We’re all biased. Let’s explore how.

We all have biases of different kinds. Below is a collection of typical biases, many of which are useful in discussions of faith.

Adapted from a full list of cognitive biases at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

Anchoring or focalism The tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor”, on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (usually the first piece of information acquired on that subject).

Attribute substitution Occurs when a judgment has to be made (of a target attribute) that is computationally complex, and instead a more easily calculated heuristic attribute is substituted. This substitution is thought of as taking place in the automatic intuitive judgment system, rather than the more self-aware reflective system.

Availability cascade A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or “repeat something long enough and it will become true”).

Backfire effect The reaction to disconfirming evidence by strengthening one’s previous beliefs. cf. Continued influence effect.

Bandwagon effect The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behavior.

Belief bias An effect where someone’s evaluation of the logical strength of an argument is biased by the believability of the conclusion.

Bias blind spot The tendency to see oneself as less biased than other people, or to be able to identify more cognitive biases in others than in oneself.

Confirmation bias The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Conservatism (belief revision) The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.

Continued influence effect The tendency to believe previously learned misinformation even after it has been corrected. Misinformation can still influence inferences one generates after a correction has occurred. cf. Backfire effect

Curse of knowledge When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people.

Default effect When given a choice between several options, the tendency to favor the default one.

Dunning–Kruger effect The tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability and the tendency for experts to underestimate their own ability.

Empathy gap The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.

Experimenter’s or expectation bias The tendency for experimenters to believe, certify, and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment, and to disbelieve, discard, or downgrade the corresponding weightings for data that appear to conflict with those expectations.

Focusing effect The tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of an event.

Framing effect Drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how that information is presented.

Groupthink The psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

Hostile attribution bias The “hostile attribution bias” is the tendency to interpret others’ behaviors as having hostile intent, even when the behavior is ambiguous or benign.

Hyperbolic discounting Discounting is the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs. Hyperbolic discounting leads to choices that are inconsistent over time – people make choices today that their future selves would prefer not to have made, despite using the same reasoning. Also known as current moment bias, present-bias, and related to Dynamic inconsistency. A good example of this: a study showed that when making food choices for the coming week, 74% of participants chose fruit, whereas when the food choice was for the current day, 70% chose chocolate.

Identifiable victim effect The tendency to respond more strongly to a single identified person at risk than to a large group of people at risk.

Illicit transference Occurs when a term in the distributive (referring to every member of a class) and collective (referring to the class itself as a whole) sense are treated as equivalent. The two variants of this fallacy are the fallacy of composition and the fallacy of division.

Illusion of validity Believing that one’s judgments are accurate, especially when available information is consistent or inter-correlated.

Illusory correlation Inaccurately perceiving a relationship between two unrelated events.

Illusory truth effect A tendency to believe that a statement is true if it is easier to process, or if it has been stated multiple times, regardless of its actual veracity. These are specific cases of truthiness.

Information bias The tendency to seek information even when it cannot affect action.

Interoceptive bias The tendency for sensory input about the body itself to affect one’s judgement about external, unrelated circumstances. (As for example, in parole judges who are more lenient when fed and rested.)

Irrational escalation or Escalation of commitment The phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong. Also known as the sunk cost fallacy.

Law of the instrument An over-reliance on a familiar tool or methods, ignoring or under-valuing alternative approaches. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Negativity bias or Negativity effect Psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. (see also actor-observer bias, group attribution error, positivity effect, and negativity effect).

Observer-expectancy effect When a researcher expects a given result and therefore unconsciously manipulates an experiment or misinterprets data in order to find it (see also subject-expectancy effect).

Ostrich effect Ignoring an obvious (negative) situation.

Overconfidence effect Excessive confidence in one’s own answers to questions. For example, for certain types of questions, answers that people rate as “99% certain” turn out to be wrong 40% of the time.

Pessimism bias The tendency for some people, especially those suffering from depression, to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening to them.

Pseudocertainty effect The tendency to make risk-averse choices if the expected outcome is positive, but make risk-seeking choices to avoid negative outcomes.

Reactance The urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to resist a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice (see also Reverse psychology).

Reactive devaluation Devaluing proposals only because they purportedly originated with an adversary.

Salience bias The tendency to focus on items that are more prominent or emotionally striking and ignore those that are unremarkable, even though this difference is often irrelevant by objective standards.

Selection bias The tendency to notice something more when something causes us to be more aware of it, such as when we buy a car, we tend to notice similar cars more often than we did before. They are not suddenly more common – we just are noticing them more. Also called the Observational Selection Bias.

Selective perception The tendency for expectations to affect perception.

Semmelweis reflex The tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts a paradigm.

Singularity effect The tendency to behave more compassionately to a single identifiable individual than to any group of nameless ones.

Social comparison bias The tendency, when making decisions, to favour potential candidates who don’t compete with one’s own particular strengths.

