by a professional mindfulness-meditation instructor, that continuously instructed students to think about whatever came to mind. This second condition was called the “mind-wandering” condition and previous research used a similar method as a control for mindfulness experiments.

As I already mentioned in the opening paragraph, the researchers found that increasing mindfulness (i.e. meditation) reduced the effects of cognitive biases (i.e. the sunk cost fallacy). My favourite part of this study [Emphasis added]:

It is particularly notable in this set of studies that increased resistance to the sunk-cost bias occurred after only a brief recorded mindfulness-meditation induction. Many prior mindfulness-meditation interventions have involved 8 weeks of face-to-face training (Brown & Ryan, 2003); by comparison, our 15-min recorded manipulation is substantially more practical.

Many people have gotten it into their heads that the positive effects of meditation takes weeks to manifest. Here is tangible proof that — today — meditation can help you make better decisions. Also:

We also encourage research investigating how mindfulness practice might improve other decision-making processes and outcomes.

Absolutely! I would suspect that meditation would help guard against a whole host of other cognitive biases, but it would be fantastic if there were scientific evidence to back this up. For instance, years ago when I was the president of the student body, I once tried to begin a general assembly meeting with a quick 1-minute meditation, but the maturity level just wasn’t there. Even after 10 seconds, some of the representatives couldn’t handle the silence. I take the blame for that as I probably didn’t do the method justice by properly introducing it with the research. Can you imagine, if, before every semi-major decision, you took 10, 5, 2, or even 1 minute just to sit still and clear your mind of the previous discussion. I wonder how much lost revenue there is from not taking a moment to pause and reflect before a decision is made.

I should say, I’m sure that there is certainly time between major decisions (i.e. mergers & acquisitions, although, there is fascinating research on how big of a failure those can be), but I’m thinking about the mid-level manager who makes many decisions in a day that can affect the bottomline of a company. The managers that make quick decisions about whether to go with this contract or that contract, whether to make this purchase or that purchase. Maybe that’s a good place to start with more research.

ResearchBlogging.orgA. C. Hafenbrack, Z. Kinias, & S. G. Barsade (2013). Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797613503853

Best Posts of Jeremiah Stanghini’s Blog in 2013

Last year when I did a best posts series, I ended up doing three different posts. This year, since all of the posts that appear on this website originated on this website, I wouldn’t need to include any posts about Genuine Thriving. My first inclination was to do a best of 2013 and a best of all-time, but after looking at the statistics, the best of 2013 and the best of all-time are essentially — identical. As a result, I decided to just do the one post of the best posts of 2013.

Before revealing the top 6 posts along with an excerpt, there is one thing to keep in mind. On the old site, there used to be only an excerpt shown with the post. So, if someone wanted to read the whole post, they had to click the link (this was just how the theme worked). On this site, however, I specifically chose a theme where folks wouldn’t have to click a link to view the whole post (only to share or comment because those links are on the post’s page). As a result, the statistics for the most popular posts are sure to be skewed because people may have read a certain post more than another, but without them clicking the link for the post, there’s no way (that I know of) for me to know. On top of that, the theme I’ve chosen here allows the viewer to scroll (all the way to the first post!) What does that mean? When you’re on the homepage, you can continue to scroll down and more posts will load… all the way ’til you get to the first post. And in looking at the statistics of the top posts, it’s clear that “scrolling down” is far and away the most popular “post” on this site (this was true last year, too). With that in mind, here they are with an excerpt for each:

The Official Final Jeopardy Spelling Rules [UPDATED]

If you know me, you know that I’m really good at finding things on the Internet. After doing a couple of cursory google searches (Final Jeopardy RulesOfficial Final Jeopardy RulesOfficial Jeopardy Rules), I was surprised that I couldn’t find them. Sometimes, the site that hosts a document like this doesn’t do a good job of using keywords. So, I thought I’d poke around the official Jeopardy site — nothing.

