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Three Errors in Judgment We are All Too Inclined to Make

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

As the presidential election looms before us, my thoughts turn to how we make important life decisions such as for whom to cast our votes.

For a lot of people, choices like this seem simple. In fact, many know what their choice is before the party ever started, stating that they don’t even have to think about it. They just know the right answer and no one can sway them, regardless of what anyone says.

Others take more time. They mull and fret and research and agonize until they exhaust themselves into the default strategy of “going with one’s gut” or simply flipping a coin.

While these two approaches may sound radically different, they have one thing in common – they both are prone to invoking a host of judgment errors that sway our thinking in an unchecked, unbalanced way.

This doesn’t mean that those decisions are always wrong or bad — in fact, in many life situations, there is no clear right or wrong choice. But what it does mean is that we made those decisions in a sort of mental vacuum without allowing ourselves to consider equally valid information or options.

Here are three errors in judgment we are all at risk of committing in matters both presidential and personal:

  • Representativeness bias – This is the tendency to judge a situation based on one’s most prevalent experiences and beliefs about the situation. For instance, if you’ve gone to the local casino three times and lost every time, you will probably believe that you will also lose the fourth time you go, even though your chances of winning are the same during each independent visit. The representativeness bias can be useful when making quick judgments in day-to-day life, but it could prove dangerous in more far-reaching decisions because it limits our consideration of other experiences and information. In other words, if we only consider what we’ve personally experienced, we discount the larger picture.
  • Availability bias – This is the tendency to make decisions based on what comes to mind most readily, even though it may not be the best choice available to us. Advertisers capitalize on our inclination to engage in this type of bias. If a certain brand of cereal is put in front of us enough times, that is the type of cereal we will think of first and, in turn, the brand we are most likely to choose. But there may be another kind of cereal out there that we’d like much better, if only it was on our radar. (Speaking of the availability bias, did you know that there are several third-party candidates running for president in addition to the two that have been put on our radar?)
  • Confirmatory bias – This is the tendency to make a judgment very early in the decision-making process and then, from that point forward, to only acknowledge information that confirms that judgment while ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, this happens all-too-often in mental health care and medical care when professionals make a premature diagnosis and then refuse to consider reevaluating that diagnosis even in light of new data. Confirmatory bias can result in stereotyping and bullheadedness that keep people stuck in very narrow universes.

The good news is that we can catch ourselves engaging in these judgment errors now that we are aware of them. And please note that I’m not trying to sway you in any particular direction regarding the upcoming election. I’m just encouraging you to check yourself to ensure that you are making mindful decisions.

Keep Reading By Author Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
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