Common decision-making biases

There are many common biases that affect everyday decision making.

Affinity Bias or the “Similar to Me” Effect

Preferring people who are similar to ourselves or who have shared interests and experiences to those who are different from us or not perceived as part of our ‘in-group’.

Overcome by:

  • Actively engaging with different people to generate feelings of familiarity more widely
  • Make a conscious attempt to take the perspective of the other person and/or consciously focus on specific information about a person making rather than seeing them as a member of a particular group
  • Ensuring diversity and independence in decision making committees
  • Basing all decisions on objective criteria/evidence and capability; Be transparent and accountable

Anchoring or First Impressions Bias

The tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor", on one trait or piece of information (positive or negative) when making decisions (usually the first piece of information acquired on that subject).

Overcome by:

  • When making decisions, take time to reflect; don't rush and make a snap judgement
  • Question first impressions (possible biases)
  • Use a reliable and structured objective assessment process and critically analyse information received.
  • In selection processes, benchmark the job itself not the people who have done or are doing the job and use predetermined selection criteria and validated assessment measures
  • Consider evaluations from diverse sources and individuals.

Attribution Error or Stereotyping

Guessing or making assumptions about causes of events or behaviours; often based on stereotypes and group identity.

Overcome by:

  • Getting accurate information and not making assumptions or guessing
  • Being non-judgemental and using empathy to gain an understanding of the situation from the other person’s point of view
  • Considering different perspectives
  • Examining the context rather than personal attributes
  • Using reasoning and explicit consideration of alternatives
  • Building emotional and cultural intelligence to reflect on and understand your behaviour and why others behave the way they do.

Confirmation Bias

The tendency to look for information that supports our existing beliefs, and reject data that challenges what we believe.

Overcome by:

  • Actively seek alternative information and viewpoints
  • Use an outside expert to evaluate the alternatives
  • Require examples and give weight to evidence of different behaviours
  • Compare against a standard
  • Ask counterfactual questions, play devil’s advocate
  • Use objective and varied problem solving models
  • Be open to change and surprises; be ready to adapt