What are Cognitive Biases?
Cognitive bias is an umbrella term that refers to the systematic ways in which the context and framing of information influence individuals’ judgment and decision-making. There are many kinds of cognitive biases that influence individuals differently, but their common characteristic is that—in step with human individuality—they lead to judgment and decision-making that deviates from rational objectivity.
In some cases, cognitive biases make our thinking and decision-making faster and more efficient. The reason is that we do not stop to consider all available information, as our thoughts proceed down some channels instead of others. In other cases, however, cognitive biases can lead to errors for exactly the same reason. An example is confirmation bias, where we tend to favor information that reinforces or confirms our pre-existing beliefs. For instance, if we believe that planes are dangerous, a handful of stories about plane crashes tend to be more memorable than millions of stories about safe, successful flights. Thus, the prospect of air travel equates to an avoidable risk of doom for a person inclined to think in this way, regardless of how much time has passed without news of an air catastrophe.
Researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman conducted a number of studies on cognitive bias and found that framing identical information differently (i.e., presenting the same information differently) can lead to opposing decisions being made. This means that cognitive biases play an important role in information design, because they influence users’ or customers’ decision-making processes. How we present information on webpages and user interfaces can affect how likely users are to perform certain actions, such as purchasing a product.