After some more derivations of “Rules of Jeopardy,” I was beginning to think that maybe the rules aren’t online. I thought that maybe the contestants were handed a paper copy that they signed before going on the show and that document wasn’t online. Having never been a contestant on Jeopardy (though I’d like to be some time!) I couldn’t confirm whether this was true. However, given that it’s a game show, I’m sure they signed something before going on the show. Regardless, I didn’t have access to that document.

In The End, Everything Will Be OK – If It’s Not OK, It’s Not Yet The End

It’s no secret that I like quotes. Since converting my Facebook profile to a Facebook page, I’ve gotten into the habit of sharing a “quote of the day.” If my calculations are correct, I’ve been sharing quotes of the day for over 80 days now. As you’ll notice that I also have a quotes category, I’ve shared a number of quotes here on this site, too. And if I think back to the days of AIM (AOL Instant Manager), I often had quotes as my “away” message. And even before then, I remember really liking quotes in high school and in elementary (or grade) school. So, like I said, it’s no secret that I like quotes.

If You Want to Be Happy, Spend Your Bonus On Your Coworkers

That bonus you were looking forward to at the end of the year is “yours” and you should get to spend it on you and your family. Except, research shows that’s not the case. In fact, the research indicates that spending the money on someone other than yourself actually leads to greater happiness. More than that, it can lead to your improved performance at work.

The Confirmation Bias — What Do You Really Know: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 6

Why is the confirmation bias so loathed? Well, as Nickerson points out, it may be the root cause of many disputes both on an individual and an international level. Let’s think about this for a second: let’s say that in the world of objectivity “out there,” there are any number of possibilities. In the world  of subjectivity “inside my head,” there are only the possibilities that I can imagine. Humans, on the whole, tend to fear change (there are over 600,000,000 results for that search on Google!). In order to allay those fears, I’m going to prefer information that already conforms to my previously held beliefs. As a result, when I look “out there,” I’m going to unconsciously be looking for things that are “inside my head.”

Advancing America’s Public Transportation System: High-Speed Rail in the USA

When it was first announced that the US was going to work on , I was very excited! Growing up in the , I am very familiar with the value of public transportation. I often rode a bus to and from school. As I matured and wanted to explore downtown with my friends, we’d ride the  to get there from the suburban area we lived. Beyond that, when I needed to make trips between Detroit and Toronto, I would ride the  between Toronto and Windsor instead of taking the 45 minute flight. Public transportation is a great way, in my opinion, to feel better about reducing one’s .

Three Lessons from The Hobbit: On Doing What You Can, Having Faith, and Demonstrating Leadership

Anyway, as I was watching, there were a few instances I noticed that could serve as quintessential lessons. Given that The Hobbit is a good example of the hero’s journey, it’s not surprising that there’d be great lessons to be found in the story.

The Top Ways For Avoiding Cognitive Biases: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 17

Last Monday I wrote that my cognitive bias series had come to an end. However, several of you emailed me asking for a more concise summary (as you’ll recall, the last post was over 3000 words). So, I thought I’d aggregate the most frequent suggestions of ways for avoiding cognitive biases. It’s in the same vein as a post in this series I don’t often link to: WRAP — An Acronym from Decisive.

Today, I’ve gone back through the post I wrote last week and categorized the different ways for avoiding the cognitive biases that I’ve listed. I’ll list the ways in descending order of their most frequent occurrence on the lists, along with the biases that they helped to counteract:

Alternatives (6): Sunk Cost Fallacy, Endowment Effect, Planning Fallacy, Framing Effect, Confirmation BiasThe Contrast Effect

Assumptions (5): Sunk Cost Fallacy, Framing Effect, Overconfidence Effect, Halo Effect, Functional Fixedness,

Data (5): Planning FallacyGambler’s Fallacy, Primacy/Recency Effect(s), Status Quo BiasThe Contrast Effect

