Cognitive biases: what they are and some examples

There are as many views on a topic or a situation as there are people in the world. Cognitive biases are a cut from reality that can help us make decisions quickly or that leads us to blur perception.

Some cuts are functional and adaptive, while others are negative and dysfunctional, affecting emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. We are going to see in this article some examples to clarify the issue. Don't miss it and keep reading.

What are cognitive biases?

Cognitive biases are systematic errors in the interpretation and processing of information. This concept was raised by psychologists Kahneman and Tversky in 1972.

His working hypothesis was that, under certain circumstances, people do not make decisions responding to logic or through rational analysis, but instead rely on heuristic shortcuts that allow them to give more immediate answers.

This idea earned Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, because managed to relate and integrate aspects of psychology with economics, precisely when explaining human behavior and judgment in situations of uncertainty.

The investigations of Tversky and Kahneman led to the development of perspective theory as a more realistic proposition compared to rational choice theory.

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Influence of biases on the perception of reality

However, even if it is a mistake, not everything is negative when talking about cognitive biases. They also provide economy of thought, that is, they allow us shortcuts that become very practical for decision-making.

In this aspect, they save us time and energy, since it would be a burden to review and have to question everything. At a certain point, certain cognitive biases facilitate human well-being.

Likewise, it is important to consider that from cognitive theory special emphasis is placed on biases and on how certain clinical pictures arise or are presented. For example, when thinking acquires negative and pessimistic, categorical and personalistic nuances, it is possible that we are in the presence of a depressive picture.

The problem with cognitive biases happens when they lead us to have dysfunctional behaviors or that impact well-being. If we are unable to make thinking more flexible and recognize that there may be multiple views or interpretations of the same situation, negativities or frustrations may appear.

Day-to-day decision making uses cognitive biases to save time and energy.

Types of cognitive biases

When dealing with distortions in the way we see or interpret certain situations, cognitive biases have an impact on our daily life. Among the best known are the following.

Selective abstraction

It is also known as tunnel vision. Consists in repair a detail or take a single aspect and evaluate a situation solely from it. The rest of the context information loses relevance.

Confirmation bias

Similar to the previous one, this bias leads to consider and select the information that favors what we already think, which strengthens it. For example, when we seek to support a topic on which we believe and we analyze information that confirms it.

Arbitrary inference

A detail or aspect is also extracted and, based on it, a conclusion is drawn up, even when there is no evidence or when the evidence is contrary.


It is also known as catastrophic vision and consists of apply this negative and pessimistic view to oneself about situations or personal interests.

Comparative optimism

At the opposite extreme we find a cognitive bias that leads to people think that certain positive events will happen to them and that they are less prone to adverse events compared to average. That is, the bias leads to them feeling more fortunate.

Control fallacy

It's an extreme view on control, whether the person thinks they are very competent and that he is in control of all situations, or on the contrary, that he does not have any kind of interference.

Fallacy of justice

It assumes the tendency to believe as unfair all those situations that arise and that do not match our wishes.

Dunning-Kruger effect

Refers to that bias that leads a person with less knowledge or skills believe that you are better prepared or smarter or capable than others . The opposite is also the case; those who are competent believe they are not.

Excessive generalization

This bias starts from consider one or some aspects of a situation and then apply that conclusion to all situations, related to the original topic or not.

Loss aversion

This bias is governed by the idea of ​​not losing, even if it does not mean winning. It is usually the trigger for weakness in the face of offers; We prefer to buy something that we value at a good price and as an opportunity, even if we do not know if it will work for us or if it will look good on us.

It may interest you: What is the Dunning Kruger effect and why does it occur?

What kinds of mistakes do cognitive biases tend to make?

The obstacle of cognitive biases to daily life is that they offer us a clipping or a partial look at a situation. At this point it is necessary to clarify that, although it is true that we need to have a manageable amount of information to be able to make decisions, it is equally true that if our focus is always on a single aspect, the evaluation is biased.

Although there are different cognitive biases that have a differential impact, the drawback they present is that we tend to think in a stereotypical, absolutist way, sometimes infantilizing situations or justifications.

Many cognitive biases may be working together, so that they shape a style of thinking and, therefore, behavior.

For example, the bias of comparative optimism can lead to a person not taking precautions in certain situations, trusting their perception that nothing will happen to them.

Finally, in cognitive biases, the sociocultural component must also be taken into account, since many times a situation is interpreted and read from a frame of reference, while it may be that a certain quality or element means something different in another culture.

Many variables influence decision making, so it is not a linear process.

How to take control of your mind

Cognitive psychology affirms that identifying the cognitive biases that operate in the reading of reality and, therefore, in our construction of the world, is very useful.

They offer us the possibility of to hack thinking, asking ourselves questions and moving towards a less biased, more adaptive and functional interpretation. On the other hand, we grow in a more mature thinking, capable of relativizing information and being multidimensional. As well as in a more reversible one, understanding that the readings are not univocal or eternal.