Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Predictably Irrational: The Curse of Cognitive Bias



Do you consider yourself a rational thinker? A sound decision-maker? Have you ever heard of cognitive bias? If so, then you know your thought processes may not always be as logical as you would hope. If not, then buckle up, because a little thing called cognitive bias impacts your thought processes and decisions from the moment you wake up in the morning to when you finally hit the pillow at the end of the day.

While I am consciously aware that biases infiltrate my actions and decisions, I can’t say I’ve spent a whole lot of time dwelling on the issue until very recently when I learned specifically about cognitive bias. Intrigued by the long list of biases, I’m heading to Boston for the Front End of Innovation conference with bias on the brain.

So what exactly is a cognitive bias?

In its simplest form, cognitive bias is essentially a pattern or tendency to think in ways that deviate from rational, logical decision-making – they are the glitches or limitations in our thinking. We are all prone to show at least some cognitive biases. While these biases often cloud our reasoning, they also save our brains time and energy. We use them as shortcuts to help us solve problems and process information more efficiently.

Now why should you care?

These powerful little beasts impact the way we think, feel, buy, sell, and interact with people, businesses, and things. From a design perspective, this means biases can help inform how we view design, branding, and innovation and how we approach customers and run our businesses. Ah the power of psychology.

To demonstrate how these biases work out in the real world, let’s take a look at one you may be familiar with, the framing effect, which highlights the power of presentation and delivery. With this bias, the same problem or issue – described differently – receives different responses. In other words, where two choices have the same outcome, but are framed in different ways – one positive and one negative – the majority of people will select the positively described choice. It’s a glass half full or half empty kind of thing. In business, this means you can influence how people respond to what you put out into world with strategically crafted context, imagery, and tone of voice. 

The framing effect is why you see:
  • Save 50% v. Half off 
  • 99% fat free v. 1% fat only
  • Spend $1/day v. $30/month
  • 2 easy payments of $39.99 v. buy this product for $80.00
As you can see, framing matters – it’s less about what is said and more about how it is said. Through strategic use of images, words, and general context, we can shape assumptions and perceptions about the information presented to ultimately alter decisions and behaviors. Brands can leverage this cognitive bias to improve brand perception – creating a positive frame for a brand elicits positive vibes and proactive behavior.

With hundreds of biases penetrating our thoughts and actions, the perceived rationality of our thoughts must always be questioned – how exhausting?! But for today, my biases lead me to believe that FEI 2017 will be one for the books and I will be looking for the positive bent in the communications I encounter. I encourage you to think about how your own biases come into play when you connect with people and businesses at FEI in May.

Signing off, keenly aware of context and the predictable irrationality of my thoughts.

If you’d like to connect and talk more about cognitive bias and design, please reach out. We will be at the conference all week talking about The Physics of Brand, design, and the stories that inspire us.

Aaron Keller, Kitty Hart, and I write for the FEI event blog, please reach out if you have a story to share.

Research and Strategy Associate, Capsule Design

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