25 Cognitive Biases that Ruin Your Life

Get ready to know about the things that only a top few percentages of people know

Once you know about these and master avoiding these, doors of success will open for you

I know

Most of you have great difficulty in decision making

Want to practice better decision making?

Unfortunately, your natural brain’s pretty dumb and easily tricked. To save energy and make faster decisions, it relies on cognitive heuristics to make fast judgments.

These 25 cognitive biases come from “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment,” a talk by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway. 

image of warren buffet

By learning these biases, you’ll guard yourself against people trying to exploit you. Even better, you’ll guard against your worst enemy: your own brain. 

25 Cognitive Biases That Ruin Your Life

Reward and Punishment Superresponse Tendency
Liking/Loving Tendency
Disliking/Hating Tendency
Doubt-Avoidance Tendency 
Inconsistency-Avoidance Tendency 
Curiosity Tendency
Kantian Fairness Tendency
Envy/Jealousy Tendency
Reciprocation Tendency
Influence-from-Mere-Association Tendency 
Simple, Pain-Avoiding Psychological Denial
Excessive Self-Regard Tendency
Overoptimism Tendency
Deprival-Superreaction Tendency 
Social-Proof Tendency
Contrast-Misreaction Tendency
Stress-Influence Tendency
Availability-Misweighing Tendency
Use-It-or-Lose-It Tendency
Drug-Misinfluence Tendency 
Senescence-Misinfluence Tendency
Authority-Misinfluence Tendency
Twaddle Tendency
Reason-Respective Tendency
Lollapalooza Tendency

Bias1: Reward and Punishment Superresponse Tendency

What is it?

Self-interest and rewards drive behaviour 

Behaviours are conditioned by prompt rewards given after an action

Once a behaviour is conditioned, the random distribution of rewards keeps the reflexive behaviour in place the longest 

Incentives cause bias, consciously or subconsciously. 

Why it evolved?

The brain has an algorithm: “Repeat behaviour that works.” Here, “works” means “rewards.” Why would the brain evolve any differently?

What is the problem?

Man tends to game all human systems. 

Common incentives are money, friendship, sex, advancement in status. 

Punishments also inhibit bad behaviour

What is the solution?

If you find the right incentive you can motivate people to act a certain way, enhance performance or be more productive. If people aren’t doing what you want them to do, your incentive or disincentive is wrong

Example

You most of the times did not start working on the deadline until the date was near, you did so only because you feared punishment

If you were given a deadline and also told, one who completes the project fast will get extra points, and you tried you best winding it up before the deadline

Bias 2: Liking/Loving Tendency

What is it?

Humans tend to like and love things and people, especially mothers, much like goslings attach to whatever is there at birth. 

People like and love being liked and loved. 

For the object of your affection, you ignore his/her/its faults and comply with his/her/its wishes. 

You favour people, products, and actions associated with the object of your affection. 

What is the problem?

People who are physically attractive tend to be rated higher in intelligence and competence.

Also works in reverse – a quality you admire in someone intensifies the feeling of liking and loving.

This can build extreme feedback loops, as liking further intensifies the admiration for those qualities and ignores faults. 

Inconsistency-avoidance tendency keeps this further entrenched.

Humans ignore the faults of, comply with the wishes of and favour people or products associated with the object of their affection. They will even distort facts to facilitate their love.

What is the solution?

You need to realize everyone and everyone had good and bad qualities, you need to analyse the situation before blindly trusting

Example

If you love your sibling, even if they have done something wrong, you will still love him

If you like coke, even if you come to know it is not good for you, still you will consume it

Bias 3: Disliking/Hating Tendency

What is it?

Humans tend to dislike and hate things and people. 

You ignore virtues in the object of dislike. 

Why it evolved?

Possibly the dislike of an “other” group promoted resource seizing/conquest and thus enhanced survival. 

What is the problem?

You dislike people, products, and actions associated with the object of dislike. You distort facts to facilitate hatred.

People will often distort facts to justify the hatred towards people, products or companies while putting on blinder to other options or opinions. We even dislike products or views associated with what we hate.

