Cognitive Biases

After reading this subsection you will understand how our cognitive biases contribute to keeping us in a state of fear. We will start with the definition of bias and we will examine our most common biases starting with our confirmation bias.

A bias is a human predisposition to like something, that prevents us from objectively considering an issue or situation.

We live in an uncertain world. We are continuously bombarded with, often unreliable, information from the news media, advertising media and the drug companies. We are told of impending terrorist attacks, why bacteria is going to kill us unless we use a certain dish-washing liquid and what drugs to take to prevent cancer.

Decision making in the face of uncertainty is never easy and so we have developed a sub-conscious strategy for decision making which relies upon our previous experiences, rules of thumb, educated guesses, stereotyping, memes and our intuitive judgement.

These mental shortcuts used by our brain in solving problems are called heuristics. From these heuristics our brain begins to shape our beliefs and in turn our beliefs shape our reality.

How do cognitive biases add to our continuous state of fear? -

In their book, “Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases” Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic and Amos Tversky describe various judgmental heuristics and the ensuing biases they produce.

Our life is based on, what Daniel Kahneman referred to as “The Illusion of Validity: A tendency for people to view their own beliefs as reality”.

So if you believe that your own life is hopeless what is the point of moving on? In order to give justification to one’s perceived realities, we have developed a psychological immune system. A set of biases that keep us certain of our beliefs. These preconceptions have been grouped into what is now referred to as our cognative biases.

There are over 100 documented cognative biases. Here are some examples.

Confirmation Bias

This is a tendency which we have to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions. Any information which confirms our suspicions will be remembered while conflicting data will not even register.

This bias limits our ability to take in new data.

Negativity Bias

Our tendency to give more weight to negative information and experiences than to positive ones. One of our most common cognitive biases.

Authority Bias

Our tendency to over value the opinion of someone who is seen as an authority.


The tendency to rely and focus too heavily on one piece of information when making decisions. Anchoring prevents us from imagining that there is any other solution.

Attentional Bias

The tendency to pay attention to emotionally dominant stimuli in one's environment and to neglect relevant data when making judgments of a correlation or association.

Bandwagon Effect

Our tendency to do and/or believe things because others do.

Empathy Gap

A cognitive bias that increases our tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.

Expectation Bias

The tendency to believe, certify, and publish data that agree with our expectations and to disbelieve, discard, or downgrade the corresponding weightings for data that appear to conflict with those expectations.

Framing Effect

The tendency to draw different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented. In other words, manipulating statistics to prove one’s point.

Pessimism Bias

The tendency for some people to overestimate the likelihood of negative things happening to them. Another one of our most common cognitive biases.

Ingroup Bias

The tendency for people to give preferential treatment and to believe others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

We have seen in the previous subsection how our amygdala is continuously searching for bad news which it perceives threatening our survival. 

Because of our negativity and authority biases we have a tendency to believe the prophets of doom that dominate our media and advertising world. We begin to treat these authority figures as friends which then triggers our ingroup bias.

Once we start believing that doom is imminent, the amygdala goes into a state of high alert. Whatever the amygdala does not capture our cognitive biases do. The result is a population convinced that the end is near and that there is nothing that we can do to stop it.

In my next subsection we look at fear conditioning.

Go from Cognitive Biases to Fear Conditioning

Go from Cognitive Biases to How to Overcome Fear