• Arundhati Subramani

Biased Much? - A Series

Arundhati V Subramani

What is decision making?

As the term indicates, it's the process of making decisions.

Decisions are important to keep our lives going. Right from setting the alarm clock the night before to choosing the person you'd spend the rest of your life with, decisions are an integral part of our daily lives.

While there are many factors that govern this process that we often don't give much thought to, let us focus on certain biases which affect each one of us, whether or not we're aware of it.

An Overview

The focusing effect and attentional bias determine how we gather and analyse facts prior to the process. The empathy gap deals with how we justify our thought process prior to finalizing the decision, usually underestimating the effect of the previous two biases. Lastly, the confirmation bias reinforces our previously formed beliefs by paying selective attention to certain factors (which can again be attributed to the first two biases) that are coherent with your beliefs, hence reinforcing them.

The Focusing Effect

The Focusing Effect is when the human brain places too much emphasis on specific limited factors while making decisions; while there are important factors, they don't come to light because they aren't distinctive.

Hence, we find ourselves subscribing to the more sensationalised pieces of information. Judgement, is imbalanced; this leads to misinformed evaluations.

The Attentional Bias

This is the tendency to pay more attention to emotionally dominant stimuli - we neglect relevant data when we're trying to make decisions; the more something touches us, the more we pay attention to it.

What this means: We're stuck. We see a bunch of stuff repetitively, and we allow that to influence and mould our opinions; we don't stick around for a more well-rounded view - this, is the result of these biases.

Similarly, we sometimes see information that's not founded in fact, but before we can try and tell ourselves to calm down, we've already reacted; we've already pushed the emotion out for the rest of the world to see, and we further this attentional bias, when others like us, fall into the same patterns

The Empathy Gap

The tendency to underestimate the influence of our emotional state on our decisions and overestimate the intellectual influence on them.

The empathy gap makes it difficult for people to imagine how they will feel and act when they’re in a different emotional state than the one that they’re at at the moment.

Our understanding is state dependent. The way we look at the same situation will change depending on certain factors, emotional, visceral, or both.

When in a 'hot' or emotional state, we don't realize how much it influences our decisions. Similarly, when in a 'cold' or rational state, we don't know the degree to which our decisions would vary if we were to be in an emotional state.

A hot state causes poor decision making and a cold state causes us to make unreasonable decisions.

The Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias involves favoring information that confirms your previously existing beliefs, and simultaneously ignoring aspects that do not concur with them.

This bias occurs when we fail to comprehend information in an objective manner.

Our beliefs are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds them—while at the same time tending to ignore the information that challenges them.

Once a belief is formed, few of us make an effort to seek out and consider opposing points of view. Also, we are far less likely to examine core beliefs that are intrinsic to our identity. These beliefs may have been developed years ago without an objective analysis of the facts, yet the confirmation bias helps to ensure that they remain unchallenged.

This bias has been used strategically by online platforms in a phenomenon known as the filter bubble effect - As you use particular websites and content networks, those networks are more likely to serve you content you prefer while excluding content that your browsing patterns have demonstrated you do not prefer.

Source: The Decision Lab


Arundhati is a medical student who likes to convey her thoughts through poetry and art. With a keen interest in understanding the workings of the human mind, she is on the constant lookout for patterns connecting the conscious and the subconscious, imagination and reality. An idealist in mind, a realist in her head and a perfectionist at heart, she puts her soul into anything that sparks her interest.