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Learning & Development Blog

The Top 10 Cognitive Biases in Learning

What Are Yours? Top Ten Cognitive Biases in Learning

Cognitive biases – or the tendency to think in certain ways that lead to systematic deviations from a standard rationality or good judgment - color almost every aspect of our daily lives. We all have them, whether we want to admit it or not.

I’m guilty of them in my personal life - system justification bias is the reason I’m resistant to upgrading my home computer to Windows 10. I also fight “reactance” every time my husband asks me to make him a cup of tea, which I don’t drink and hate doing!

Cognitive biases develop throughout our lives as we learn from experiences and begin to take "mental short-cuts" to navigate situations and make decisions. They are usually an indication of our values and beliefs, and in many cases cognitive biases can be helpful – they can help us make decisions more quickly in situations where time is of the essence. They can also help to keep us safe in times of heightened emotional or physical stress.

But cognitive biases in learning can also lead to bad judgments and a resistance to incorporating new information into our thought processes.

Bias In Learning

As learning and development professionals, it is imperative that we maintain an awareness of both our own cognitive biases and also an understanding of the common biases that the majority of us, as humans, hold on to. By keeping these biases in mind as we design and develop instructional materials and events, we can incorporate strategies to mitigate them and open the pathway for learning.

So what are some of these common biases that most of us fall back on consistently, but get in the way of learning? There are dozens of them documented, but I’ve narrowed this list to my Top Ten biases that I try to find ways to mitigate in both learning and organizational change situations:

Top Ten Cognitive Biases in Learning

Confirmation bias: The tendency to easily accept information that confirms your point of view and reject information that does not support it.

Anchoring bias: The tendency to place excessive weight or importance on one piece of information - often the first piece of information you learned about a topic.

Dunning-Kruger effect: The tendency for incompetent people to overestimate their competence, and very competent people to underestimate their competence.

Curse of Knowledge bias: When well-informed people are unable to look at an issue from the perspective of a less informed person.

Functional Fixedness: This bias limits a person to utilizing an object or idea in only the way it is traditionally used.

Mere Exposure Effect: The tendency to like something just because you are familiar with it.

Not Invented Here bias: The tendency to discount information, ideas, standards, or products developed outside of a certain group.

Reactance: The urge to do the opposite of what you are asked to do in order to preserve your freedom of choice.

Status Quo bias: The tendency to want things to stay relatively the same as they have always been.

System Justification bias: The tendency to try to actively maintain the status quo.

At some point or another in my life and career, I have been guilty of every one of these biases, some as recently as this morning.

In my opinion, it is impossible for a person to become completely unbiased. Indeed, in many ways it would be counter-productive to become so. But in those cases when biases keep us from considering new ideas and being open to learning, it’s best to hold a mirror to up to ourselves and to our learners so we can continue to grow and create learning experiences that are exciting, new and different.

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