Personal Development, Posts, Understand Yourself

Outsmart the Availability Heuristic

Salient events are easier to remember, so we give them more importance in our decisions. Psychologists call this simple fact “the Availability heuristic”, which is a cognitive bias.

Cognitive Bias?

Remember that cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us survive in a dangerous world, but they fool us in a complicated one. When you see a lion in the Serengeti, you need to run without thinking. But when you decide to buy a car, it would be better to avoid running to buy the one you see frequently in the ads and think thoroughly before making the decision.

Examples of the Availability Heuristic

Salient memories from one’s experience will impact its future decision, when searching for a job, a neighborhood, a partner, a vacation destination, etc. We focus on that specific event and forget about the rest. We make a poor decision, and we often regret it.

Plane crashes are so rare that everyone knows about them when they happen. Yet they seem to horrify people much more than car accidents, which cause many more victims… Sharks, Tsunamis, Terrorist attacks, etc. These are a salient cause of death, but they have, by far, the least number of victims compared to car accidents or medical errors.

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The media are an enormous « availability bias » machine. Journalists and reporters are both victims and contributors to this social phenomenon. A journalist that reports “a plane departing from Berlin had landed safely in CDG airport this afternoon” will most probably lose his job. Continue reading “Outsmart the Availability Heuristic”

Personal Development, Posts, Understand Yourself

Outsmart your Confirmation Bias

The first cognitive bias that we will review in the series “Outsmart Your Biases” is the Confirmation Bias, that is, the tendency to search for, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms our opinion, and neglect information that contradicts it.

The Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is one of the most common biases that have direct consequences on our personal life and professional career. The examples are endless. We often seek information to prove that our political party is right. When we like a person, we don’t want to see her character flaws. To prove the validity of our proposed strategy we search on google for “Is the [proposed strategy] better than [opposite strategy]?”. In a job interview, we frame our questions in a way to confirm our beliefs or our first impression of the candidate. etc… Try to figure out in which decision you were prone to it.

Jeff Bezos about today’s internet: “a Confirmation Bias Machine”.

To outsmart your confirmation bias, you may use the following tricks:

  • Ask for an outside view of the topic at hand and seek criticism.
  • Search for the pros and cons of the different options.
  • Suppose the opposite: be the devil’s advocate.

Such debiasing strategies can be performed in brainstorming format, in informal discussion, etc.