Decision-making, Belief, and Behavioral Biases

Social Biases

Cognitive Biases# are:

“tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.”


“Many of these biases affect belief formation, business and economic decisions, and human behavior in general.”

They show up in specific instances to help make a case either in the absence of statistical evidence, or as a reaction to statistical evidence.

For example, recently I shared an article by Adam Grant, tenured professor at Wharton and a leading expert on success, work motivation, and helping and giving behaviors. In the article – Dear Men: Wake Up and Smell the Inequality – Dr. Grant says:

In corporate America, 88% of men think women have at least as many opportunities to advance as men.

This is the finding of a major new study (link is external)—almost 30,000 employees across 118 companies—by and McKinsey & Company.

Just 12% of men felt that women had fewer opportunities to advance in their organizations.

Yet when you look at the actual data, women’s odds of advancement are 15% lower than men’s.

Dr. Grant proposes two hypotheses to explain the phenomenon of asks why men are blind to gender bias. My direct experience is that biases are so embedded in culture that have become an accepted part of it and only managers who are supremely attuned to biases learn to factor them into their decision-making.

Whenever this kind of data-driven information makes the rounds, we have the opportunity to observe biases in the real world. Reactions range from statements that demonstrate availability heuristic:

The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater "availability" in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be.

A reaction like, “in my company we have women as division managers, therefore that is not true,” may be an example that also neglects base rate or falls into 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).

Availability heuristic may also become an 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").

Because we say so, which ironically becomes the self-reinforcing mechanism that keeps us rooted into the set of beliefs that got us to where we are as a culture in the first place.

If the comments gain momentum — because people don't converse: they comment. Big difference — then we have an example of the backfire effect:

When people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.

The greater the energy behind it, the faster we can observe the bandwagon effect:

The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.

The bandwagon effect is among the many social media behaviors that keep us from conversing and into the straight and narrow of fixed mindset or on the safer broadcasting side of things. 

How we communicate is an indication of how we relate. As I said in that post:

How we relate goes to what is important to us and in which stacking order. It depends on our values, our stage in life, our attitude, and our awareness.

Our decision-making improves when our ability to understand how our biases inform our beliefs and lead us astray improves. This is important, because we also have a blind spot bias:

The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.

This is just a few examples from the first couple of letters of the alphabet, and it excludes the social biases, also listed in the Wikipedia entry. A good method for improving our bias detector is to read from several sources and become familiar with diverse bodies of knowledge — and subject what we read to inquiry.


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