What is the solution?

One experience or dislike cannot define anyone or anything

You need to train your mind not to stick on the old experiences

Example

If you dislike a brand, it may launch the best product ever-existing, still, you will dislike it

If you hate a person, there is a higher probability that you will hate their kids as well

Bias 4: Doubt-Avoidance Tendency

What is it?

Doubt is painful, causing puzzlement and stress, so you reach a decision more quickly than a fully considered decision would take. 

Plodding down your current path is psychologically easier than doubting the path and potentially causing upheaval. 

Why it evolved?

Doubting your actions for too long gets you eaten by a tiger. 

What is the problem?

You make poorly considered decisions to remove doubt. 

You perpetuate poor decisions because doubting your current path causes more turmoil and stress. 

The combination of uncertainty, confusion and stress can lead a person to make a quick irrational decision. This is an effort to remove doubt from the decision making process. 

What is the solution?

Think well before taking a decision

Example

I had no clue about my career selection, is it right

Still to justify the actions I told- this is all I need

Bias 5: Inconsistency-Avoidance Tendency

What is it?

People are reluctant to change. 

This applies to personal behaviour, beliefs, relationships, commitments. 

Habit changing is hard, despite people knowing their habits are bad. “The human mind works a lot like a human egg. When one sperm gets into a human egg, there’s an automatic shut-off device that bars any other sperm from getting in.” 

Why it evolved?

Keeping the same behaviour conserves brain programming space and allows faster decision making. 

It’d be crippling to question every single decision you have to make every day. It preserves social cohesion by maintaining social roles and responses. 

People stay loyal to their roles as citizens, soldiers, teachers, physicians, etc. 

What is the problem?

Early-formed habits may be destiny since they are so hard to change. 

Pushing beliefs on children (political, religious) can be permanently damaging. 

Bad decision making caused by other biases can be locked in for good. Doubt-avoidance tendency causes a bad decision; inconsistency-avoidance tendency perpetuates that decision.

Disliking tendency starts a perpetual feedback loop where you dislike a person minorly, then to minimize inconsistency, you see progressively fewer virtues about the person to maintain the belief. 

Eliminating a bad habit is a rare trait. Since it takes a lot of energy for the brain to change habits, it is easy to avoid change.

What is the solution?

Think before you actually want to make something your habit

Example

An older Einstein never accepted the full implications of quantum mechanics.

Despite the evidence that smoking is bad for your health, Grace says “I’ve been smoking my whole life” and asks “why should I stop now?” She continues to smoke to this day

Bias 6: Curiosity Tendency

What is it?

Humans tend to be curious, even more so than monkeys and mammals.

Curiosity helps prevent bad consequences from other psychological tendencies. 

Why it evolved?

Curiosity likely helped discover new food sources and other pro-survival things.

What is the problem?

Curiosity can be exploited by behaviour loops like Facebook’s never-ending feed promoting endless scrolling up.

These dopamine rewards in conjunction with inconsistency-avoidance tendency make the habit hard to extinguish. 

Curiosity has driven innovation, exploration and technology. It has driven people to the bottom of the ocean, into space and across the Earth even risking life to satisfy their curiosity

What is the solution?

Focus on practicality than on curiosity

Example

I broke a marble only because I was curious to know what was inside it

Athens developed math and science out of curiosity, while the Romans focused on practical engineering of mines, aqueducts, etc. 

Bias 7: Kantian Fairness Tendency

What is it?

Humans follow behaviours that, if followed by all others, make the surrounding human system work best for everybody. 

When such courtesies are withheld, other parties get very upset. 

Why it evolved?

Social cohesion in reciprocated behaviors.

What is the problem?

Excessive fairness can create systems that incentivize poor behaviour. 

Charlie mentions workplace injury compensation schemes that reward fraudulent injuries. He suggests having no workplace injury comp, period. 

Charlie also likes the Navy rule of being dismissed as an officer if you run your ship aground – not fair in all circumstances, but certainly prevent ships from being run aground. 

Paying everyone the same amount leads to productivity stagnation and dragging to the lowest common denominator. 

