Personal Development

What I Learned Building a Library of Cognitive Biases

Beat Your Biases

“There is no such thing as immaculate perception.” — Jerry Kang

I set out to build a simple library of cognitive biases.  I was sick of stumbling on biases here and there.

I wanted to create a more definitive map of cognitive biases so that I could figure out how to think and do better.

Habits are a great place to start, and thoughts are habits, too.

In fact, with all I’ve learned I have an assumption that biases may very well be our most important habits we build in this life.

Also, I’ve been increasingly curious what might limit AI in the future or lead to negative outcomes.

I learned a lot through this exercise, and I hope my bias library can help you in some way, shape or form.

Working on your biases, is working on your breakthroughs, in business and in life.

Cognitive, Emotional, and Social Biases, Oh My!

I originally thought my scope would be cognitive biases.  It’s the term I hear the most.

But then, as I started building out my map, I learned that while most biases are cognitive biases, there are also affective biases, and social biases, too.

  1. Cognitive Biases:  Systematic patterns of deviation from rationality or logical reasoning
  2. Affective Biases:  Biases based on emotional states.
  3. Social Biases:  Biases based on social contexts and interactions.

This helped me realize that I need to think in terms of the larger umbrella category of “biases”, if I want to make a more complete map.

What are Biases?

First, let’s start with a simple definition of biases.  It will help us understand what we are up against.

Biases, simply put, are systematic errors in thinking or judgment that can affect your decision-making, beliefs, and actions.

They can be influenced by a range of factors, including cognitive processes, social norms, personal experiences, and cultural influences.

Biases can impact various aspects of your life, including your work, your relationships, and your decision-making processes, often without you even realizing it.

It’s important to recognize biases and work to mitigate their effects in order to make more objective, rational decisions.

What are Cognitive Biases?

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from rationality or good judgment, which occur due to limitations in your cognitive abilities and/or the influence of social and emotional factors on your thinking.

In other words, cognitive biases are errors in your thinking that can lead you to make incorrect judgments, decisions, and interpretations of information.

These biases are often unconscious and can occur in various aspects of our lives, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and decision-making.

The Big List of Biases

Like I said, I was sick of stumbling on different biases here and there, so I wanted the big list of biases:

Big List of Biases

I alphabetized it, so I could easily add new biases or find ones I missed.  Soon my list grew large.

And then I realized, just a long list wouldn’t work.  I had to group the biases into themes or types.

This helped me create articles to focus on groups or types of biases.  And this helped me keep my Big List of Biases simple so it can easily be scanned.

Instead of defining every bias in my Big List of Biases, I define each bias within the particular set, as well as provide examples and how to protect yourself from each bias.

Types of Biases

I organized my list of biases into the following types of biases:

Attention Biases
Attitude and Belief Biases
Communication Biases
Cultural Biases
Decision-Making Biases
Emotional Biases
Evaluation Biases
Investment and Commitment Biases
Language Biases
Motivational Biases
Perception and Memory Biases
Probability and Randomness Biases
Psychological Biases
Research and Writing Biases
Self-Control Biases
Social Influence and Conformity Biases
Time and Resource Estimation Biases

Each article is a walkthrough of the collection of biases for that particular type of bias, along with a brief description, and then examples and how to protect yourself.

How To Protect Yourself from Biases

By remaining open-minded, educating yourself, seeking out diverse perspectives, being self-aware, and thinking critically, you’ll be better equipped to recognize biases in yourself and others and make more informed decisions.

Protecting yourself from biases involves being aware of your own cognitive processes and actively seeking out diverse perspectives and information.

Here are some step-by-step strategies to protect yourself from biases:

  1. Recognize that biases exist and that everyone is susceptible to them. Understanding that biases are a natural part of the human thought process is the first step to protecting yourself from them.
  2. Question your assumptions and beliefs. Challenge your own thinking and seek out evidence that supports or contradicts your beliefs.
  3. Seek out diverse perspectives. Expose yourself to different points of view, cultures, and experiences to expand your knowledge and challenge your assumptions.
  4. Practice empathy. Try to understand and appreciate others’ perspectives and experiences to gain a more complete understanding of a situation.
  5. Practice self-reflection. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to gain a better understanding of how biases may be influencing your actions.
  6. Slow down and think critically. Don’t rush to conclusions or decisions. Take time to evaluate information, consider alternative explanations, and weigh the evidence.
  7. Use data and objective criteria. Make decisions based on objective criteria rather than subjective opinions or preferences.

By following these steps, you can protect yourself from biases and make more informed decisions in your personal and professional life.

Remember that it takes ongoing effort and self-reflection to stay vigilant against biases, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

1. Recognize that Biases Exist and Everyone is Susceptible

Recognizing that biases exist and that everyone is susceptible is crucial to protecting yourself from biases because it acknowledges that biases are a natural part of human thinking and decision-making.

By accepting this fact, you can become more aware of your own biases and begin to take steps to counteract them.

It also allows you to approach situations with a more open and curious mindset, which can lead to a deeper understanding and consideration of different perspectives.

Without this recognition, you may be more likely to rely on your biased perspectives and miss out on valuable insights and opportunities for growth.

