Can we outsmart our own cognitive biases?

We are all vulnerable to cognitive biases, which cause us to overfocus on some kinds of information while disregarding other kinds. These flaws in our thinking can trick us into making wrong conclusions and decisions. Moreover, cognitive biases are highly implicated in the development of mental disorders.

For example, attentional bias—hyperattention to a certain category of stimuli—can have harmful effects on our inferences and behaviour and is strongly associated with anxiety, eating disorders and substance use problems.

Another common type of cognitive bias—confirmation bias—is the tendency to look for information that maintains our preconceptions. People often tend to gravitate towards news that fits their perspectives. This biased exposure to information might lead to errors in judgments and decisions.

It is perhaps highly unlikely that we can eradicate cognitive biases. The good news, however, is that we can enhance our ability to identify the circumstances under which we will be vulnerable to those biases.

Research on cognitive biases indicates that employing the following strategies may stop biases from leading us to incorrect conclusions:

·   Learning about different cognitive biases—it can help us identify and neutralise them in our own life.

·   Slowing down our decision making if we are in a situation where we know we may be susceptible to bias and increasing the range of reliable sources we seek advice from.

Cognitive biases can have detrimental effects on our relationships and career opportunities. Studying cognitive biases and decelerating our decision-making process in bias-prone situations can markedly decrease the odds of getting off track due to tendentious attitudes. Research points out that although a skill of bias recognition and management takes time and effort to develop, a goal of becoming a less biased version of yourself is well worth pursuing.