A cognitive bias means an error in thinking, in terms of framing of information as well as the context, which influence one’s judgment and decisions. A person’s judgment with cognitive bias will deviate from what is considered appropriate according to the norms and logic.
Cognitive biases are of different kinds and each one influences an individual in different ways. Only one thing is common in all of them and that is they lead to irrational decisions. Some of the biases are related to the memory of an individual. The way of remembering the event might be biased because of a number of reasons and this leads to biased decision-making. Other biases may be due to attention-related problems. People cannot pay attention to every single thing around them. So, they have to be selective about the details happening in the surrounding. Due to this, biases can come in and affect a person’s way of thinking and seeing the world.
With Stoic philosophy we learn that it is not external things that affect us but our impression of this. It is not the situation, the person or the event but the way we judge it based on our perception.
Among the arts and faculties in general you will find none that is self-contemplative, and therefore none that is either self-approving or self-disapproving. How far does the art of grammar possess the power of contemplation? Only so far as to pass judgement upon what is written. How far the art of music? Only so far as to pass judgement upon the melody. Epictetus, Discourses 1.1.1
But our minds may misjudge what we experience and without realizing this. Some biases are unintentional because they do not reflect an individual’s motivation. They are due to the error in the processing of information. And, some biases are motivated and reflect an individual’s intention.
Stoicism emphasizes vigilant mindfulness to be aware of ourselves and our current environment. Prosoché is the attitude and the practice of attention continually observing our sensations, emotions and thoughts. With this constant focus we can be aware of our thoughts. But as we are human we can have certain cognitive biases.
Many people are consciously not aware of these biases in their everyday life but because of them, they make the same irrational mistakes. However, in some cases, these biases help in making quick and efficient decisions. This might be because people do not gather all the information available in the surroundings and process the data differently than others. In most cases, biases lead to errors and misjudgments because of the same reason.
How do Cognitive Biases Work?
When people interpret and process information around them, an error in thinking can occur due to limitations of the human brain. Cognitive bias may also occur if the brain is attempting to simplify the processing of information. While making decisions and judgments about the situations, an individual wants to think that he is logical and can evaluate information correctly. But these cognitive biases come in between and this leads to wrong decisions.
For we must take care of our eyes too, yet not as the highest thing, but we must take care of them for the sake of the highest; because this latter will not have its natural perfection unless it uses the eyes with reason and chooses one thing instead of another. Epictetus, Discourses 2.23.35
What are the Causes of Cognitive Biases?
It will definitely take a lot of time if you consider all the available options while taking a decision. Due to a large amount of information and its complexity, you need to simplify the processing of information and take shortcuts if you need to make a quick decision. Cognitive bias is caused by various things but the mental shortcuts, also called heuristics, are more responsible and play a major role. Other causes for cognitive biases include individual goals, emotions and societal pressures.
Cognitive biases deviate from rationality and this occurs according to the working of our cognitive system. Cognitive biases affect individuals in several areas. Let’s see a few of them.
Cognitive bias can be experienced by anyone in life, but does it distort our experiences in life remains a big question. Cognitive bias is considered as a universal trait as this is experienced by everyone. Moreover, a cognitive bias is observed in animals as well but the type of bias varies because of dissimilarity in their cognitive functions. Many different factors, such as cognitive ability, age, etc can make people biased. Cognitive bias allows an individual to think quickly but it also makes him vulnerable to making mistakes. Cognitive bias will distort a person’s experiences in life. Earlier, the decision was taken quickly and accurately because life was much simpler. But these days, interpretation and processing of information are very crucial than taking the fastest route to decisions. While making choices, the past experiences and results will get distorted because the person will fall victim to cognitive bias.
Many people judge you and prevent you from getting the opportunities that you deserve. Very often, they label you or your actions that are hard to erase. If you act badly in a situation due to the tough environment, people will start questioning your character. They will also question your accomplishments and do not respect the rewards that you deserve for your actions. When this happens, an individual feels disturbed and cannot concentrate on completing the tasks efficiently. In extreme cases, the person can feel stressed and anxious due to the level of bias he faces.
I have often before explained the difference between the diseases of the mind and its passions. And I shall remind you once more: the diseases are hardened and chronic vices, such as greed and ambition; they have enfolded the mind in too close a grip, and have begun to be permanent evils thereof. To give a brief definition: by “disease” we mean a persistent perversion of the judgment, so that things which are mildly desirable are thought to be highly desirable. Or, if you prefer, we may define it thus: to be too zealous in striving for things which are only mildly desirable or not desirable at all, or to value highly things which ought to be valued but slightly or valued not at all. Seneca, Moral Letters 75.11
The attention that you hold will determine the action that you take. So, the views that you have and the information that you process play a major role while you make decisions and judgments. Your actions will reflect various cognitive biases because your mind has already believed them to be true. The biases will influence the way how you think and what you think and it can lead to mistakes in decisions and judgments. If you have strong feelings of anger towards someone, the attention will narrow down and current feelings will win over your future goals.
Cognitive bias is a systematic error in perceiving the environment and the people. An individual will constructive its social reality based on thoughts and perception of the past and not on the present input. This behavior is cognitively biased and it actually does not reflect reality, often affecting business as well as personal relationships. Cognitive biases affect an individual’s thought process in every way.