The first step is really about building awareness.   Review the Big List of Biases and the Biases in the Bias Library:

  1. Big List of Biases
  2. Biases Library

Practice recognizing the biases that exist in yourself, the biases in others, and the biases that are baked into systems, processes, and information all around you:

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you recognize the biases in yourself, the biases in others, and the biases that are baked into systems, processes, and information all around you:

  1. What assumptions are being made?
  2. What information is potentially being ignored or overlooked?
  3. What evidence or data supports the beliefs or opinions?
  4. How might someone with a different perspective view this situation?
  5. Is there too heavily a reliance on past experiences or stereotypes?
  6. Is this being influenced by emotions or feelings rather than balanced with facts?
  7. What alternative explanations or hypotheses could there be?
  8. Are all possible outcomes being considered or only the ones that align with particular expectations?
  9. How might biases be affecting decision-making process?
  10. Are diverse perspectives and opinions being considered to help challenge biases?

2. Question Your Assumptions and Beliefs

Questioning your assumptions and beliefs is essential to protect yourself from biases because biases are often rooted in our preconceived notions, assumptions, and beliefs.

By questioning these assumptions and beliefs, we can identify and challenge any biases we may have and be open to alternative perspectives and ideas.

This helps to expand our thinking, challenge our biases, and make better-informed decisions.

Additionally, by questioning our assumptions and beliefs, we can develop a deeper understanding of our own thought processes and biases, which can lead to greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Here are example questions you can use to question or challenge your assumptions and beliefs:

  1. What evidence do I have to support my belief?
  2. What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?
  3. How might my perspective change if I consider a different point of view?
  4. What other possible explanations are there for this situation or behavior?
  5. What biases or preconceived notions might be influencing my thinking?
  6. Am I relying on stereotypes or generalizations in my beliefs?
  7. Have I considered the possibility that I might be wrong or mistaken?
  8. What new information or perspectives could I seek out to challenge my beliefs?
  9. How have my experiences and background shaped my beliefs and assumptions?
  10. What would it take for me to change my mind or consider an alternative belief?

3. Seek Out Diverse Perspectives

Seeking out diverse perspectives helps protect yourself from biases by broadening your understanding and challenging your assumptions.

When you actively seek out perspectives that differ from your own, you expose yourself to new ideas, experiences, and ways of thinking.

This can help you recognize and overcome your own biases, as well as develop a more nuanced and inclusive perspective.

By seeking out diverse perspectives, you can also improve your ability to communicate and collaborate with others, which can lead to better decision-making and outcomes.

Here are some steps to seek out diverse perspectives and some questions to ask:

  1. Identify the areas where you want to seek out diverse perspectives. For example, it could be related to a work project, a personal decision, or a current event.
  2. Identify the groups or individuals who may offer different perspectives. This could include people from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, or professions.
  3. Reach out to these individuals or groups and ask if they are willing to share their perspectives with you.
  4. Prepare questions to ask that will help you understand their point of view. Here are some examples:
  • What do you think are the most important factors to consider in this situation?
  • What experiences or perspectives do you have that may be different from mine?
  • How would you approach this problem or decision?
  • What assumptions do you think I may be making that could be limiting my perspective?
  • How do you see this issue affecting different communities or groups?
  • What concerns do you have about the potential outcomes of this decision?
  • What are some potential solutions or approaches that I may not have considered?
  • What additional information or resources would you recommend that I explore?
  1. Listen actively and with an open mind. Be curious and ask follow-up questions to clarify their perspectives.
  2. Reflect on what you have learned and how it may impact your own beliefs or assumptions. Consider how you can incorporate these diverse perspectives into your decision-making or problem-solving processes.

4. Practice Empathy

Practicing empathy can help protect yourself from biases by encouraging you to consider and understand different perspectives and experiences.

Empathy allows you to recognize and challenge your own biases by gaining a deeper understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others.

By empathizing with others, you can learn to approach situations with an open mind, avoid making assumptions, and seek out new information to inform their decisions.

This can lead to more informed, objective, and inclusive thinking, reducing the impact of biases on your personal and professional interactions.

Here are some steps to practice empathy in terms of protecting yourself from biases:

  1. Recognize your own biases: Before you can practice empathy towards others, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge your own biases. Be aware of your own beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes towards different groups of people.
  2. Listen actively: When engaging with others, listen actively and with an open mind. Avoid interrupting or judging the person’s perspective, and instead focus on understanding their viewpoint.
  3. Ask open-ended questions: Ask questions that invite discussion and allow for multiple perspectives. Avoid leading questions that assume a certain answer or point of view.
  4. Seek out diverse perspectives: Make a conscious effort to seek out diverse perspectives and opinions, especially from those who have different backgrounds or experiences than you. This can help broaden your understanding and challenge your own biases.
  5. Consider other people’s feelings: Empathy involves understanding and considering other people’s feelings and emotions. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand how they might be feeling.
  6. Reflect on your interactions: After engaging with others, take time to reflect on the conversation and your own biases. Ask yourself if there were any moments where you felt defensive or judgmental, and consider why that might be.
  7. Practice self-awareness: Finally, practice self-awareness by regularly checking in with yourself and reflecting on your own biases and assumptions. This can help you be more conscious of your thoughts and actions, and help you make more informed and empathetic decisions.

5. Practice Self-Reflection

Practicing self-reflection can help protect you from biases by allowing you to examine your own thoughts, emotions, and actions in a non-judgmental way.

This can lead to greater self-awareness, understanding of your personal biases, and increase your ability to recognize and challenge them in the future.

Through reflection, you can identify patterns and beliefs that may be limiting your perspective, and explore new ways of thinking and behaving that are more objective and inclusive.

Ultimately, practicing self-reflection can lead to greater personal growth and development, and can help you prevent biases from negatively impacting your decision-making and relationships.

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