Life is not fair, but many people can’t accept this. People have a tendency to reject an offer if they think it’s unfair. Tolerating a little fairness should be okay if it means greater fairness for all

What is the solution?

Violation of Kantian fairness could lead to dislike/hating tendency taking over without understanding the underlying motives.

Example

Letting people go first at stop signs and one-way bridges.

The anger felt when someone cuts in line.

Bias 8: Envy/Jealousy Tendency

What is it?

Wanting something that someone else has 

Fearing that what you have will be taken away

Why it evolved?

Humans need food to survive. Seeing someone else have food if you don’t have any yourself, makes you want to take the food for yourself.

What is the problem?

In conjunction with disliking/hating tendency, envy can lead to resentment and hate. 

Envy/jealousy are seen as childish emotions to have, so it’s taboo to accuse others of it in resolving problems. 

So the problem goes unsolved. “It is not greed that drives the world, but envy.” – Warren Buffett

What is the solution?

Possess gratitude towards the things you have

Example

Anger at the unequal distribution of wealth 

My mom gave more attention to me because I was sick and my sibling grew jealous as a reason

Bias 9: Reciprocation Tendency

What is it?

Humans reciprocate both favours and disfavours.

“An eye for an eye” in the negative case (or reciprocate-disfavour). 

You don’t treat other humans nicely just because they’re the same species. Ants fight intraspecies members who are not part of their breeding group. 

This suggests there is no general algorithm that makes intraspecies “turn-the-other-cheek” behaviour helpful for species survival 

Why it evolved?

Group cooperation and mutual deterrence of bad behaviour

What is the problem?

Negative behaviours can be reciprocated to extremes, as in war. A take-no-prisoners attitude will quickly be reciprocated and possibly hard to correct

What is the solution?

An eye for an eye will only make the world blind!

Is it not necessary to treat someone the way they treated you, you can always be nicer and set a benchmark

Example

My relative ignored me at a party, then chances are high that I will ignore the same person next time 

Bias 10: Influence-from-Mere-Association Tendency

What is it?

The qualities of one item transfer to another simply when placed in proximity 

“You won’t see Coke advertised alongside some account of the death of a child.”

Why it evolved?

Associating rewards (food) with neighbouring items (a landmark boulder, a big tree, a certain tribe member) helps survival by making you seek it more in the future

What is the problem?

The wrong attribution of previous success – we seek narratives that explain the world, to reduce uncertainty. 

This makes us connect the dots we see while ignoring the information that we don’t have. 

Gambler thinking he’s on a hot streak when it’s just randomness Investor who got lucky in a venture thinks he can predict the future, and tries again, with failure

What is the solution?

Don’t be over-confident or over-joyed by one success

Example

I had a notion that I get good quality products only when I pay a high price until I found some feasible products with excellent quality

Bias 11 :Simple, Pain-Avoiding Psychological Denial 

What is it?

Denying that objective truth exists because it causes pain 

Usually mixed up with love, death, and chemical dependency 

Can probably be helpful in persevering if the objective truth is not available, or the common wisdom is incorrect

Why it evolved?

Avoiding pain probably helps people continue to survive (eg not believing your husband is dead from a food expedition helps you continue caring for your family, rather than breaking down) 

Ego barrier: you want to be capable and to be seen as such, and denying your problems makes you feel better and seems to make others think better of you

What is the problem?

If the truth exists and you refuse to accept it, denial can only worsen your decision making 

When you fail or face misfortune, you tend to blame the external world, rather than look at what you contributed to the error and how you can change in the future 

You tend to wish reality were different, which gets you nowhere 

Facing the truth can be too hard to tolerate. In the most extreme cases such as death, love and chemical dependency, it is easy to distort the facts when the pain of reality is too hard to face

What is the solution?

Some things will be difficult to digest, but sooner they would be digested it becomes better for each one of us

Example

Even after a year of being lost at sea, Alice refused to believe her husband of 20 years was dead. “I won’t believe he’s gone until I see the body,” she said, “it’s just too painful to think about.”

Bias 12: Excessive Self-Regard Tendency

What is it?

