It can be kind of annoying sometimes, and humbling, but the truth is that the human brain is calibrated for speed, not accuracy.
It makes sense when you think of it from an evolutionary perspective. Snap decisions are crucial in survival settings. If you’re being chased by a predator, it’s more important that you react quickly. More important that you react at all. Not that you respond 100% correctly as opposed to 80% or 90% correctly.
If you don’t react at all, you’ll get eaten.
So your decision-making skills are messy, but you figure out you need to run away or fight — or whatever it is your amygdala decides — ASAP.
Now, the modern world isn’t without its own challenges. But they’re rarely as clearcut as being chased by a predator. Many times you’re faced with a complex social situation or are late to work because you’re stuck in rush hour traffic…
And you feel like something is chasing you. But it never goes away.
Furthermore, you’re often faced with complicated decisions where accuracy might be more important than brute speed, strictly speaking.
And yet, we can’t escape the cognitive biases that are so innate to us, part of this machinery that’s trying to help us but often screws things up in our modern world.
In today’s piece I’d like to talk about a bias known as anchoring.
What’s Anchoring Bias?
Anchoring is a pretty straightforward cognitive bias. Basically, when you are falling prone to anchoring, the first thing you encounter influences your judgement of everything else that follows, whether or not it should.
What this means is a person’s introduction to something — whatever it is — is typically overweighted in their knowledge base. Even if that source is waaaaay off the mark, it will typically take a disproportionate amount of contradictory clarifying information for someone to discard their introduction to it.
Anchoring is loosely related to other cognitive biases that affect decision-making, but it is probably most closely related to one called confirmation bias that more people are familiar with. Confirmation bias was covered in a previous installment of this series. Briefly however, confirmation bias is an incredibly common tendency for folks to interpret information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs rather than challenging them.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.