10Biases and Traps in Decision Making

Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.

—Daniel Kahneman1

The human mind simply isn't wired to achieve decision quality (DQ) in a natural, intuitive way. Because of how our minds work, mental traps and biases frequently get between our best intentions and true decision quality. Some originate from within; others creep in as we interact with those around us. This chapter presents an overview of biases that affect our decision making, and the mental mechanisms behind them. The chapter will go beyond description to offer guidance on how to avoid the resulting decision traps.

Mechanisms of the Mind

Mental biases have been fertile areas of study for psychologists and other behavioral scientists, and they've been the source of many books and articles over the last five decades.2 In a recent count, over 200 specifically defined biases were catalogued, and a few more are identified through academic studies each year. Although much research has been devoted to identifying these biases, little has been done to organize them. This chapter focuses on a subset of biases that directly affect decision making. These biases are organized into six categories, according to the mental behaviors that cause them (Figure 10.1).3 To address these biases, we must first understand the mental mechanisms that can both cause and mitigate them.

Figure 10.1 A Structure ...

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