Recognizing Cognitive Bias

Cognitive biases influence how you think and what you decide, and it happens without you even knowing. They are part of your mental source code: the operating system that runs beneath the level of your own conscious thought and awareness. 

  • When you feel compelled to go along with the group's decision, that's bandwagon effect.

  • When you believe others place the same value on the same things you do, that's endowment bias.

  • When you pay more attention to people (or news sources) that you already agree with, that's confirmation bias.

  • When you hear about disasters that befell others but believe it can't possibly happen to you, that's hindsight bias.

  • When you draw conclusions based on your own outlook on the world, that's framing bias. The phrase "a hammer looking for a nail," refers to framing bias.

Here's an example of biases at work in a clip from the movie Spectral, available on Netflix. The story thus far: Clyne, a DARPA expert in optics, is brought into a hostile country to assess the mysterious death of a soldier during a peacekeeping mission. The death was captured on a hyperspectral camera that Clyne designed, but the image is unlike anything anyone has ever seen. Clyne is about to be shown the video by Fran, a CIA analyst, and the CO, General Orland. The video is all the information they have to go on, and they have to decide and what is happening and report on it.

Watch the video below and see if YOU can identify which of these biases is at work.

I was introduced to cognitive biases by UFMCS, the Army's Red Team School, and by Bryce Hoffman, author of Red TeamingFor more on cognitive biases, check out the chapter "The Psychology of Red Teaming" in the book Red Teaming by Bryce Hoffman, where he identifies twenty-five cognitive biases and heuristics.

For more practice after you've identified the bias, try identifying which of Kantor's Four Players are at work on this worksheet.

For more on the Four Player model, check out The Kantor Institute and Team Catapult.