You overestimate your abilities

When something comes easily to you, you tend to rate yourself based on how easy it is, rather than how easy the rest of the population finds it. 

You overvalue your possessions 

When given a new item, people are immediately willing to pay more for it than if they weren’t given the item. 

You overvalue your decisions once you’ve made them (also inconsistency avoidance) 

You like people who are like you

Why it evolved?

Confidence always helps spur action and grows you beyond your abilities? Self-doubt would be crippling

What is the problem?

With doubt avoidance tendency, your overconfidence makes you pick rash decisions that aren’t as good as you believe. 

Then, inconsistency avoidance and excessive self-regard tendency make you think the decision is great and not worth changing 

Believing you can contribute more good than harm (eg to your employer or team) and thus incorrectly hating others for contributing less than you

Obsessive high regard for our abilities, possessions and even children is common. Munger says “the greatest type of pride should be taking pride in being trustworthy to avoid developing an ego.” 

What is the solution?

Know true capacities, be realistic about them

Example

You overestimate your children

Stock market cycles, where people enter the market thinking they’re smarter than the

average investor

“I don’t care what the test says” Ram cried “I have an above-average intelligence compared to the average person” he continued, even after he got a low IQ test score for the second time

Bias 13: Overoptimism Tendency

What is it?

People tend to believe things will work out “What a man wishes, that also will he believe.” – Demosthenes 

People overweight small probabilities – 1% is weighted at 5.5 instead of at 1.0 

As Jim Carrey said in Dumb and Dumber, in response to a woman who gave him a 

1 in million shot at being with her: “so you’re telling me there’s a chance!” 

Which do you find more valuable? 

Going from 0% chance of winning $1 million to 5% chance 

Going from a 5% chance of winning $1 million to 10% chance

Why it evolved?

Hope spurs action. 

Optimism that there is a food source over there helps survival. 

In the loss side, being overreactive to small probabilities of bad events increased survival – it’s safer to assume a shadow is a hungry tiger even if the probability is low

What is the problem?

Believing that things will work out overestimates the value of decisions 

Combined with loss aversion, people are willing to take large gambles with small probabilities of success, to avoid large losses 

Denial of bad news and overoptimistic ignorance of risk factors leads to poor decision making

What is the solution?

Being optimistic is good but you should have calculated the risks

Example

People buying lottery tickets and overestimating chances of winning

Buying a new bigger home and being unsure about covering the expenses but still saying- I’m sure I will manage it

Bias 14: Deprival-Superreaction Tendency

What is it?

The pleasure gain from earning $10 is less than the displeasure from losing $10 

Almost getting a reward and then having it jerked away makes the loss feel as though he had owned it the whole time

Why it evolved?

Having your food taken away

What is the problem?

Missing the forest for the trees – worried about competition taking your share, when the real prize is a new market people aren’t fighting for

Denial may protect yourself against deprival super reaction.

Humans tend to overreacts irrationally even to a small loss, or threatened loss, of property, love, friendship, opportunity, status or anything of value. Losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as to gain.

What is the solution?

Think from a longer perspective, understand losses are undeniable in most of the cases

Example

Labour objects to decreases and this often requires that companies close rather than renegotiate salaries downwards. 

A gambler has a passion to get even once he suffers a loss, and this passion grows with the loss.

Bias 15: Social-Proof Tendency

What is it?

You think and do what you observe is thought and done around you. 

Triggered most easily in times of puzzlement and stress 

Applies to both action and inaction

Why it evolved?

Helps social cohesion through normative behaviour 

Helps everyone share in cooperative behaviour that helps overall survival 

What is the problem?

When consensus is wrong, but the following consensus is safer than violating it. 

“If everyone else is doing it, it can’t be wrong, can it?” 

When other people are ignoring the truth and behaving poorly 

A company follows the crowd and thinks its advantage

If humans are unsure of what to do or are looking for acceptance, they will simply follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. This can influence people to make huge mistakes and poor judgments.

What is the solution?

You need to understand that all times majority cannot be right, if your dreams are different, then how can the journey be the same?