Status quo bias The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same (see also loss aversion, endowment effect, and system justification).

Stereotyping Expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having actual information about that individual.

Subjective validation Perception that something is true if a subject’s belief demands it to be true. Also assigns perceived connections between coincidences.

Parkinson’s law of triviality The tendency to give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Also known as bikeshedding, this bias explains why an organization may avoid specialized or complex subjects, such as the design of a nuclear reactor, and instead focus on something easy to grasp or rewarding to the average participant, such as the design of an adjacent bike shed.

Women are wonderful effect A tendency to associate more positive attributes with women than with men.

Zero-sum bias A bias whereby a situation is incorrectly perceived to be like a zero-sum game (i.e., one person gains at the expense of another).

Social Biases

Actor-observer bias The tendency for explanations of other individuals’ behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation (see also Fundamental attribution error), and for explanations of one’s own behaviors to do the opposite (that is, to overemphasize the influence of our situation and underemphasize the influence of our own personality).

Authority bias The tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion.

Defensive attribution hypothesis Attributing more blame to a harm-doer as the outcome becomes more severe or as personal or situational similarity to the victim increases.

Extrinsic incentives bias An exception to the fundamental attribution error, when people view others as having (situational) extrinsic motivations and (dispositional) intrinsic motivations for oneself

False consensus effect The tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

Fundamental attribution error The tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior (see also actor-observer bias, group attribution error, positivity effect, and negativity effect).

Group attribution error The biased belief that the characteristics of an individual group member are reflective of the group as a whole or the tendency to assume that group decision outcomes reflect the preferences of group members, even when information is available that clearly suggests otherwise.

Illusion of transparency People overestimate others’ ability to know themselves, and they also overestimate their ability to know others.

Ingroup bias The tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

Just-world hypothesis The tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just, causing them to rationalize an otherwise inexplicable injustice as deserved by the victim(s).

Moral luck The tendency for people to ascribe greater or lesser moral standing based on the outcome of an event.

Naïve cynicism Expecting more egocentric bias in others than in oneself.

Naïve realism The belief that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don’t are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased.

Outgroup homogeneity bias Individuals see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups.

Shared information bias Known as the tendency for group members to spend more time and energy discussing information that all members are already familiar with (i.e., shared information), and less time and energy discussing information that only some members are aware of (i.e., unshared information).

System justification The tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged, sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest. (See also status quo bias.)

Trait ascription bias The tendency for people to view themselves as relatively variable in terms of personality, behavior, and mood while viewing others as much more predictable.

Ultimate attribution error Similar to the fundamental attribution error, in this error a person is likely to make an internal attribution to an entire group instead of the individuals within the group.

Memory Biases

Bizarreness effect Bizarre material is better remembered than common material.

Consistency bias Incorrectly remembering one’s past attitudes and behaviour as resembling present attitudes and behaviour.

Context effect That cognition and memory are dependent on context, such that out-of-context memories are more difficult to retrieve than in-context memories (e.g., recall time and accuracy for a work-related memory will be lower at home, and vice versa).

Cryptomnesia A form of misattribution where a memory is mistaken for imagination, because there is no subjective experience of it being a memory.

Egocentric bias Recalling the past in a self-serving manner, e.g., remembering one’s exam grades as being better than they were, or remembering a caught fish as bigger than it really was.

False memory A form of misattribution where imagination is mistaken for a memory.

Leveling and sharpening Memory distortions introduced by the loss of details in a recollection over time, often concurrent with sharpening or selective recollection of certain details that take on exaggerated significance in relation to the details or aspects of the experience lost through leveling. Both biases may be reinforced over time, and by repeated recollection or re-telling of a memory.

Misinformation effect Memory becoming less accurate because of interference from post-event information.

Mood-congruent memory bias The improved recall of information congruent with one’s current mood.

Peak-end rule That people seem to perceive not the sum of an experience but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g., pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended.

Positivity effect (Socioemotional selectivity theory) That older adults favor positive over negative information in their memories.

Reminiscence bump The recalling of more personal events from adolescence and early adulthood than personal events from other lifetime periods.

Self-relevance effect That memories relating to the self are better recalled than similar information relating to others.

Source confusion Confusing episodic memories with other information, creating distorted memories.

Stereotypical bias Memory distorted towards stereotypes (e.g., racial, gender, religious, political).

Suggestibility A form of misattribution where ideas suggested by a questioner are mistaken for memory.

Travis Syndrome Overestimating the significance of the present. It is related to chronological snobbery with possibly an appeal to novelty logical fallacy being part of the bias.

Verbatim effect That the “gist” of what someone has said is better remembered than the verbatim wording. This is because memories are representations, not exact copies.

Von Restorff effect That an item that sticks out is more likely to be remembered than other items.

