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A cognitive bias disrupts a normal cognitive process like reasoning, evaluating, and recalling memories. This perception mainly results from the tendency for individuals to put their own beliefs, mood, and preferences above any outside fact or opinion. Cognitive bias is a distortion in our perception of reality. It’s a systematic pattern of deviation from normal rational judgement. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their particular perception of the input. Their construction of social reality, not objective input, may dictate their behavior in the social world (1). Cognitive bias may also lead to perceptual distortion, biased judgement, irrational thinking, and illogical explanations.
There are many types of cognitive bias that affect one’s everyday decision making, including: confirmation bias, bandwagon effect, blind-spot bias, clustering illusion, outcome bias, overconfidence, ostrich effect, information bias, placebo effect, selective perception, and zero-risk bias. This phenomenon is a result from various processes that can difficult to distinguish between when trying to narrow down the source of a particular bias situation. While cognitive bias is a widespread and frequent happening, it can be controlled if an individual is willing to go through the steps to change their patterns of thinking.
Debiasing is a technique that aims to decrease biases by encouraging individuals to use controlled processing compared to automatic processing (Baumeister & Bushman, 2010, p.155). This training was shown to reduce cognitive bias. The process for modifying cognitive biases is called cognitive bias modification and is used in healthy people and is also used in a number of therapies for anxiety, depression, and addiction called cognitive bias modification therapy (CBMT). An example of cognitive bias that has affected events in my life would be categorized as a memory bias. A memory bias either enhances of impairs the recollection of a memory. It’s possible that it changes the content of a memory, how long it takes to recall, or if the memory is able to be recalled.
There are several different types of memory bias, including: bizarreness effect, change bias, childhood amnesia, context effect, cryptomnesia, egocentric bias, fading effect bias, false memory, rosy retrospection, and google effect.
I’m going to discuss my experience with hindsight bias and how it has affected my recollection of important memories and behavior. There was a time in my life when I had a very close friendship with an individual whom I entrusted with every detail of my life and shared everything with, even my home. As I was blinded by my love for this person, I went through a shock when our relationship started to decline. Her behavior was baffling to me at the time, and as I was in emotional distress, I couldn’t see clearly the signs that were right in front of me. I went on to lose a lot more than just my trust as a direct result from the downfall of that relationship. I spent some time, after I went on with my life, to ponder what I should have done differently. While reflecting, I realized that for months before this person’s true colors were revealed, I knew what was coming. I realized that the uneasy feeling I carried with me for weeks was the oncoming shift in my life. I also knew that something was off with this individual, but my need for love and acceptance was enough to lie to myself every day. I saw it coming, but I did not feel the desire to stop it. Hindsight bias, or the knew-it-all-along effect, is the feeling after an event has occurred, to have seen the event as being predictable despite having little or no objective basis for predicting it. It occurs when a person looks back on an event and thinks that they should have seen it unfolding as it was happening and could have predicted the outcome.
In my experience with this phenomenon, I find the feeling quite strange in the way it simplifies my recollection of events that were actually complex while they were occurring. I believe there are ways that hindsight bias could be mitigated, for the sake of an individual’s struggle to get past the feeling of ‘missing the signs’. Be aware of the facts surrounding past events and how to interpret them. I believe that attempting to accept that hindsight bias is a risk and working on how to avoid and cooperate with it may be a possible way to mitigate the risk. The approach must suit the situation, but with most cognitive bias, I think that we must adapt and try to take a step back to evaluate not only our understanding, but the understanding of everyone involved.
1. Bless, H.; Fielder, K. & Strack, F. (2004). Social cognition: How individuals construct social reality. Hove and New York: Psychology Press.
2. Baumeister, R. F.; Bushman, B. J. (2010). Social psychology and human nature: International Edition. Belmont, USA: Wadsworth.
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