Cognitive Biases: Thinking Traps

Learn how to recognize and resist them.

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Did you know that much of what we decide every day is not a “decision,” but an unconscious reaction—made when our mind makes a quick assumption on our behalf? These little shortcuts save us from deliberating about each piece of information flowing through our minds in every second of the day.

These shortcuts are helpful because they create an efficient energy highway for our brain, letting small decisions—whether they are indeed small, or part of a larger decision—pass through quickly and often unnoticed. But, when a shortcut is flawed because of a cognitive bias, it can force us to take an unintended and sometimes wrong turn.

These cognitive biases are like thinking traps that can distort reality and impact good decision-making.

In the Classroom

Through Decision Education, students will identify and practice strategies for recognizing and resisting cognitive biases. This will ensure that they are consciously (or deliberately) deciding, and aware of their thinking process—not just reacting when creating options or choosing among them.

How this domain comes to life in the classroom

Quick History

The term cognitive bias was first developed in the 1970s by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who after years of research found that people often had flawed patterns of thinking and reacting when faced with decisions. Kahneman, following Tversky’s death, went on to write the now globally acclaimed: Thinking, Fast and Slow, which details how cognitive biases impact decision-making.

Cognitive Biases Countdown

Researchers and scientists continue to document the number of cognitive biases that can trip up our decision-making. Some scientists have the number as high as 188. Below, we highlight a few of the most common.

It is important to learn how to identify these biases, and then watch out for them so that they do not negatively impact our decision-making. Keep in mind that you, or others, can be influenced by more than one cognitive bias at a time. Below are some of the cognitive biases that can affect our decision-making.

1. Availability Heuristic

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2. Representativeness Heuristic

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3. Anchoring Effect

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4. Confirmation Bias

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5. Hindsight Bias

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6. Attribution Error

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7. Overconfidence Bias

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8. Loss Aversion Bias

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9. Sunk-Cost Fallacy

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10. Framing Effect

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11. Blindspot Bias

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12. Present Bias

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13. Base Rate Neglect

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14. Probability Neglect

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15. Sample Size Neglect

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16. Halo Effect

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17. Polarized Thinking

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18. Bandwagon Effect

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19. Gambler’s Fallacy

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20. In-Group Bias

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