How Many Cognitive Biases Are There?

One challenge that makes qualitative analysis more complex is reducing the noise produced by cognitive biases. These are biases of judgment resulting from our mind’s tendency to choose the easiest path in pursuit of more efficient and thrifty performance. Each process in the brain requires high energy consumption, so our nature forces us to «take shortcuts» and make things simpler; even if this implies making decisions that in the eyes of others are meaningless.

Buster Benson, an entrepreneur who, thanks to his experience in various technology and data companies, has observed a large number of biases in his career. This knowledge led him, from the hand of the designer John Manoogian III and a large group of Wikipedians, to publish a graph that classifies the more than 200 cognitive biases observed to date. Talking about each one of them would give to publish dozens of blog entries, but today we will focus on stating only the classes and subclasses in which we can group them.

a) What should we remember? When we make judgments we sometimes turn to our memory. However, it is proven that our memories tend to change over time. Among the factors that can alter the information stored in our mind are the emotions involved at the time of its registration. As if that weren’t enough, even if we have large volumes of data on hand to make choices, we tend to simplify it and use as few elements as possible. The subclasses of biases that we find in this segment are:

  • We edit and reinforce some memories after they happen.
  • We discard specific details to form generalities.
  • We reduce events and lists to their key elements.
  • We store memories differently based on how they were experienced.

b) Too much information / insufficient meaning. The reality in which we operate produces a volume of data and information that is humanly impossible to fully analyze. To compensate for the limitations of our ability to process information, our mind selects only what it considers to be of importance. Consequently, many valuable elements to make better decisions are left out. Furthermore, when the information we have is incomplete, we tend to fill in the gaps empirically. Among the subclasses of biases in this group we find:

  • We notice things that are already imprinted in memory or that are repeated frequently.
  • We notice when something has changed.
  • We notice flaws in others more easily than flaws in ourselves.
  • We project our current mindset and assumptions into the past and the future.
  • We simplify the probabilities and the numbers to make it easier to think with them.
  • We fill in features based on stereotypes, generalities, and stories.

c) We need to act fast. Although common sense suggests to us on more than one occasion that we should invest more time to think things through, the reality is different. In remote times, anticipation was not an abundant resource and therefore our mind is oriented to yield the best results in the shortest possible time. Above, our interactions with others and the degree of self-involvement in an activity are usually decisive when taking one path or another. What can sometimes be judged as an outburst may only be a manifestation of the operational design of our cognitive processes. In this class of biases we can list:

  • We prefer simple-looking options and comprehensive information over complex and ambiguous options.
  • To get things done, we tend to complete things in which we have invested time and energy.
  • To act, we must be sure that we can have an impact and feel that what we do is important.
  • To avoid mistakes, we have motivated ourselves to preserve our autonomy and status in a group, and to avoid irreversible decisions.
  • To stay focused, we favor the immediate and with which we relate in front of us.

Qualitative research experts face these biases every day. Thanks to their experience, they are able to reduce the interference of people’s prejudices when it comes to finding discoveries. At Acertiva we know that carrying out studies with this type of methodology is a complex task. We have qualitative specialists ready to contribute their skills and knowledge to meet your needs. Send us a message today to tell us about your future projects to the email