Empathy (3): Endowment Effect, Framing Effect, Fundamental Attribution Error,

Big Picture (3): Loss Aversion, Fundamental Attribution ErrorThe Contrast Effect

Emotional (2): Loss Aversion, Endowment Effect,

Self-Awareness (2): Overconfidence Effect, Hindsight Bias,

Expectations (1): Loss Aversion,

As you might expect, assumptions plays a big part in our decision-making, so naturally, uncovering our assumptions (or recognizing them) is an important way for avoiding the traps of cognitive biases in decision-making. Similarly, it’s important to consider and/or develop alternatives. On an important related note, one of the most important things you’ll learn about negotiating is BATNA. This stands for: the Best Alternative to a Negotiation Agreement. Alternative. It’s also not surprising to see the frequency with which “data” appears, too. Data are a really important part of making a “cognitive bias”-free decision. I’ve written about the virtues of empathy, so I won’t review it.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight that “big picture” appeared on this list a couple of times. I was surprised that it only appeared a couple of times, but that could be a result of the way I was thinking (or my biases!) when I was writing these series. For instance, two of the categories here on this site are Perspective and Fresh Perspective. Meaning, I think it’s really important that we learn how to view things from a wider scope. “Big Picture” probably coud have fallen under “Alternatives,” but I believe there’s an important distinction. With alternatives, it’s still possible to only be considering things from a micro-level, but with the big picture, there’s a necessity for seeing things from the macro-level.

PS: Happy Canada Day!

~

If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Ways For Avoiding Cognitive Biases: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 16

It’s Monday, so that means it’s time for another cognitive bias. However, I’ve finished the list of cognitive biases that I wanted to highlight. Of course, there are many more biases that could be discussed, but I thought those 14 were some of the more important cognitive biases. With today’s post, I thought I would review all of the ways for avoiding the biases, categorized by bias. So, I’ll list each bias and recount the ways that I suggested for avoiding the bias.

This is going to be a jam-packed post (with over 3000 words!) I highly recommend bookmarking this post and coming back to it as a reference. Alrighty, with that being said, let’s start with the sunk cost fallacy.

Ways for Avoiding the Sunk Cost Fallacy

So, now that we’ve looked at the sunk cost fallacy, how can we avoid it? Well, the first step in avoiding the sunk cost fallacy is recognizing it. Hopefully, the above examples have given you an idea of how this bias can arise. There are a two other ways I want to highlight that you can use to avoid this trap.

1) What am I assuming?

The crux of the sunk cost fallacy is based on an assumption. That is, you’re assuming that because you’ve already spent money on X, that you should keep spending money on X. If you look at what it is that you’re assuming about a situation, you just might find that you’re about to step into the sunk cost trap.

2) Are there alternatives?

Related to the above example is alternatives. You’re not bound to a decision because you’ve made a similar decision in the past. Just because you bought the ticket to go to the movie, if another activity presents itself as more enticing, you’re allowed to choose that one instead. In fact, if when you sit down to watch the movie, it’s bad, you’re allowed to get up and walk out. Don’t fall into the sunk cost trap thinking that you have to stay because you paid for it. There are any number of things you could be doing: going for a walk, calling an old friend, etc.

Ways for Avoiding Loss Aversion

As with the sunk cost fallacy, one of the most important ways to avoid loss aversion is to recognize it. That is, to know that humans have a tendency for loss aversion is an important first step in not falling into the trap of loss aversion.

1) What’s the big picture?

In our example of golf, that might mean knowing where you are in relation to the other players your competing with in the tournament (rather than where your ball is relation to the hole and what specific stroke you’re about to hit). In business, one might examine a decision about one business unit in relation to the entire company (rather than looking myopically at the one business unit).

2) Am I afraid of losing something?

This may seem like an obvious solution, but it’s pretty important. If before making a decision you can think to yourself (or have your team ask itself), “am I afraid to lose something here?” You might find that you are and it could serve to help you or your company avoid falling into the trap of loss aversion.

3) Do you really expect to never lose anything — ever?