Example

Teens rely on social proof of peers more than from parents

Advertising with admirable people using the product; product placement 

Bias 16: Contrast-Misreaction Tendency

What is it?

You tend to think in terms of relative contrast (% terms) rather than absolute numbers 

Eg put two hands in different buckets of cold or hot water, then put them in lukewarm water. The hands will feel different despite the same final temperature 

Small imperceptible differences can make a huge difference over time

Why it evolved?

Detecting contrasts may allow for simpler cognition, or faster recognizing of danger 

What is the problem?

You make a decision based on relative value, not an absolute value 

Buying a $1k upgrade to your car that costs $60k, when you’d otherwise baulk at a $1k purchase

In negotiations, anchoring and reciprocation tendency can draw you away from your original desired endpoint

Misleading statistics: “0.1% risk of death” seems smaller than “8 out of every 1000 people die.” 

Outrageous policies can be compared to straw men that make the policy seem more reasonable

People tend to misjudge or make a bad decision in regards to objects, people and situations based on the comparison. It is better to evaluate people and objects by themselves and not by their contrast. 

What is the solution?

Make a decision based on the absolute value

Example

Real estate agent shows you three overpriced, bad houses, and a final normal priced normal house, which now seems like a bargain 

“We make up a high price for our new TV sets,” said Hal “then we put the regular price as a sale price to sell more TV’s”. He continued “even though the regular price is fake, by comparison, it looks like a better deal.”

Bias 17: Stress-Influence Tendency

What is it?

Adrenaline-caused stress prompts faster and more extreme reactions Light stress can slightly improve performance 

Why it evolved?

You don’t want to be pondering when a tiger jumps at you

What is the problem?

Stress causes reliance on faulty heuristics rather than methodical thinking

Extreme stress can lead to non-depressive mental breakdowns and rewiring

Small amounts of stress can slightly improve performance, however, heavy stress and high adrenaline can often lead to dysfunction, over-reacting and making otherwise irrational decisions. 

What is the solution?

Learn to manage your stress

Example

Put a dog in the cage, flood cage until barely any air is left. 

Causes a behaviour change where they started disliking handlers 

The dogs hardest to break down were also hardest to return to pre-breakdown 

Bias 18: Availability-Misweighing Tendency

What is it?

Your brain works with what’s available to you 

This applies broadly to facts, memories, concepts, and emotions

Why it evolved?

We have a limited capacity to remember, recall, and think, so we jump to what’s easily available 

Possibly, it helps to up weight the most recent places you got food and not the place that worked a year ago

What is the problem?

By using only what’s recently available, you ignore other important data. 

As Kahneman says, “what you see is all there is” 

What is the solution?

Don’t ignore old but important data

Example

Economists supporting arguments that produce reams of data, rather than fuzzier concepts that are true (thus the time it took for behavioural economics to arise) 

Bias 19: Use-It-or-Lose-It Tendency

What is it?

All skills attenuate with disuse.

Why it evolved?

All neural circuits have the tendency to have memory and decay over time. Probably useful for the pruning of unused circuits. 

What is the problem?

Gaps appear in your latticework of thinking, and you risk man with a hammer syndrome

People tend to cram for a test or presentation instead of trying to master the information. Advanced skills can only be maintained with daily practice. A skill mastered can be retained longer and remastered quicker.

What is the solution?

Make the best use of your age and grab and develop long-lasting skills

Example

Skills trained to fluency will be lost more slowly and will come back faster with new learning.

“I practised the violin every day for 10 years, then quit for a while,” said Sue. “But, it only took me a few months of daily practice to get back to the skill level I was at.” 

Bias 20: Drug-Misinfluence Tendency

What is it?

There are substances like alcohol that are addictive and make you feel deceptively happy

Why it evolved?

Habituation of neurons to the input (like morphine) both require increasingly strong doses 

What is the problem?

Drugs are destructive for cognition, and addiction is destructive to life

What is the solution?

Be careful about your actions, because they become your habits

Example

You know that alcohol and caffeine in more dosages is harmful, yet it is difficult for people to quit once they are addicted 

Bias 21: Senescence-Misinfluence Tendency

What is it?

