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Are You Biased? How To Make The Right Decisions

Would you make this choice? (photo credit: notsogoodphotography)

“Bias is the worst disease from which the society of our nation suffers” – Albert Einstein
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What is bias and how does it affect your health?

Well, it turns out human brains have a number of cognitive biases that can interfere with good decision making (and delay your progress toward feeling better). For example, people tend to worry about the risk of taking a new treatment, while underestimating the baseline risk of doing nothing about their suffering.

Here are a few of the colorful biases we have as humans:

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1. Bandwagon bias – the tendency to do things because other people are doing them. “Everyone else is on the Atkins diet, so I’ll try it too.”

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2. Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms your preconceptions. “See, I have shortness of breath, so I must be having a heart attack.”

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3. Expectation bias – the tendency to keep data that agree with your expectations for the outcome of an experiment, and to disregard data that conflict with those expectations. “Well, that meal didn’t count because…”

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4. Framing effect – drawing different conclusions based on how data is presented. “If I only look at the last 2 days, I’ve been sleeping 7 hours a night.” (disregarding the insomnia from the last 3 weeks).

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5. Wishful thinking bias – forming beliefs and making decisions according to what is pleasing to imagine instead of by appeal to evidence or rationality. “I can have 8-minute abs with no effort just sitting on my couch.”

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6. Availability bias – estimating what is more likely by what is more available in memory, which is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged examples. “I’m more likely to die in a plane crash than a car crash because I see more plane crashes on TV.” (but car crashes are much more likely)

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7. Selection bias – a distortion of evidence or data that arises from the way that the data are collected. “I’m only going to measure my blood pressure on weekends.”
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Despite the dozens of biases we have, we manage to function pretty well most of the time, right?

Yes, but it’s still a good idea to take a second to check in on these biases before making any major decision. But keep in mind that sometimes the biases can’t be overcome even if we know about them.

For more fun reading on cognitive biases, see Wikipedia’s comprehensive (and entertaining) article on the topic. Do you have any of these biases?

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