Common decision making biases

There are many common biases that affect everyday decision making. These include:

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 engage with different people to generate feelings of familiarity more widely
  • Ensure diversity and independence in decision making committees
  • Base 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:

  • Take time in decision making and reflect before rushing into 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 pre-determined 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:

  • Get accurate information and don’t make assumptions or guess
  • Be non-judgemental and use empathy to gain an understanding of the situation from the other person’s point of view
  • Consider different perspectives
  • Examine the context rather than personal attributes
  • Use reasoning and explicit consideration of alternatives
  • Build 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.

Group Think

When a group comes to a conclusion without opposing views, particularly when under pressure (consciously or subconsciously) to form a consensus or when facing external threats, such as time pressures, threats to the groups existence etc.

Overcome by:

  • Group should be encouraged to consider alternative ideas and multiple perspectives; decision making groups should ensure diversity of opinions
  • Have a process for checking fundamental assumptions behind the decision; Refer to objective criteria and standards
  • Consider playing devil's advocate, asking counterfactual questions or purposefully examining alternative or outside opinions
  • Seek independents or experts opinions and encourage them to challenge the views of the members
  • Where possible, allow time to reflect, consider and discuss alternatives widely
  • Examine the risks if the preferred choice is chosen.

Halo/Horn Bias

Allowing our judgment to be influenced by one particular trait (either positive or negative).

Overcome by:

  • Use structured decision making processes and tools
  • Ensure all relevant facts are available
  • Ask counter-factual questions
  • Take time in decision making and reflect before rushing into judgement.