Monday, October 17, 2011

Bias Awareness For Better Collaboration

I am all for helping students of all ages engage in problem-solving – alone and with others – but is something missing in the process?  If there is one area of study – apart from Dialogue - I would like all students to undertake it is Cognitive Bias. How can we collaborate effectively – or even live well together - when we have so little individual and collective awareness of the mental filters we use for acquiring and processing information.

What is a cognitive bias? Mostly, the term is used negatively although the needs of a specific context may determine a positive or negative evaluation (a tendency to make fast decisions may be harmful in many situations, but advantageous in others). In general, a cognitive bias is a mental filter formed by our own experiences (and our evolved comfort and discomfort zones), that distorts perception leading to poor interpretations and judgments.  Let me highlight 15 that cause trouble for most of us:
·         Anchoring: Tendency to make a final judgment in the same direction as an initial judgment even when conflicting data accumulate
·         Availability cascade: Believing in something because we hear it mentioned repeatedly (“repeat something long enough and it will become true”)

·         Choice-supportive bias: Remembering our choices as better than they actually were

·         Confirmation bias: Searching for and interpreting information to confirm preconceptions

·         Clustering illusion: Seeing patterns where none actually exist

·         Egocentric bias: Recalling the past in a self-serving way

·         Framing effect: Being overly influenced by how information is presented

·         Fundamental attribution error: Over-emphasizing personality-based explanations for others’ behavior while under-emphasizing influence of role and situation

·         Illusion of control: Overestimating one’s influence on external events

·         Overconfidence effect: Excessive confidence in one’s answers to questions

·         Planning fallacy: Tendency to underestimate the time it will take to complete a task

·         Self-serving bias: Interpreting information in a way that benefits one’s own interests

·         Stereotyping: Applying expected characteristics for a group to an individual member

·         Sunken cost fallacy: Continuing to invest (to recover past costs) when the likelihood of success is minimal (throwing good money after bad)   

·         Wishful thinking: Overestimating the likelihood of a pleasing outcome

If you want to see a more comprehensive selection of cognitive biases see the List of Cognitive Biases on Wikipedia: 

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