Skip to content

19 Biases that lead us to act with confidence

To act, we must be confident we can make an impact and feel what we do is important

In reality, most of this confidence can be classified as overconfidence, but without it we might not act at all.

Actor-Observer Bias

When people judge their own behavior, and they are the actor, they are more likely to attribute their actions to the particular situation than to a generalization about their personality. Yet when an observer is explaining the behavior of another person (the actor), they are more likely to attribute this behavior to the actors’ overall disposition rather than to situational factors.

Related. Ultimate Attribution Error, Fundamental Attribution Error, Positivity Effect

Defensive Attribution Hypothesis

A set of beliefs used as a shield against the fear that one will be the victim or cause of a serious calamity. Attributions of blame to the victim will decrease the more similar the observer is to the person and/or situation involved in the mishap. Assigning responsibility to someone or something other than the victim allows the observer to believe that the mishap wasn’t the victim’s fault or that it wasn’t just pure random chance; neither of which are psychologically palatable conclusions due to the similarity of observer and victim. The use of defensive attributions is considered a cognitive bias because an individual will change their beliefs about a situation based upon their psychological motives rather than the factual characteristics of the situation.

Example. Often times, in this case of a woman who has not been robbed hearing about the robbing of another woman, the very commonly heard responses are, “She must have been wearing expensive jewellery” or “She was probably walking in a very sketchy part of town late at night”. These attributions of causal factors to something other than the victim or random chance serve to shield the observer from acknowledging they could be a similar victim to a similar calamity.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

A cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from Illusory Superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of Illusory Superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.

Related. Lake Wobegon Effect

Effort Justification

People’s tendency to attribute a greater value (greater than the objective value) to an outcome they had to put effort into acquiring or achieving. With effort justification, there is a dissonance between the amount of effort exerted into achieving a goal or completing a task (high effort equaling high “cost”) and the subjective reward for that effort (lower than was expected for such an effort). By adjusting and increasing one’s attitude or subjective value of the goal, this dissonance is resolved. Read More.

Egocentric Bias

The tendency to rely too heavily on one’s own perspective and/or have a higher opinion of oneself than reality.

False Consensus Effect (Bias)

People tend to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others (i.e., that others also think the same way that they do). This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist; a “false consensus”.

Fundamental Attribution Error

The claim that in contrast to interpretations of their own behavior, people place undue emphasis on internal characteristics of the agent (character or intention), rather than external factors, in explaining other people’s behavior. The effect can be described as “the tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are”. Read More.

Related. Ultimate Attribution Error, Actor-Observer Bias, Positivity Effect

Forer Effect (Barnum effect)

A common psychological phenomenon whereby individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them but that are, in fact, vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. Read More.

Related. Subjective Validation (Personal Validation Effect)

Hard-Easy Effect

A tendency to overestimate the probability of one’s success at a task perceived as hard, and to underestimate the likelihood of one’s success at a task perceived as easy. The hard-easy effect takes place, for example, when individuals exhibit a degree of under-confidence in answering relatively easy questions and a degree of overconfidence in answering relatively difficult questions.

Illusion of Control

The tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events that they demonstrably do not influence. Read More.

Lake Wobegon Effect

Also known as Illusory Superiority, Above-Average Effect, Superiority Bias, Leniency Error, Sense of Relative Superiority, Primus Inter Pares Effect

A cognitive bias whereby a person overestimates his or her own qualities and abilities, in relation to the same qualities and abilities of other persons.

Related. Dunning-Kruger Effect

Optimism Bias

A cognitive bias that causes a person to believe that they are at a lesser risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

Over-Confidence Effect

A well-established bias in which a person’s subjective confidence in his or her judgements is reliably greater than the objective accuracy of those judgements, especially when confidence is relatively high. Read More.

Peltzman Effect

The reduction of predicted benefit from regulations that intend to increase safety due to Risk Compensation. Substantial empirical work has found that the effect exists in many contexts but generally offsets less than half of the desired increase of safety benefit.

Related. Risk Compensation

Risk Compensation

A theory which suggests that people typically adjust their behavior in response to the perceived level of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected.

Example. It is observed that motorists drive faster when wearing seatbelts and closer to the vehicle in front when the vehicles were fitted with anti-lock brakes.

Example. Booth’s rule#2 “The safer skydiving gear becomes, the more chances skydivers will take, in order to keep the fatality rate constant”

Related. Peltzman Effect

Self-Serving Bias

Any cognitive or perceptual process that is distorted by the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem, or the tendency to perceive oneself in an overly favorable manner. It is the belief that individuals tend to ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, but ascribe failure to external factors. Read More.

Example. A student who attributes earning a good grade on an exam to their own intelligence and preparation but attributes earning a poor grade to the teacher’s poor teaching ability or unfair test questions.

Social Desirability Bias

A type of response bias that is the tendency of survey respondents to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. It can take the form of over-reporting “good behavior” or under-reporting “bad”, or undesirable behavior.

Third-Person Effect

People tend to perceive that mass media messages have a greater effect on others than on themselves. The Third-person effect manifests itself through an individual’s overestimation of the effect of a mass communicated message on the generalized other, or an underestimation of the effect of a mass communicated message on themselves.

Trait Ascription Bias

The tendency for people to view themselves as relatively variable in terms of personality, behavior, and mood while viewing others as much more predictable in their personal traits across different situations.

Related. Fundamental Attribution Error

See Also: