Cognitive bias affects every facet of our lives, and content experiences are no exception. From false memories to spurious patterns to selective recollection, our brains are primed to misremember and misinterpret information. This seriously impacts employees’s capacity to understand and apply learning content. Addressing bias is thus essential to constructing an informed, productive workplace.

Paradoxically, the most powerful weapon you have in your fight against bias is bias itself. With the aid of cognition-savvy content professionals, you your employees can design and curate content that uses bias to your advantage. You can highlight the information you need to know, and debunk false information or interpretations, in a way that your biases will help you remember and understand.

In order to take advantage of bias, it is first necessary to understand the role that it plays in your mind. Biases exist to help us deal with:

Information Influx

At its most fundamental, bias is a tool to refine and organize the information we receive. There is simply too much data in the world for the human mind to investigate, understand, and remember. Instead, our brains have developed a variety of tools to filter information and prioritize memories. These include:

  • Anchoring Bias– This is our tendency to focus on a single feature of a subject, often the first one we learned about, while making decisions.
  • The Availability Heuristic– This refers to our tendency to assume that an event is more significant or more likely to occur if we associate it with recent, unusual, or otherwise distinct memories.
  • The Bizarreness Effect– We are more likely to remember pieces of information that we consider bizarre or unusual than information that we find common.
  • Confirmation Bias– We tend to seek, assess, and remember information that confirms our present beliefs while downplaying that which qualifies or challenges them. This makes it difficult for employees to consider the flaws in their existing opinions, plans, and practices.
  • The Framing Effect– We interpret the same information differently when presented in a different context.
  • The Levels-Of-Processing Effect– The more analyze events and ideas, the better we remember them.
  • Memory Misattribution– This can involve mistaking imagination or suggestions for memories, or mistaking memories for imagination.
  • Naïve Realism– Even when we consider biases, we are more likely to identify them in others’ thinking than in our own. We thus each tend to assume that we see reality accurately, and that those who do not share our opinions are irrational.
  • The Relevance Effect– We are more likely to remember information we have a personal connection to than that which is relevant to others.

All of these biases can compromise employees’ understanding of content. Those who fail to remember or value information that is not relevant to them, for example, will have trouble making decisions that affect others. Likewise, the availability, anchoring, and bizarreness effects may lead them to ignore important information that does not stand out from the ordinary, and confirmation bias and naïve realism make it hard for them to even understand that they have a problem. Effective content writing and curation must be able to account for these cognitive issues.

Luckily, with the aid of a professional content developer, you can easily use these biases to your advantage. One key tactic to identify the most important information that a piece of content must convey and frame the writing around that information. Any additional points that you make should be tied directly to that central information, thus taking advantage of the anchoring and framing effects and increasing the likelihood that readers will remember. If that central point is also something surprising or unusual, your content will benefit from the bizarreness effect.

In order to deal with availability bias, it helps to tie content to popular news or pop culture stories, ensuring that employees will be reminded of what they have learned throughout their lives. To address confirmation bias and naïve realism, frame controversial content around principles your employees mostly agree on, gradually building a foundation for the ideas they are less likely to accept. This will make them more willing to reconsider their opinions on one issue, as the new perspective you present will be tied to other opinions they have.

The Search For Significance

In addition to filtering the information we receive, our minds also seek to identify patterns and purposes in what we do remember. This search for meaning allows us to identify important trends, but it can also lead us to imagine connections between unrelated data. Key biases include:

  • Functional Fixedness– This is the assumption that an object that has been used a certain way in the past can only be used that way.
  • Gambler’s Fallacy– We often assume that past events affect the probability that a certain event will occur in the future, even if the conditions that influence that event’s probability have not changed.
  • Implicit Associations– This occurs when we expect individual members of a group to have characteristics that we associate with the group as a whole.
  • Sample Size Insensitivity– When we notice similarities between small numbers of ideas or events, we assume that they must be true of all related facts.
  • Ultimate Attribution Error– This occurs when we attribute a characteristics to an entire group rather than to individual members of that group.

One of the most effective ways to moderate the brain’s quest for patterns is to highlight real patterns. Content should emphasize the connection between events that actually are connected, while downplaying similarities between unrelated events. Your employees will thus focus on that pattern, rather than trying to find new patterns that may not exist. Content should also emphasize the differences between unrelated but cosmetically similar events and ideas, so that employees do not see similarities as evidence of a true connection.

The Need For Speed

Quick decisions have always been essential for human survival, and are no less important in modern workplaces. Many biases are essentially “shortcuts” that let us draw conclusions rapidly. For example:

  • The Identifiable Victim Effect– We respond more quickly to problems if we can identify a single victim.
  • The Less-Is-Better Effect– We assume that smaller or simpler sets are superior to large or complex ones.
  • The Overconfidence Effect– This leads us to overestimate the accuracy of our own opinions and conclusions, making us less likely to check facts.
  • Rhyme As Reason Effect– We are more likely to believe a statement if it is delivered using rhyme or other rhetorical techniques.
  • System Justification– We tend to assume that the status quo is correct, eschewing proposals to change it.

These biases underscore the need for simple, consolidated content. Employees will respond better to pieces that highlight crucial points and build details around them, especially if they are short and concise. The Rhyme As Reason effect also demonstrates the importance of incorporating rhyme, alliteration, and other rhetorical devices. The better you are at crafting your words, the lower the risk and greater reward.

Dealing with cognitive bias means understanding that no one is immune. No matter how thoughtful and intelligent you are, bias impacts your thought process heavily. For professional content development services that take advantage of biases, contact us today.

Sources:

https://betterhumans.coach.me/cognitive-bias-cheat-sheet-55a472476b18#.1i7h5c9vk; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases; http://www.nirandfar.com/2017/02/cognitive-biases.html?utm_source=NirAndFar&utm_campaign=a55e8152dd-Behavioral_Design_Career&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9f67e23487-a55e8152dd-97695837&mc_cid=a55e8152dd&mc_eid=2604785265; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23841497;