How Many Different Types of Bias are There, Anyway?

Major news outlets claim to be unbiased and fair in their reporting. Regular people claim to understand and have control over their biases. Do we — as a society — realistically understand how many types of bias there are? And, is it really possible to not allow our biases to influence our decisions?

Let’s look at some simple examples of how our biases can present themselves in everyday life and become more aware of how to not let them influence our decision-making:

· Declinism: This is probably the most common one. It’s basically when we remember the past as better than it was, while simultaneously believing the future will be worse than it likely will be. This type of bias is pervasive in the media, and in your average person’s psyche. It is the default bias when discussing anything related to politics. It seems people of all ages tend to be inflicted by this bias as they remember their lives in comparison to present circumstances. “When I was younger [insert positive memory]. Now it’s just [insert negative analysis of the world at present]. And, God help us all in the near future when [insert bleak prediction of total annihilation of human species].”

· Just-World: Many of us Americans like to believe the world is a just place. It makes us feel secure in our lives. To think that somewhere in the world someone is dying of hunger, can overwhelm us with guilt if we think about it while we enjoy an expensive meal at a nice restaurant. So, we chase away the guilt by reminding ourselves that we work hard and we’re good people, so we deserve this nice meal. Anyone who doesn’t have access to such things is just not trying hard enough, so they get what they deserve. Of course, this bias can cloud our judgment of other people and their situations. It helps to cloak the madness of the system we have built. It’s also a bias that politicians tend to exploit to get you to vote for them.

· Belief & Confirmation Bias: Our beliefs shape our perception. After all, the human condition requires we believe in something for it to be real. When one believes in something, they will find or fabricate as much evidence as necessary to support that belief; likewise for something one does not believe in. Our brains automatically default to our belief structures when analyzing nearly any subject. And, it can sometimes be difficult to examine the evidence with an open mind that may challenge those beliefs.

· Dunning-Kruger: The more you know, the less confident you are. Fools rush in without understanding. The wise understand how little they know and pause for consideration.

· Framing: It is amazing what a frame can do for a portrait or painting. The right frame really makes the piece pop and increase the appreciation of those beholding the piece of art. The same goes for our brains. Major media, consumer data companies, and marketers understand how their piece of art is framed MATTERS. A LOT. It is often seen that they will frame things in different ways for different consumer tastes and preferences. It is an extremely easy way to manipulate the masses. And, once one recognizes this bias, one begins to see the frames around everything.

· Familiarity: Our comfort zone. Whether in the physical sense or the literal, most of us have a pretty small comfort zone surrounding every aspect of our lives. If something encroaches without permission, or we are challenged to venture outside of our zones, it can be stressful and uncomfortable. While the huge world outside of our zones can be harsh and unforgiving, it can also hold the key to amazing new discoveries in all areas of life.

· Self-Attribution: A common example of this is when working in a group, you feel like you’re doing more than everyone else. The interesting thing about this is: if you ask 10 people in a group if they feel like they’re doing more than others, you’ll likely get 9 responses that support their belief they are working harder than everyone else.

· Sunk-cost: You’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and money into a project. But, it’s not going as you had hoped. Sure, there is something to be said for persevering through adversity to achieve a goal, but at what point does it become delusional to still believe it will be successful? It’s difficult to walk away from something that is not serving its intended purpose. The biggest question to ask yourself is: Knowing what I know now, would I start this project over again? If the answer is no, it may be time to walk away.

· Anchoring: This is when you’re so focused on one goal, that you miss out on opportunities to have a better outcome because you refuse to deviate from the initial goal. It’s like not haggling over the price of a car. You see the sticker price and base your decision solely on that, rather than finding a better car with a comparable price and trying to negotiate it down. It’s another default bias that is difficult to overcome if you’re not aware of it. Having an open mind to a range of possibilities, especially in financial decisions, can potentially result in a far better outcome. Plus, successfully negotiating better deals has a significant impact on your life.

· Survival: The celebs make it all look so easy. Like anyone can go to Hollywood and become a huge star. But, what we often don’t hear about are all the failed talent who just didn’t get the right break into the industry. Thousands, if not millions of failures who went on to do other things in order to survive after being crushed under the weight of the industry. Same can be said about leaders of giant corporations. Bezos started small and rose to become the richest man in the world for a while. But, many factors had to come together just right for him to achieve this.

To truly understand the term bias, examine the infographic below. It is startling, so study it hard. While there are so many examples, those mentioned above are some of the most common and a good starting point on recognizing how our biases affect our daily lives. Once we begin to pinpoint areas where we find ourselves under their influence the most often, the easier it becomes to stop them from tainting our decisions.

But, be warned, it is a rabbit hole. The more you recognize these things within yourself and others, the higher the Dunning-Kruger effect. And, it is entirely possible to have multiple biases at play in one given situation, such as struggling to balance between Dunning-Kruger and Familiarity.

How many of these do you think conflict with one another? Tell us in the comments!

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