Loss is inevitable. Sometimes, you won’t make that par putt (or that birdie putt). Sometimes, when you negotiate a deal, you won’t get the best deal. Sometimes, the decision to sell that business unit might result in losses somewhere else. If you can come to grips with the fact that every decision you make won’t be perfectand that sometimes you will lose, you may begin to shift your expectations about loss.

Ways for Avoiding the Endowment Effect

1) Am I emotional?

A seemingly obvious way to avoid the endowment effect is assessing whether our emotions are involved. Don’t get me wrong, emotions are a good thing, but they are a surefire way to overvaluing things that you own. That is, if you find yourself overly connected to something, your emotions might be getting in the way.

2) Independent Evaluation

This dovetails nicely with the idea of being unemotional. To guard against succumbing to the endowment effect, be sure to have an independent appraisal of whatever it is that you’re looking to sell of yours. While you’ll still have the final say on what you sell and how much you sell it for, having a second pair of eyes look at your side of the “deal” might help you determine if you’re judgment’s clouded.

3) Empathy

I wasn’t going to include this initially, but after reading the research, it certainly fits. Before I go on, I should say that folks might be confused in that I just suggested asking whether one is emotional and now I’m saying to practice empathy? For those wondering, being emotional is not the same thing as being empathetic. Back to empathy and the endowment effect. In situations where we’re selling something, researchers found there to be an empathy deficit when the endowment effect was present. So, to counter this, you should try to empathize with whom you’re negotiating.

Ways for Avoiding the Planning Fallacy

With the first three biases I talked about, awareness was a key step in overcoming the bias. While you could make that argument for the planning fallacy, one of the hallmarks of [the fallacy] is that people know they’ve erred in the past and stillmake the mistake of underestimating. So, we’ll need to move beyond awareness to help us defend against this bias.

1) Data is your friend

No, I don’t mean Data from Star Trek (though Data would probably be quite helpful in planning), but now that I think about it, Data (the character) might be a good way to position this ‘way for avoiding the planning fallacy.’ For those of you not familiar, Data is a human-like android. In thinking about this way for avoiding the planning fallacy, think about how Data might estimate the length of time it would take to complete a project. It would be very precise and data-driven. Data would likely look at past projects and how long it took for those to be finished to decide the length of time needed for this new project. To put it more broadly, if you have statistics on past projects (that were similar) absolutely use them in estimating the completion time of the new project.

2) Get a second opinion

When we think about the project completion time of one project in relation to another project, we often think about the nuances that make this project different from that project — and by extension — why this project won’t take as long as that project. Planning fallacy. If you can, ask someone who has experience in project completion in the area for which you’re estimating. When you ask this person, be sure not to tell them all the “various ways why this project is different,” because it probably isn’t and it’s only going to cloud the predictive ability of the person you’re asking. You’re probably going to hear an estimate that’s larger than you thought, but I bet you that it’s probably a lot closer to the real project completion time than the estimate you made based on thinking about the ways that this project was going to be different than all the other projects like it.

Ways for Avoiding the Framing Effect

1) Reframe the question

It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t consider “reframing” the frame with which they are looking at a situation. For instance, in the example from earlier, instead of looking at it as a choice between Program A and Program B, someone could reframe Program A so that it looks like Program C and do the same with Program B, so that it looks like Program D. As a result, one would then be getting a “fuller” picture of their choice.

2) Empathy — assume someone else’s perspective

Many choices implicate another in a situation. As a result, it might be worth it to put yourself in the shoes of that other person to see how they would view a given situation. This is similar to the reframe, but is more specific in that it might serve to help the person remove themselves a little bit from the decision. That is, when we’re faced with a choice, our personal biases can have a big impact on the decision we make. When we imagine how someone else might make this decision, we’re less likely to succumb to our personal biases.

