The 5 Biggest Biases That Affect Decision-Making


Humans make thousands of decisions every day. However, to save time and energy, our brains don’t give each decision equal attention. Instead, we take mental shortcuts.

To brain scientists, these shortcuts are known as “biases.” They’re neither good nor bad; they just are. They help us in certain cases and hinder us in others. For instance, an expedience bias compels us to make decisions quickly. If we’re in a burning building, that may be lifesaving, but if we’re conducting a performance review, it might be disadvantageous.

That’s why we’ve unpacked these shortcuts to help leaders and teams mitigate the biases that negatively affect decision-making, so that they can be more innovative and effective. Through our research, we’ve organized more than 150 such biases into five broad categories. These five bias domains comprise The SEEDS Model®, the framework that underpins our solutions geared toward reducing unconscious bias.

We’ve outlined each of the five bias domains below.

Similarity Bias — We prefer what is like us over what is different

Similarity biases most obviously crop up in decisions regarding people: who to hire, who to promote, and who to assign to projects.

It occurs because humans are highly motivated to see themselves and those who are similar in a favorable light. We instinctively create “in-groups” and “out-groups” — boundaries between who we consider close to us and who lives on the margins. We generally have a favorable view of our in-group but a skeptical or negative view of the out-group. Hence, why managers hire employees who remind them of themselves.

Overcoming a similarity bias requires actively finding common ground with people who appear different.

Expedience Bias — We prefer to act quickly rather than take time

Humans have a built-in need for certainty — to know what is going on. A downside of that need is the tendency to rush to judgment without fully considering all the facts.

Expedience biases crop up when we are reviewing employees and rely solely on one data point or recommendation. The fix is to develop a step-by-step process/approach that makes it easy to gather more information.

Experience Bias — We take our perception to be the objective truth

We may be the stars of our own show, but other people see the world slightly differently than we do. Experience biases occur when we fail to remember that fact. We assume our view of a given problem or situation constitutes the whole truth.

To escape the bias, we need to build systems for others to check our thinking, share their perspectives, and help us reframe the situation at hand.

Distance Bias — We prefer what’s closer over what’s farther away

Distance biases have become all too common in today’s hybrid world. They emerge in meetings when folks in the room fail to gather input from their remote colleagues who may be dialing in on a video platform.

The bias reflects our instinct to prioritize what’s nearby, whether in physical space, time, or other domains.

We can mitigate distance biases with systems that acknowledge important figures outside our immediate proximity, such as calling on remote colleagues first in a meeting before discussing with the room.

Safety Bias — We protect against loss more than we seek out gain

Safety bias refers to the all-too-human tendency to avoid loss. Many studies have shown that we would prefer not to lose money even more than we’d prefer to gain money. In other words, bad is stronger than good.

Safety biases slow down decision-making and hold back healthy forms of risk-taking. One way we can mitigate the bias is by getting some distance between us and the decision — such as by imagining a past self already having made the choice successfully — to make those events less emotionally tied to yourself.

What’s important to remember about all biases is that no one can mitigate bias alone. It takes an entire group using a common language around bias to help individuals make smarter decisions.

Author: NeuroLeadership Institute

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