Other Biases

-isms that influence our thinking

Empiricism: The idea that knowledge is only possible through our senses and experiences.

Naturalism: Everything can be explained in terms of the operation of natural laws; there is no supernatural or metaphysical activity.

Scientism: A trust in the ability of science to explain everything.

Ethnocentrism: Evaluating other cultures against one’s own culture, which is regarded as superior.

Sentimentalism: Reliance on feelings as the indicators of what is true or desirable.

Rationalism: The belief that reason is the primary or sole arbiter of what can be known.

Egalitarianism: The belief that people are equal according to divine or other perspectives, and therefore should be equal in resources, opportunities, and experiences.

Fundamentalism Often defined as some combination of a belief in inerrant texts; a belief that there was an ideal time in the past, which people should strive to recreate; and a determination to categorize people by in- and out- groups.

Positivism: The idea that every rational proposition can be proven through scientific or mathematical methods.

Intuitionism: Reliance upon intuition as the main source of truth.

Relativism: The idea that truth does not exist apart from cultural, historical, and other contexts.

Aestheticism: The idea that beauty should be valued highly or even supremely in evaluating objects and ideas.

Coherentism: The idea that a belief held by an individual is more likely to be true if it does not conflict with related propositions, or with other elements of that individual’s belief system.

Pragmatism: The belief that progress toward objectives matters more than ideological purity, consistency, or other considerations.

Perfectionism: A perception that attributes or behavior of oneself or others are acceptable only to the extent that they are without flaws.

Reductionism: The belief that complex things can be reduced to simpler things.

Presentism: Evaluation of the past according to standards of the present.

Emotion

“Relative to neutral or sad participants, angry participants showed greater reliance on stereotypic judgments and on heuristic cues, a result that is inconsistent with valence-based explanations but may be consistent with the affect-as-information view that anger carries positive information about one’s own position…”

“In a series of four studies, the investigators showed that high-certainty emotions (e.g., happiness, anger, disgust) increased heuristic processing by increasing reliance on the source expertise of a persuasive message as opposed to its content, increasing usage of stereotypes, and decreasing attention to argument quality. Furthermore, by manipulating certainty appraisals independently from emotion, they showed that certainty plays a causal role in determining whether people engage in heuristic or systematic processing.”

Jennifer S. Lerner, Ye Li, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Karim S. Kassam; Emotion and Decision Making https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25251484

“Consistent with the researchers’ expectations, sad participants perceived situationally- caused negative events as more likely than did angry participants. In addition, sad participants perceived situational forces as more responsible for ambiguous events than did angry participants. Angry participants tended to attribute blame to another individual. The results are consistent with the idea that the original appraisal patterns associated with each emotion triggered distinct appraisal tendencies in the subsequent judgments. That is, sadness appeared to not only co-occur with appraisals of situational control in the immediate situation, but also to trigger continuing perceptions of situational control even in novel situations. Anger co-occurred with appraisals of individual control and triggered continuing perceptions of such control. In sum, this set of studies demonstrated for the first time that when negative emotions carry over to judgment, they do not necessarily trigger an undifferentiated negative outlook (or mood congruency). Rather, at least in the case of anger and sadness, they have unique—here, opposing—effects.

Other studies have further demonstrated the tendency for incidental anger to trigger attributions of individual blame. For example, relative to participants in a neutral state, participants induced to feel anger made more punitive attributions to a defendant and prescribed more punishment in a series of fictional tort cases even though the original source of the anger had nothing to do with the defendants in the tort cases (Goldberg et al., 1999; Lerner et al., 1998). This blaming tendency can be pernicious. As noted, feelings of anger and thoughts of blame escalate each other in a recursive loop (Berkowitz, 1990; Quigley & Tedeschi, 1996). The more anger, the more blame placed on others and vice versa.

These tendencies may have especially deleterious effects in interpersonal and intergroup relations. For example, recent research showed that incidental anger (created through movies, readings, and memories of anger-inducing events) seeped over to employees’ judgments of their co-workers and acquaintances such that angry participants felt less trust for these individuals, even though these co-workers and acquaintances had played no role in evoking the employees’ anger.”

Lerner, Jennifer & Tiedens, Larissa. (2006). Portrait of the angry decision maker: How appraisal tendencies shape Anger’s influence on cognition. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 19. 115 – 137. 10.1002/bdm.515.

Even when the object of subsequent judgments bears no relation to the source of one’s anger, anger increases: (1) a desire to blame individuals, (2) tendencies to overlook mitigating details before attributing blame, (3) tendencies to perceive ambiguous behavior as hostile, (4) tendencies to discount the role of uncontrollable factors when attributing causality and (5) punitiveness in response to witnessing mistakes made by others.”

Goldberg, J. H., Lerner, J. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (1999). Rage and reason: The psychology of the intuitive prosecutor. European Journal of Social Psychology , 29, 781-785.

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