In the realm of human cognition lies an interesting phenomenon – cognitive bias. This blog will dive deeper into what cognitive bias is, types of cognitive bias, impacts on organizations and tools you can use to mitigate the negative effects of cognitive bias.
What is Cognitive Bias?
The human brain is wired to develop and make use of social categories and schemas. Humans take mental short cuts in response to ambiguity, information overload, memory, or speed. These mental short cuts are a biological and evolutionary tool to help us make quick decisions in the face of challenging circumstances. These mental short cuts help us remember new information, but also may lead us to falsely remember things that never happened to us and to distort or misremember things that did.
These mental short cuts are cognitive biases.
Cognitive biases have a profound effect on how individuals view the world and how they make decisions within the world they perceive, even if some of those decisions are not in their best interests or the best decisions, in a given situation.
System 1 & 2 Thinking
In his book Thinking Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman differentiates between 2 types of thinking – System 1 and System 2.
System 1 thinking operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. This is where Cognitive Bias lives.
System 2 thinking allocates attention to mental activities that demand effort. This is often associated with subjective experiences of agency, choice, and concentration.
When we think of ourselves and our identity, we are likely to identify most with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do. In reality, we spend a lot of our lives operating in System 1, and System 1 operations help to construct the beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2.
Types of Cognitive Bias
There are many types of cognitive bias. Here is a sampling of a few that you may have experienced.
Why Does Cognitive Bias Matter for Organizations?
Cognitive Biases have a substantial impact on any organization, influencing decision-making, problem-solving and overall performance. Bias finds its way into all aspects of our lives and identities - bias can be related to age, race, ethnicity, gender, employment, selection and promotion, health care, religion, disability, nationality, socioeconomic status, education etc. Understanding these biases is crucial for creating an environment that fosters critical thinking, psychological safety, and inclusivity.
Key impacts of cognitive bias on organizations include:
Confronting Cognitive Biases – Strategies for You and Your Team
Cognitive biases are not permanent, they are malleable and can be changed by devoting intention, attention, and time to developing new associations. To help mitigate the impact of cognitive bias, managers and organizations can implement strategies such as:
Self-Reflection: By increasing self-awareness of your own bias, you can begin to make better decisions and mitigate the impact of bias. Try this workbook to support you in reflecting on your own bias.
Support Your Team in Self-Reflecting: Help your team learn more about and become aware of their bias. You can use this workbook as a tool to facilitate this type of learning and as a way to connect your team to one another.
Increase Situational Awareness: Become aware of situations that magnify stereotyping and bias. Time pressures, fatigue, stress and information overload all impact our ability to move past bias and utilize our system 2 thinking. Work with a coach (link) to reflect on past experiences and develop skills for the future.
Diversify: While bias may prevent us from hiring a diverse team, diversity can also help us to prevent bias from impacting our business and teams. By consciously working to diversify your team and those at the table making decisions, we can begin to distill out bias.
Try New Strategies: Try out new strategies for making decisions. Try consulting with trusted people with different backgrounds or delegating to others to remove your own bias.
Set Aside More Time: Where possible, take time to make decisions and allow yourself and those on your team to utilize system 2 thinking. By creating space between stimulus and response, you give yourself the time to reflect on the situation more fully.
Cognitive biases have a profound effect on how individuals view the world and how they make decisions within the world they perceive. For organizations, this can have far-reaching effects. Luckily, there are things that leaders and organizations can do to reduce bias.
Biases - The Decision Lab. (n.d.). The Decision Lab. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases
Kahneman, D. (2013, April 2). Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Stangor, C. and Walinga, J. (2014). Introduction to Psychology – 1st Canadian Edition. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/