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4 Actions for Managing Cognitive Bias

10/27/2021
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Manage Cognitive Biases, attentional bias, behavioral bias, market research

Our last blog about managing cognitive bias covered the basics about explicit and implicit bias. It also covered confirmation bias and its related effects, the back-fire effect and the halo effect. This blog will cover additional cognitive biases, including anchoring bias and attentional bias and some preliminary ways we can combat bias.

Managing Cognitive Bias and Its Cousins

Let’s start with some solid actions you can take to begin managing cognitive biases. There are steps you can take to begin managing cognitive bias while conducting market research and analyzing the data. It comes down to being aware of your leanings and gathering additional information to combat the negative effects of cognitive biases. Here are four concrete actions you can take to start managing cognitive bias:

  • Read entire articles rather than forming conclusions based on the headlines and pictures. Search for credible evidence presented in the article.
  • Analyze whether the statements being asserted are backed up by trustworthy evidence. It’s possible that tracking the source of evidence could prove its credibility. It’s also important to encourage yourself and others to gather information in a conscious manner.
  • Allow yourself to be wrong. Some people have difficulty with this concept. But when consciously gathering information, you need to leave yourself open to gather evidence that may refute your beliefs.
  • Beware of repetition. Some things we “just know” without question. You often find these stances in politics and religion and they’re said with great intensity for effect. This tactic reinforces biases because people begin to think that something is true simply because they’ve heard it so often. It is one of many weaknesses in the human sensory system. Listen for repetition and be especially skeptical of what powerful people tell you again and again.

Anchoring Bias

Now let’s look at a few more common biases. Anchoring bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information you learn. When we are making decisions or estimating we need a starting point, this initial value or information sets our expectations for any information or numbers that come after and can shift our expectations to higher or lower numbers.

Having a starting point when we begin researching is great. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to shape our expectations. We often lean on anchoring bias when we react impulsively or we’re rushing. Anchoring bias can impact interactions with vendors, how much we are willing to pay for things, and how much clients are willing to pay.

attentional bias, anchoring bias, cognitive biases

We see this in the real world with vendor costs. If a vendor suggests a higher price first then comes down, we think we are getting a good deal. When we see a ‘sale’ item in the store that has the initial price crossed out and then the sale price, we will value that deal more. Do you ever find yourself saying, “But it’s on sale!” That’s anchoring bias.

We also see anchoring bias in social interactions when you consider things like first impressions. We all know human place a lot of emphasis on first impressions. But we also know first impressions don’t always tell the full story.

Impulsive decision-making heavily favors anchoring bias. Increasing knowledge through research, improving your deductive reasoning skills, and consulting with experts and colleagues helps counteract cognitive biases such as anchoring bias. Using tools, such as checklists, can also force you to focus on all of the information and help decrease anchoring bias.

Attentional Bias

We are all primed to notice things. Sometimes that priming can create almost an optical illusion and give us tunnel vision. In turn, this can limit our pool of data or awareness for decision making in a similar manner to availability bias and confirmation bias.

For example, when deciding which car to buy, you may pay attention to the look and feel of the exterior and interior but ignore the safety record and gas mileage.

Sometimes this is looking at things we are the most interested in and can result in us being overly forgiving of flaws or neglecting important information.

We are all programmed to notice different things. Car junkies remember what their friends drive. Fashionistas will likely notice co-workers’ clothing choices. And, of course, coffee snobs will probably know the kind of beans that local coffee shops stock. These are rather harmless examples of a phenomenon that social scientists call attentional bias. Your eyes, and your mind, are tuned to see certain things and, consequently, are blind to others.

In the work environment this can play out in a multitude of ways. In market research, attentional bias could determine which vendors to choose, which participants to select for projects, or even which projects to focus on more.

For a quick understanding of the power of attentional bias, watch this awareness test video from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris:

This is one of the more famous examples of Attentional Bias studies. You may have even seen it in your college Psych 101 course, but it illustrates how we miss things when our attention is limited.

Account for All of Your Data

Managing cognitive bias means accounting for as much data as you can. As a market researcher, you want to be aware of attentional bias so that you take in all the relevant information during the research stage. If you’re seeking out confirmatory information about your hypothesis, you’ll likely only pay attention to those inputs. Instead, you need to identify what all the inputs are saying before you determine whether your data has confirmed your theory.

Attention bias is a pretty critical evolutionary tactic that allows our brain and eyes to keep up. Vision, like the other sensory systems, is constrained by its limited processing capacity. Attention lets us cope with this issue by selecting specific information within our environment that will benefit from more elaborate processing and access to consciousness. You can read more about attentional bias here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-68490-5. While the article takes a mental health focused approach, it illustrates how our attention is impacted by and impacts what we attend to.

We hope you’re enjoying this blog series about managing cognitive bias in market research. The next blog will cover selection bias and its related effects, as well as misinformation and optimism bias. Stay tuned!

Elissa Cannonwood is a Senior Associate at Vivisum Partners. She has experience with both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Email Elissa at elissa.cannonwood@vivisumpartners.com
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