Biases and their effects on decision making

Ayoola Sosan Written by Ayoola Sosan · 1 min read >

Have you ever been in a situation where you have had to decide between buying a particular brand of product or not buying it. Looking at the product, everything seems perfect for the purpose it is intended for. Still, something doesn’t feel right. You can’t put your finger on what it. You just have a sense. How do you decide whether to buy the product?

You might choose to go with that feeling or intuition. You have always trusted it and it has guided you to the right path in the past. However the problem is you haven’t put your intuition to the test so you can’t really know if it’s helping you make good choices if you’ve never seen what happens when you ignore it.

It can be dangerous to rely too heavily on what experts call System 1 thinking. System 1 are automatic judgments that stem from associations stored in memory instead of logically working through the information that’s available. No doubt, System 1 is critical to survival but psychologists have shown that it’s also a common source of bias that can result in poor decision making. This is because our intuitions frequently lead us astray.

It has also been discovered that other sources of bias involve distorted System 2 thinking. This is when deliberate reasoning goes wrong. Cognitive limitations or laziness, for example, might cause people to focus intently on the wrong things or fail to seek out relevant information.

How biases work

The critical thing is we are all susceptible to these biases, especially when we’re fatigued, stressed, or multitasking. In situations when we are pressured, we are far from making good decisions. At that moment we are mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. To manage such situations, we rely heavily on intuitive, System 1 judgments and less on careful reasoning. Here decision making becomes faster and simpler, but the result and quality of our decision often suffers.

In an article I read by three Harvard professors, the solution provided was to outsmart your own biases. You start by understanding where they’re coming from. It could be excessive reliance on intuition, defective reasoning, or both.

Awareness of your biases is good but it alone is not enough to outsmart it, said by one of the professors. According to him reflecting on his own experiences has pointed that out.

As we have always relied on our intuitions, it’s easier to seek closure, so we do. This interferes with our thinking, leading us to focus on one possible future, one objective, and one option in isolation. That is the option that is available to us. However, asking those bigger, tougher questions does not come naturally. We’re cognitive misers. We don’t like to spend our mental energy entertaining uncertainties.

When we fall into our lazy zone, we narrow our thinking and narrow our thinking. The next thing that happens is that system 1 kicks in. Intuition tells us, quickly, that we’re ready to decide, and we venture forth with great, unfounded confidence.

To outsmart your biases you have to “debias” your decisions and broaden your perspective. In my next post I will share some of the strategies stated in the article I read.

Reference: “Outsmart your own biases” by Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne


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