3) Parse the question

Some questions present us with a dichotomous choice: are apples good or bad? Should we exercise in the morning or the evening? Are gap years helpful or harmful? When faced with a question like this, I would highly recommendparsing the question. That is, are we sure that apples can only be good or bad? Are we sure that exercising in the morning or the evening are our only options? Often times, answers to questions aren’t simply this or that. In fact, more times than not, there is a great deal of grey area. Unfortunately, when the question is framed in such a way, it makes it very difficult to see the possibility of the grey area.

Ways for Avoiding the Confirmation Bias

As with other cognitive biases, being aware that there is such a thing as the confirmation bias is really important. It can be hard to change something if you don’t know that there’s something to be changed.

1) Seek out contradictory ideas and opinions

This is something that I’ve written about before. If at all possible, you’ve got to be sure that you’re getting information that is counter to your beliefs from somewhere. If not, there’s little chance for growth and expansion. This can be difficult for some, so I’ve outlined ways to do this on the post I referenced above.

2) Seek out people with contradictory ideas and opinions

I answered a question on Quora last November where I placed these two ways for avoiding the confirmation bias one and two. Some folks might find it a little more difficult to seek out people with opposing views and that’s why I suggest starting with seeking out contradictory views in print (or some other form of media) to begin. However, in my experience, speaking with someone who has opposing views to mine (assuming that they are also altruistic in their endeavor to seek out opposing views) can be quite enriching. A real-life person can usually put up a better defense when your “confirmation bias” is activated. Similarly, you can do the same for them.

3) What do you really know?

My last suggestion for avoiding the confirmation bias is to always be questioning what it is that you know. This can sound tedious, but if you get into the habit of questioning “how” you know something or “why” you know something, you’d be surprised how ‘thin’ the argument is for something that you know. For instance, let’s say that you have a racial stereotype that ethnicity “x” is bad at driving. When you’re on the highway, you notice that someone from ethnicity “x” cuts you off. Instead of going into a tizzy about ethnicity “x,” you might stop and remember that, in fact, of all the times that you’ve been cut off, ethnicity “x” is the ethnicity that cuts you off the least. This is a curt example, but I think you get the idea. Just to emphasize my point: I would argue that questioning your deeply held beliefs would be a good way of countering the confirmation bias.

Ways for Avoiding the Gambler’s Fallacy

1) Independent Events vs. Dependent Events

The biggest way to avoid the gambler’s fallacy is to understand the difference between an independent event and a dependent event. In the classic example, the odds of a coin landing on heads or tails is — negligibly – 50/50 (I say negligibly because there are those who contend that the “heads side” weighs more and thus gives it a slight advantage). An example of a dependent event would be picking cards from a deck. There are 52 cards in a deck and if you pick one card without replacing it, your odds of picking one of the other 51 cards increases (ever so slightly).

Ways for Avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error

1a) Empathy

As with many of the other biases, empathy is one of the quickest ways to thwart its power of you. If I put myself in the shoes of another, I’m more likely to understand that there might be more going on in the situation than I can see from my perspective. For instance, if we look at the red light example from above, by empathizing with the driver who runs the red light, I have a much higher chance of understanding that there running the red light is not a demonstration of their disregard for the world around them, but maybe that there’s something urgent to be taken care of.

1b) “Why Would a Rational Person Behave This Way?”

The above sentence is essentially a way to create a sense of empathy, but in case empathy is an ambiguous term, I’ve marked this ‘way’ 1b. Asking yourself this question will make it easier to consider the other factors at contributing to a situation.

Ways for Avoiding the Overconfidence Effect

1) Know what you know (and don’t know)

The fastest way to slip into the trap of the overconfidence effect is to start making “confident” predictions about things that you don’t know about. Guessing the number of paper clips in a bottle is something that most of us have little to no expertise in. So, list a large confidence interval. If you have no experience in managing a project, it might be in your best interest not to make a prediction about how long it will take to complete the project (planning fallacy).

2) Is this person really an expert?

