Cognitive Bias: Systematic Error by the Brain


As a human being, our brain receives lots of information and interpret them every day in our life. The information accumulated slowly form our belief or opinion on different things and influence us in making decisions. However, not every one of us perceives things and think the same. The same issue could be regarded as different things by different people. 

The way we think affects us much more than we could imagine. It could affect how we feel and how we make decisions. So, is it fine to completely trust our brain in perceiving and processing information? Unfortunately, the answer might be no. Social scientists reported that there are certain ways of our thinking that are distorted. We are not aware of this “systematic error” which makes us often fail to judge rationally. This faulty by our brain is termed as cognitive bias. There are different types of cognitive bias identified and quite a number frequently happen in our life.

The most common bias we experience happens when we try to find evidence and give attention to something that we have previously believed. This bias is widely known as confirmation bias. We tend to pay attention only to the evidence that supports our hypothesis and ignore those that contradict our verdict. For example, there is a person who believes that having twins could bring luck to the family. Whenever he meets a wealthy family with twins, he would remember this information and remember this fact as a confirmation of his previous belief. However, when he meets a poor family with twins, this person will perceive it as a mere exception, forget and ignore this fact. He only regards things that confirm his previous belief. We are very often to behave this way without realizing it. In certain situation, it could be extremely detrimental in our life as we ignore the truth has been shown. We act the opposite way as we only want to trust what we want to believe and filter out what we don’t want to.

Another bias that we often experience is a situation where we favor a choice over another just because it comes to our mind. For example, someone was asked to choose between two different brands. They recall that a friend of theirs once mentioned A is better than B. He prefers A to B just because that is the only occasion he could remember someone else mentioned about the brand. This bias leads people to judge based on what comes first to their mind without carefully doing the research. Another scenario that could be destructive is when someone sees people around them win the lottery and they perceive that there is a higher chance to win the lottery, thus he or she put more spending on buying a lottery ticket. This could hinder people from being rational.

These two examples of cognitive bias are quite common and often experienced. There are more than 10 types of cognitive biases identified. It is very natural for every human being to have this bias although someone might think that he or she is open-minded and objective. Someone’s opinion will always be influenced by their past knowledge or experience, thus it is hard or almost impossible to be neutral. Knowing that cognitive bias could shape the way we think is crucial as it makes us more careful in perceiving and making decisions. We could also try to listen from the opposite perspective and understand why other people could think the other way. Trying to understand and be aware that our brain tends to be biased might make us wiser and more careful, also comprehensive towards others.


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