Bias Blind Spot: How to Avoid Irrational Overconfidence

The more you learn about cognitive biases, the more you’ll notice that they show up in everyday life:

  • Maybe you’re discussing politics with a friend, and you spot a strong confirmation bias in his views.
  • Perhaps someone expresses worry for a terrorist attack, and you realize it’s because of availability bias from watching the news.
  • Someone might tell you about the great deal they got on their new TV, and you recognize that they’ve fallen for the anchoring bias.

It’s certainly useful to be aware of the mental errors going on around you.

But the real benefit lies in identifying these flaws in your own thinking.

Because it’s only when you recognize the limitations of your cognitive apparatus that you can improve it.

The Bias Blind Spot

Unfortunately, it’s much harder to spot biases in ourselves than in others.

In fact, that tendency is itself a mental error known as the bias blind spot or the bias bias.

Behavioral decision researcher Erin McCormick provides this explanation 1:

When physicians receive gifts from pharmaceutical companies, they may claim that the gifts do not affect their decisions about what medicine to prescribe because they have no memory of the gifts biasing their prescriptions. However, if you ask them whether a gift might unconsciously bias the decisions of other physicians, most will agree that other physicians are unconsciously biased by the gifts, while continuing to believe that their own decisions are not. This disparity is the bias blind spot, and occurs for everyone, for many different types of judgments and decisions.

What’s particularly striking about this tendency is how widespread it is.

A study by McCormick and her colleagues2 found that out of 661 participants, only one claimed to be more biased than the average person.

The other 99,8% rated themselves as less biased than other people.

And that, of course, is statistically impossible.

How Can That Be?

Why do we assume that we are less biased than others?

A lot of it has to do with the self-serving bias and our tendency to protect our self-esteem.

We generally consider biases undesirable, so we like to think of ourselves as unbiased or, at least, less biased than average.

But there’s nothing wrong with being biased.

Biases are hard-wired into our brains because we need them to navigate the world.

And denying their influence only gets you stuck in your old ways of thinking.

Embrace Your Limitations

If you’re still thinking that you’re probably less biased than others, remember where that thought comes from.

That’s right; it comes from your brain —and your brain is biased to to think that it’s not biased.

Let go of the intuition that your thinking is somehow immune.

Accept that you are just as vulnerable to thinking errors as everyone else.

It’s counterintuitive, but it will open up you up for sharper judgment, smarter decisions, and better results.

This article is an excerpt from my book The Decision-Making Blueprint.

Footnotes

  1. Everyone has a bias blind spot, researchers find
  2. Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences