3 Common Biases That Impede Problem Solving

Simply being aware of the shortcuts your mind takes when thinking can put you in a better position to solve any problem.

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How easy would life be without any problems? Smooth sailing right?

However, life wouldn’t be life without them. Also, many of the greatest problems are potential opportunities waiting to be discovered.

Fortunately, we can all learn how to be better at solving them.

Aside from learning problem solving techniques, one of the most helpful things to be aware of when solving problems is your own cognitive biases.

These are distortions in your own thinking that are easy to overlook and lead you to making poor decisions. The CIA describes them as being “… mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies.”

Here are three of the most common ones to be aware of:

1) Confirmation bias

This occurs when we favour information that confirms our existing beliefs. For example, during an election, people tend to seek out positive information that puts their favoured candidate in a good light. The media use this to their advantage all the time. They provide compelling points to encourage us to formulate an opinion. Any other evidence that might contradict this is usually undermined, or not reported.

2) Recency bias

This is when we place greater importance on information that we’ve recently acquired. A classic example of this is financial traders looking at only the most recent events whilst disregarding older pieces of information which are equally important (and sometimes more important).

3) Framing bias

This concerns how we are influenced by the way information is presented, as opposed to the information itself. For example, a yoghurt could be labelled as 90% fat free or, alternatively, as containing 10% fat. Similarly, a burger could be ‘framed’ as being 75% fat free as opposed to being labelled as containing 25% fat. Which of those options sounds the most appealing?

If you found the above interesting then you might like to check out four more examples of cognitive bias we wrote about previously.

1. ‘Neglect of the Absent’

2. ‘The Bandwagon Fallacy’

3. ‘The Planning Fallacy’

4. ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’

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