Five Cognitive Tools for Cleansing Your Biases Away

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Have you ever considered playing Devil’s advocate with your own core beliefs? Have you ever allowed impartiality to discourage any warped information that has tainted your decision-making method? What is the source of this implicit influence regarding one’s choices in solving a problem? The answer lies in the mental shortcuts we take to simplify our information quickly. Moreover, these hasty heuristics are better known as cognitive biases.

In light of making decisions, individuals may allow prepossessed information to influence their real-world choices. More importantly, these heuristics (i.e., mental shortcuts) guide us to answers about how to interpret the world more briefly and efficiently. Being a world with information circulated at a high velocity, one may get lost in the traffic of analyzing some situations and rely heavily upon our influenced heuristics to make sense of reality.

However, as good as mental shortcuts are, these cognitive heuristics can lead us to lose our impartiality by sticking to prejudiced information that influences our actions in coming to decisions. Such an issue may instruct us to stereotype others by allowing our one-sided thinking to bring about prejudicial discrimination, allowing our heuristics to become cognitive biases.

Furthermore, these cognitive biases intrude on an individual’s impartiality by causing their decisions to be tainted by their partisan political preferences and group associations. Therefore, allowing our cognitive biases to affect the choices we make in coming to a prepossessed decision.

Such an example can lead us to vote for political candidates that only confirm what we believe, and anything contrary to our belief is fallible. These heuristics that we employ as we come to quick and efficient answers to the universe’s mysteries can be helpful at times. But other times, these mental shortcuts cause us to become blindsided by our one-sided, immobile beliefs.

As can be seen, an intuitive approach to understanding how these heuristics influence our actions when faced with a decision relies upon three specific biases that affect our choices.

Notably, individuals tend to exercise an anchoring bias to the first piece of information they have learned. Simultaneously, allowing this inclination to influence their actions in coming to a decision, also known as the first-impression bias. Frequently, when faced with antithetical information, people tend to disagree or ignore the information that challenges their core beliefs and favor information that confirms their existing assumptions. This influence upon our decision-making is recognized as confirmation bias. Likewise, others may exercise an overconfidence bias in making significant political or social decisions by claiming their moral strength over others without objective consideration of other contrary opinions.

Altogether, let us discuss these three cognitive biases that affect our choices in making a concrete decision more thoroughly and consider alternatives to cleansing these biases away from the foggy vision of our prepossessed thinking.

Three Biases in Decision-making

It is an acknowledged fact that we perceive errors in the work of others more readily than in our own.”
Leonardo da Vinci

Anchoring Bias, “First-impression” Bias

How often have you been influenced by the first piece of information you have heard? Such as being told as a child that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real (Disclaimer, if you are under the age of 13 years old, I’m sorry to break the devastating news), and having to behave each day and night with a mild-mannered attitude to get on Santa’s nice list or receive an Easter basket.

Video by Nathan J Hilton from Pexels

However, being the ignorant child I was during my youth, I also recall these harmless fables affecting my choices in deciding what I ought to do. As a result, I anchored my decisions with the information that Santa has a list by which he double-checks to find out who is naughty or nice. Constantly accepting this fib, we allowed our actions to anchor upon this construed datum that impacts why we make good or bad decisions.

Similarly, research suggests this anchoring bias influences individuals by allowing their choices to be affected by the first piece of information they receive. For example, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, in their article Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, illustrate this prepossessed conditioning we acquire when making a decision based upon the information received. Throughout their article, Tversky and Kahneman suggest individuals adjust their conclusive solutions from the starting point of an initial value, which purports the prenatal information’s importance in affecting our final choices.

Simply put, we, as constantly moving humans, are presented with lots of information we have no prior knowledge of. Therefore, we begin to ascribe more weight to the first piece of information received.

In particular, when deciding which political candidate is the right choice for you, individuals may not truly know what is best for themselves. As a result, this causes individuals to rely overly on a misguided datum to inform their swift decision-making.

For example, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is constantly labeled a far-left radical socialist who pushes for an expansive welfare state. Bernie Sanders’s recognition as a socialist hurts his image towards American voters’ decision-making by allowing this damning piece of information to anchor their choices against Bernie Sander’s extremist values.