Sometimes, you’ll hear someone displaying a level of confidence in a given situation that makes you think they know what they’re talking about. As a result, it might bias you into believing what they are saying. It’s important to know if this person is an expert in this field, or if maybe they’re succumbing to the overconfidence effect.

Ways for Avoiding the Halo Effect

1) Different strengths for different tasks

One of the easiest ways to avoid falling into the trap of the halo effect is to notice that there are different skills/strengths required for different tasks. As such, just because someone is good at climbing mountains doesn’t mean that they would make a good politician. The strengths/skills required for those two tasks are different. Put another way, think about the strengths/skills required for a particular tasks before evaluating whether someone would be good at that task.

2) Notice other strengths (or weaknesses)

It’s been said that, “nobody’s perfect.” When someone is good at one thing, there’s a good chance that they won’t be good at something else. Noticing that this person isn’t good at someone else may help to quell the urge to assume that this person is good at everything.

Ways for Avoiding the Primacy/Recency Effect(s)

How you avoid these two biases really depends on the context of the decision you’re making. For instance, if you want people to remember something, you probably don’t want to give them a long list (thereby invoking the possibility of one of these two biases to happen). There are some general ways to mitigate these baises, though.

1) Keep a record (write down the data)

One of the simplest ways that either of these biases can have an impact on a decision is when there isn’t a record of data. If you’re just making a decision based on what you remember, there will be an unnecessary weighting for the beginning or the end. As a result, keeping a record of the choices can make it easier to evaluate all choices objectively.

2) Standardized data

As I mentioned earlier in this post, it’s important that the data by which you’re evaluating a choice be standardized. As we looked at in number one, keeping data isn’t always enough. it’s important that the data be uniform across choices, so an evaluation can be made. In this way, it’s easier to look at earlier choices and later choices equally whereas if this weren’t instituted, there might be a slight bias towards the beginning or the end. This tip would work for situations similar to making a purchase (and gathering data), interviewing candidates, or something that can be analogized to either of these two.

Ways for Avoiding Functional Fixedness

1) Practice, practice, practice

Probably the easiest and most effective way of overcoming functional fixedness is to practice. What does that mean? Well, take a box of miscellaneous things and see if you can design something fun/creative. The emphasis should be on using those things in a way that they weren’t designed. For instance, if you’re using a toolbox, you might think about how you can use something like wrenches to act as “legs” of a table or as a conductive agent for an electrical circuit.

2) Observant learning — Find examples

Another good way of overcoming functional fixedness is to look at other examples of people who have overcome functional fixedness. When I was giving a presentation on functional fixedness to a group (of college students) about a year ago, I showed the video below. About halfway through the video, one of them remarked: “So, basically, it’s how to be a college student 101.”

Ways for Avoiding the Status Quo Bias

1) Independent Evaluation

It really can be as easy as this. Have someone (or do it yourself) do a cost-benefit analysis on the situation/decision. In this way, you’ll be able to see the pros/cons of your decision in a new light. Of course, you may still succumb to the status quo bias, but you might be less likely to do so.

2) Role Reversal

While the independent evaluation makes “good sense” in trying to avoid this bias, doing some sort of role reversal will probably be the most effective. That is, look at the decision/situation from the other perspective. If it’s a negotiation, imagine that you’re in your negotiating partner’s shoes and you’re actually doing the trade from that side. Evaluate the deal. This may help to shake loose the status quo bias.

Ways for Avoiding the Hindsight Bias

1) Write it down!

This might be a bit tedious, but it’s a surefire way to guard against the hindsight bias. I’ve read a few articles about folks who’ve documented every prediction that they’ve ever made. While this had more to do with their profession (forecasting, stocks, etc.) it might be something you want to consider.

2) “I knew it all along!”

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I knew it all along,” or “I’m was sure it was going to happen?” These are good indicators that you’re probably operating under the hindsight bias. When you catch yourself saying these phrases, stop and think about what has happened in the situation. Chances are that you’ve “short-circuited” and you’re not thinking about what’s happened to cause that situation.