Bias : How does it touch your lives?

Some of the top airlines of the world offer air tickets at a premium, whereas select airlines offer tickets at discounted rates. You do not sometimes appreciate the fact that the premium airlines fly with their best pilots with more flying hours behind them. Fliers become oblivious of the safety aspects involved in choosing premium airlines. This in fact is a typical case of a bias you create in favor of certain airlines.

Cognitive biases touch various facets of our life and influence us more than we care to acknowledge. Some cognitive biases are related to problems with comprehension and attention. We often do not pay proper attention to what we hear. We hear but do not hear. Attention is a limited resource, and people are selective about what they pay attention to and what they really hear.

Another example is that of Christians who are preconditioned by the spiritual discourses of St. Paul to believe that the women need to actually stay back and it’s the men who should have a say in the church matters. This again is a bias that women are not capable to take part in church affairs and management. (This of course is without casting any aspirations on faith matters- quoted as a mere example.)

Another variant of the biases is that your ears always would yearn to hear something which goes on to add certain stored up thoughts already in the mind- bias that would only accept facts to cement your own concepts. The tendency is not to revise one’s belief when presented with new evidence which would topple your old beliefs. You only pay attention to new stories that confirm your opinions. In Confirmation Bias you would welcome any information that conforms to your existing beliefs and would discount and ignore evidence that does not.

What is a bias

Biases make a domineering impact on human life and it moulds one’s thoughts and beliefs. Your biases could be targeted towards an individual, an ethnic group, a political party or it could be based on gender. Sometimes it is against a nation, a religion, a social group, and ideologies within academic domains. Being biased means having a partial view, lacking a neutral approach and viewpoint. It is akin to a closed mind and you are not fully open to facts.

Bias can come in many forms. Bias is an undue weight in favor of or against an idea or concept, usually in a way that is closed-minded or unfair. Biases can be intrinsic or acquired. People may develop biases for or against a concept or individual or a belief. Biases are preconceived notions.

A cognitive bias is defined as a systemic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and it influences the decisions and judgments that they make.

The human brain is having a number of limitations. We often wish to make some conclusions without adequate research as to the tenacity or veracity of such arguments. Brains often simplify and make shortcuts in making those half cooked judgments. We want to make hasty conclusions in the process of understanding the world.

Since the days of Daniel Kahneman, researchers enumerated different types of biases that affect decision-making in a wide range of areas spanning over cognition, education, management etc.

As your age advances your Cognitive bias may also be on the increase. This is on account of decreased cognitive flexibility.

Types of biases

One can easily find the cognitive bias in others and we often fail to understand how much we also become a victim of such a bias. For instance we find people who fail to achieve some goals, all the time blaming some external factors for the same .A student may say that it is because of his teachers not being good. A fellow attending a job interview would blame the partiality of the board members etc.

We sometimes tend to be overoptimistic about the possible outcomes about something. In the process sometimes we ignore totally or sideline some eventualities. Your mind dwells upon seeing possible pleasing outcomes alone, ignoring a negative result in total. Becoming oblivious of negative impact is another kind of bias which we commonly come across.

Some people all the time blow trumpets about their own accomplishments proclaiming how difficult it was for him to achieve. They would brand other’s achievements simply as mere good luck.

Some people may have a very limited understanding on certain issues and would have started to believe this is all I need to understand. The know-all approach shuns any further input and they are virtually sealed off from facts. This kind of apathy for further research on the subject is another common kind of bias.

There is some kind of utopians who foolishly think that they have many followers sharing the same opinion or beliefs they have. They never turn and listen to see what others think and shut out every possibility for correction.

Think out of the Box

If you have a car driver with you, you can also utilize him as an electrician provided he knows the job. You may not have an appropriate tool to open a soda bottle and may find an alternative tool which can just do the job. The point is that it needs to strike in your mind about such alternatives.

Halo effect

Let us the example of an extraordinarily beautiful girl you might know. Her beauty may cast a spell upon you and leave an overall impression on her personality. General attractiveness sometimes cast such a halo effect. This halo effect may even extend to the good impression on other qualities like her level of I.Q, ability in public speaking etc. This may or may not be true. The girl in reality could be just beautiful and nothing more. May be she doesn’t have any other cherished or valued special qualities.

When you hear about an event from a third party you sometimes get a distorted picture of the event. You sometimes get wrongly influenced by the narration of events, right or wrong. Sometimes this kind of a scenario makes us suspect even an eyewitness account, later. This is known as misinformation effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect

There are people who deem themselves to be far smarter, cleverer, outstanding, and more capable than they really are. They live in their own fancy world believing that they are with tremendous, all pervading power. They fail to recognize their own incompetence and failure which ultimately lead to a dangerous predicament.

Anchoring bias

Anchoring bias is the bias we form on the initial information about a product, for instance. You would enquire before buying land what could be the prevailing price in that area. This piece of information becomes the base of your bargain knowingly or unknowingly. It is quite possible you could enter into bargain for a much lower price irrespective of the deals that took place earlier. I happen to know an NRI who was making a bid for a property in Ireland. Knowing full well that the asking price is just beyond his affordable level he went out of sheer curiosity to visit the bungalow. He made a small bid and that somehow clicked.
From the side of the land dealer he could set the tending price across for setting some different benchmark is another story.

Some positive benefits

Biases sometimes serve a positive purpose. Psychologists are of the opinion that many of these biases serve an adaptive purpose or a caution. The result is a much less delay in arriving decisions. Suppose you are going through some dangerous situation it could spur you into action within no time.

A cognitive bias might lead you to assume that it is a stalker just behind you. You may then be able to work out a sudden solution to jump into a taxi or shout whatever be the most appropriate escape route. Mental shortcuts can often save you from danger in situations, spurring decisions quickly.

Bias prompts us to place people in certain categories and label them. You tend to treat them as a group with certain group affiliations and characteristics. For instance we place all Africans or Chinese in groups. It could be based on color or physical characteristics like smaller eyes. We have seen in the beginning of this article how one can have bias based on gender or sexuality. Biases are your enemies most of the time. You are unable to form a proper opinion on somebody or something because of the barriers of this bias. In a free world one must have no such tendencies to place someone in a narrow perspective. People are good and bad everywhere and one must have an open mind always.

We take it for granted that we are able to make perfect judgments about things, being perfectly logical, reasonable and wise. But most of time we are not fully aware or rather we don’t want to be aware about the facts of the matter. You not want to evaluate the matter and cross check the facts. You do not want to be objective in the matter of getting at the truth or the bottom of things and remain blind and deaf to many facts. The danger is so imminent and these biases sometimes trip us up, leading us to faulty decisions and judgments that could lead us to an vortex of trouble.


Jose Vazhuthanapilly, BSc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB Retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 20 books to his credit including books on self-help/ psychology. He resides in Ernakulam, Kochi. He is active also in social service. He can be contacted at


  • Prasangakarkkulla Kadhakal (St. Paul’s Books, Ernakulam)
  • EQ – Vyakti Jeevitham Mikavuttathakkam (Sophia Books, Calicut)
  • Atma Viswasathinte Karuthu Nedam (Sophia Books, Calicut)
  • Mano Sankharshangale Keezhadakkan Chila Prayogika Margangal (Media House, Calicut)
  • Vijayam Ningalude Ullil Thanneyanu (Vimala Books)

Read more from Jose Vazhuthanapilly

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