Old people find it harder to learn new skills 

Deterioration can be disguised by social conventions like clothing

However, some remain good at maintaining intensely practised old skills

Why it evolved?

Our health, in general, is optimized toward early reproduction. We’re in an area where more people are surviving into old age than ever before. 

Your brain prunes the circuits that are more successful over life. As you age, consistency bias and status quo bias fix your beliefs. Your personality and thinking become less plastic

What is the problem?

It gets harder to change old people’s habits for the better, especially in the face of new evidence

As humans age their mental and physical capabilities reduce. It’s rare for someone to learn a new skill at an advanced age, but some people are good at retaining their skills as they age. 

What is the solution?

Start working upon things you want to change from today

Example

It may be difficult to start running at an old age

On his 78th birthday, Jerry said: “I don’t think as fast or as clearly as I used to”. However, I do crossword puzzles and word searches to help keep my mind sharp, it seems to help.” 

Bias 22: Authority-Misinfluence Tendency

What is it?

A man was born mostly to follow leaders, with only a few people doing the leading 

Hierarchies arise that support this tendency 

People tend to follow instructions from an authority, even blindly

What it evolved?

May improve cohesion and improve survival by reducing the number of orders given 

Replicating the habits of the powerful or successful may improve survival 

What is the problem?

Authority limits the individual’s decision making, which is bad when the leader is wrong 

When the leader’s ideas are misunderstood

What is the solution?

Either start leading or choose a good leader wisely to follow

Example

“Why do you take those pills every morning?” A friend asked Bill. “Just following doctor’s orders” he replied. “I don’t question what the doctor says, he’s the expert on the matter” he continued.

Bias 23: Twaddle Tendency

What is it?

Twaddle = “foolish speech or writing” 

Some people tend to pour out twaddle while others are doing serious work

Why it evolved? 

Self-regard tendency and influence-from-mere-association (from the other 25 cognitive biases) can make people try to appear more confident or knowledgeable than they are

What is the problem?

Believing twaddle from other people can lead to bad decisions 

Overstepping your circle of competence, with excessive self-regard tendency, may delude you into taking on something you’re not ready for

A lot of time is wasted on twaddle. From instant messages to social media distractions twaddle can fill up your day. Even your own thoughts can be twaddle, filled with repetitious thought of little importance

What is the solution?

Listen to your own voice and take advice only from people who have done something significant

Example

“I try to avoid Janice at the office,” said Phil “she has a tendency to go on-and-on about her petty problems and complaints when I have a big stack of work that needs to be done.” 

Bias 24: Reason-Respective Tendency

What is it?

You work and learn better when given correct reasons for why to do something.

Why it evolved?

People innately enjoy accurate cognition (such as puzzles and games) 

Having a consistent logical argument is logically more persuasive

What is the problem?

Hearing illogical reasons can be just as persuasive as logical reasons

What is the solution?

Stop giving illogical excuses

Example

“If I want to get to the front of the line to the library printer,” said Carrie “all I have to do is give a reason why I’m in a hurry like I’m late for class and they usually let me cut to the front.”

Bias 25: Lollapalooza Tendency

What is it?

The confluence of multiple tendencies leads to extreme consequences 

Has been underappreciated in psychology, likely because multiple biases are hard to replicate well in the lab.

Experiments are well-controlled and meant to show a strong effect on one issue.

Why it evolved?

This is a phenomenon of biases amplifying each other. Could be that the combination of biases historically led to increased survival. 

What is the problem?

Extreme behaviours can result when many biases point in the wrong direction

All 24 tendencies interact with each other and people will merge multiple tendencies in favour of a particular outcome. The Lollapalooza tendency can be used for positive or negative purposes.

What is the solution?

Channelize using this for positive purposes

Example

A public auction is an example of multiple tendencies at work. You have social proof, reciprocation and deprival super-reaction tendency and can manipulate people into acting irrational and overspending

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Hope this information, if you can get rid of these, none but none can stop you from getting all you want in your life

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