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Norfolk Business Awards 2018

Five types of bias you use without realising, according to a Norwich psychologist

Katie Fisher, psychologist and researcher at The User Story in Norwich, spoke at a Norfolk Network event about bias in business. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Katie Fisher, psychologist and researcher at The User Story in Norwich, spoke at a Norfolk Network event about bias in business. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Archant

University of East Anglia graduate Katie Fisher loves social psychology, so much so that she is crafting a career out of it.

The researcher at Norwich UX (user experience) firm The User Story knows a lot about bias, how it is elicited and how people respond to it, in life and in business.

During an interactive presentation to guests at a Norfolk Network event, she explained some common types of bias (of the hundreds which exist in the cognitive bias codex), how and why they manifest.

Availability bias

This works similarly to memory, according to Miss Fisher.

“This is when you make quick decisions based on what comes to mind first – this might be something that happened recently or something which happened longer ago but is more important to us,” she said.

“It is really easy to do and for the most part it will work out. But the problem is that if you work by just relying on what is easily available to you it might stop you thinking of new ways to do things and coming up with new ideas.”

Story-telling bias

This is ever-present in commerce and branding. Put simply, we are more likely to connect with brands that have a “story” which extends past their products or services.

Miss Fisher said a narrative makes something more positive and easy to recall – a characteristic which is exploited by mega-brands like Apple, Coca-Cola and John Lewis and Partners.

“The company is trying to sell you something other than just the product, they want to tell you why you need it. It is something you can learn to avoid, but also to use,” she said.

Representativeness heuristic

This bias is used when making judgements about the probability of an event. In consumer culture it is exploited to help inform customers’ expectations of what a particular product (for example toothpaste or crisps) should be like.

“It is when you judge something to be more likely to be probable because it is more representative,” said Miss Fisher.

This is also related to conjunction fallacy – the assumption that specific, co-occuring conditions are more probable than a single general one.

Confirmation bias

One of the most familiar types of bias – the more evidence you hear to support an opinion or belief that you have, the more confident you will be in your opinion or belief. Equally, hearing a mounting body of evidence against your belief or opinion could start to erode your confidence in it.

Anchoring

This occurs when you rely heavily on an initial piece of information to inform later judgements. This comes into play in estimates, negotiations or pricing, when an initial figure can set an expectation for what the final figure should be i.e. becomes an anchor.

Anchoring can also be used consciously to shift a negotiation or other circumstance in favour of one party, for example in pricing strategies.

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