Cognitive Biases and Being a Fallible Human

Human Nature is subject to many flaws. In particular, cognitive biases are psychological tendencies that cause the human brain to draw incorrect conclusions. Wikipedia describes a Cognitive Bias:

A cognitive bias describes a replicable pattern in perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality. They are the result of distortions in the human mind that always lead to the same pattern of poor judgment, often triggered by a particular situation. Identifying “poor judgment,” or more precisely, a “deviation in judgment,” requires a standard for comparison, i.e. “good judgment”. In scientific investigations of cognitive bias, the source of “good judgment” is that of people outside the situation hypothesized to cause the poor judgment, or, if possible, a set of independently verifiable facts. The existence of most of the particular cognitive biases listed below has been verified empirically in psychology experiments.

I’m often involved in decisions, either on my own or as part of the team or providing information to someone else. When researching a product or a technology, I try to be conscious of how I perceive problems, how I react to the data I have available or whether I have the right data. I consider whether my current frame of mind is positive or negative, am I tired. Did some person from a particular company make me angry, or excite me ? Does this affect my perception of a vendor or their product ?

By being aware of the fact that human nature is consistently flawed, I can try to “engineer” my thinking and affect the people around me. Being aware of these biases helps me to consider why someone might act a certain way, or take a view that I don’t understand. As an example, I may have been researching a project for a customer for about 100 hours. Over that time, I’ll make a number of decisions, firm up a view and prepare a report that details my solution. By this time, I’m pretty sure that I know

While there are many biases here is a shorter (and incomplete) list decision making biases that I try to account for:

Social Biases (19 in total)
Social Bias Description
Self-fulfilling prophecy The tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or not) confirm existing attitudes.
Status Quo Bias The tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest.
Herd instinct Common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict.
Projection bias The tendency to unconsciously assume that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions.
Illusion of asymmetric insight People perceive their knowledge of their peers to surpass their peers’ knowledge of them.
Memory Biases (eight in total)
Memory Biases Description
Hindsight bias Filtering memory of past events through present knowledge, so that those events look more predictable than they actually were; also known as the ‘I-knew-it-all-along effect’.
Suggestibility A form of misattribution where ideas suggested by a questioner are mistaken for memory.
Consistency bias Incorrectly remembering one’s past attitudes and behaviour as resembling present attitudes and behavior
Decision Making Biases (42 in total)
Decision Bias Description
Hyperbolic discounting The tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, where the tendency increases the closer to the present both payoffs are.
Negativity bias Phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative than positive experiences or other kinds of information.
Normalcy bias The refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before.
Omission bias The tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions).
Mere exposure effect The tendency for people to express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.
Illusion of control The tendency for human beings to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they clearly cannot.
Post-purchase rationalization The tendency to persuade oneself through rational argument that a purchase was a good value.
Planning fallacy The tendency to underestimate task-completion times.
Confirmation bias The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Bandwagon effect The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behaviour.

These are just a few that I tend to keep “top of mind”. There are many more although not all are relevant in an engineering context.

Just something to think about in case you forget that you are surrounded by human beings, all of whom are as fallible and flawed as you are. :)

You can find an excellent PDF of all the Cognitive Biases at Study Guide to help you memorize all of the Cognitive biases!