How Cognitive Bias can Influence our Learning and Development

The human brain is constantly processing information, even when we are not always aware of it.  With so much input, we subconsciously create ‘mental shortcuts’ to get to the information we need, so that we can respond quickly to situations on a daily basis. These shortcuts, however, are not exactly fool-proof, and can lead to errors in our judgement by leaning towards a particular idea or opinion without taking time to consider all the facts. These errors are referred to as a cognitive bias.

Cognitive biases are judgements we make based on limited knowledge and experiences and can affect the way we perceive and interpret information. Biases tend to form based around our own upbringing, what we see/hear from friends and family, or from external factors such as news, and social media. Decisions that are influenced by bias are also caused by:

  • Having too much/too little information
  • Not having enough context
  • Needing to act fast on a decision
  • Having to remember all the information given

For example, someone might say they are afraid of rollercoasters despite never having been on one because “they are not safe”, yet they are happy to travel by car or by plane despite the risks being significantly higher. In this scenario the person has formed a cognitive bias by not having enough information or context based on their own experience.

Cognitive Bias can also impact our learning and development within the workplace. Even when we may be aware of our biases, if it is not managed properly, they can create a barrier for career progression, as well as negatively impact what we say and how we act around both colleagues and clients.

Examples of cognitive bias in the workplace include:

Confirmation Bias: This occurs when a person chooses to only pay attention to information in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or opinions, whilst ignoring all others associated with it. Confirmation bias may prevent taking alternative perspectives into consideration or restrict learning new information because it conflicts with existing beliefs.

Overconfidence Bias: As the name suggests, this is when confidence in knowledge, skillsets, or abilities have been overestimated. When undertaking continued professional development (CPD) tasks for example, some learners may choose to believe that they already know everything they need to know which could make them resistant to seeking out new information or learning from others.

Anchoring Bias: This occurs when a person relies too heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision. Anchoring bias limits our ability to consider other relevant information and prevents us from making informed decisions.

Availability Bias: This is when a person relies too heavily on information that is readily available, for instance information that is easily accessible, such as the top result on a search engine or information that is frequently repeated in the media. Availability bias can lead us to overlook important information that is not easily accessible or widely reported.

Hindsight Bias: This involves believing that an event was predictable after it has occurred, even if there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. Hindsight bias can prevent us from learning from our mistakes or recognizing the role of chance or luck in certain outcomes.

There is always going to be some level of bias. Having awareness of cognitive biases is an important step in improving how we take in information and make effective decisions. It is not about having an entirely unbiased thought process, but rather staying one step ahead and not allowing them to be the sole decision-maker in your life choices. Be proactive in your efforts to better evaluate situations by actively seeking out alternative perspectives, remaining open to new information, and questioning your assumptions, so that you can make better and more informed decisions, and in doing so, demonstrate your ability to learn and grow.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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