The 5 Biggest Biases That Affect Decision-Making


Humans make thousands of decisions every day. However, our brains don’t give each decision equal attention—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 valuable. But it might be disadvantageous if we’re conducting a performance review.

At the NeuroLeadership Institute, we help leaders and teams mitigate the biases that negatively affect people and business decisions, 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 biases comprise the SEEDS Model®, the framework that underpins our solutions geared toward reducing unconscious bias.

We’ve outlined each of the five biases below.

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

Similarity biases most obviously crop up in people decisions: who to hire, who to promote, 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 “ingroups” and “outgroups” — boundaries between who we consider close to us and who lives on the margins. We generally have a favorable view of our ingroup but a skeptical (or negative) view of the outgroup. 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 take more time to gather a wider array of 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 bias occurs 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 in systems for others to check our thinking, share their perspectives, and helps 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 globalized 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 conference line.

The bias reflects our instinct to prioritize that which is 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 by 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 weaken the perception of loss.

What’s important to remember about the SEEDS Model® 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: Chris Weller

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