More importantly, as Tversky and Kahneman discussed, individuals succumb to allowing their first impressions of a piece of information — whether fact or fiction — to influence their choices in future decision-making. Therefore, causing certain decisions, such as voting for a political candidate, anchor upon unconfirmed news sources that guide misled heuristics to sway voters.

Confirmation Bias

Growing up in a residential community that predominantly smelled like cow manure, I immediately associated any whiff of this perfumed organic fertilizer as being the familiarity of my homeland. As a matter of fact, I began making these quick and decisive associations to other first impressions I had made to other things globally, such as connecting red with stop. However appropriate these swift associations were, I started to create a lynx-eyed fixation on the first piece of information I perceived and sought out examples or sources that supported these quick associations.

Photo from Farnam Street

More importantly, these sudden mental shortcuts allow our decisions to rely upon sources that only confirm what we already believe is the case. In light of antithetical information, people let their confirmation biases seek out information sources that adhere only to their subjective narrative — without ever considering arguments that disconfirm their beliefs and ideologies.

For example, let’s say someone holds a belief that Liberals are far more open-minded than Conservatives. As a result, whenever he runs into an amenable progressive, he places higher importance on this evident source in supporting his hypothesis. Additionally, this individual may even seek further evidence validating his thesis while continuing discounting conflicting viewpoints. In a word, these misdirected individuals allow their immobile beliefs to hinder their ability to accurately and concretely understand their situation objectively without their obscuring biases.

For the most part, our confirmation biases prevent us from looking at an issue in its entirety. This bias also influences the television programs and news sources we turn to for learning about the “true” facts about the world. Therefore, causing us to ignore or disprove other sources that challenge our foundational credence.

Overconfidence Bias

When faced with issues, whether moral or political, people tend to attach their overconfidence in deciding whether this judgment is right or wrong. Such as someone believing that she is a far better driver than the rest of her colleagues or acquires far more knowledge in mathematics than the rest of her class. As a result, people who employ an overconfidence bias allow their boastful abilities to make decisions without considering what is objectively plausible.

To put it differently, these individuals permit their overweening choices to act without a proper objective reflection. Thus, people believe they know more than what is required, which causes individuals to have an overindulgence of faith in their own morality. Moreover, we resign these choices to our authoritative ego by causing our actions to reflect the ignorance we continue to employ through this overconfidence bias. In a word, one’s ignorance, in a world with information at the palm of your hands, is a choice.

For instance, there tends to be an overwhelming majority of voters who vote in favor of electing only their political party into office. Notably, leaving the small minority of 3.5% of American voters electing leaders opposite to one’s own party affiliation. In addition to these political decisions, these individuals allow for their overconfidence in knowing what is best for them — via their political party’s agenda — to invest their votes for the party’s egoism.

Cognitive Tools to Cleanse Your Biases Away

However painful it is to cleanse away our biases, this endeavor requires us to accept that we are all not perfect and acquire the polishing of our rough edges. After all, for us to make informed decisions, there must be a sense of empowering ourselves to be wholly transparent in our actions. Such as being able to, as Descartes would say, dump out all the apples of our supposed knowledge and skeptically analyze each ‘foundational’ belief one-by-one to determine which is truth.

Here are a few mental tools to employ when making important decisions, whether these actions be moral or political. By allowing ourselves to be in this existential struggle with attempting to understand our efforts, I encourage readers to take into consideration these five steps to cleansing our cognitive biases to ensure an enlightened verdict.

  1. Being open-minded to alternative viewpoints and maintaining an impersonal attitude to counterevidence.
  2. Questioning one’s own core beliefs with a skeptical leaning on what is the actual truth.
  3. Ask oneself if one’s presented with all relevant facts.
  4. Considering alternative scenarios.
  5. Acknowledging that no one is exempt from acquiring cognitive biases.

If you happen to be more curious about cognitive biases, visit Project Implicit to learn more about these hidden biases we employ throughout our lives. Moreover, if you are up to the challenge, Project Implicit also provides the option to take an Implicit Association Test (IAT), which contains a range of topics that measure your quick heuristic associations between two groups.

VotingSmarter’s Christopher Gonzales contributed to this article.

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