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Cognitive Biases: Three Common Types Illustrated

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In a world of information overload, we can fall victim to all sorts of cognitive biases. Since they can lead us to generate false conclusions, it’s particularly important to understand what these biases are and how they work, as the consequences can become quite drastic.

Confirmation bias, sampling bias, and brilliance bias are three examples that can affect our ability to critically engage with information. Jono Hey of Sketchplanations walks us through these cognitive bias examples, to help us better understand how they influence our day-to-day lives.

Confirmation Bias

Cognitive Bias Examples - Confirmation

One of the most-commonly encountered and understood, you’re likely to have already heard about confirmation bias. This cognitive bias affects the way we test and evaluate hypotheses every day.

In simple terms, confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out or interpret evidence in such a way that supports our own strongly-held beliefs or expectations. This means that, given access to the same set of data and information, different people can come to wildly differing conclusions.

Feeding into confirmation bias can lead us to make ill-informed choices or even reinforce negative stereotypes. For this reason, it is important to remember to seek out information that both confirms and contradicts your presumptions about a certain topic.

Sampling Bias

Cognitive Bias Examples - Sampling

Sampling bias is a kind of bias that allows us to come to faulty conclusions based on inaccurate sample groups or data. Generally, the cause of sample bias is in poor study design and data collection.

When polling individuals for survey questions, it is important to get a representative picture of an entire population. But this can prove surprisingly difficult when the people generating the study are also prone to human flaws, including cognitive biases.

A common example involves conducting a survey on which political party is likely to win an election. If the study is run by a professor who only polls college students, since they are around and therefore easier to collect information from, the poll will not accurately reflect the opinions of the general population.

To avoid sampling bias, it is important to randomize data collection to ensure responses are not skewed towards individuals with similar characteristics.

Brilliance Bias

Cognitive Bias Examples - Brilliance

Brilliance bias is another common cognitive bias that makes us more likely to think of genius as a masculine trait. This is in part due to the lack of female representation in both traditional academic and executive positions.

In fact, The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology published an in-depth study on brilliance bias in 2020. It suggests that a likely source of this bias is in the uneven distribution of men and women across careers typically associated with higher level intelligence.

While this distribution is a remnant of historical factors that limited access to education and career choices for women in the past, its presence has made us (wrongly) conclude that women are less brilliant instead. Naturally, as the cycle perpetuates the uneven distribution of women in these careers, it only reinforces this bias.

Other Cognitive Bias Examples

These few examples from Jono Hey give a good overview of some of the biases we face when trying to understand the data given to us, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

It is important to be cognizant of these biases in an era where we are constantly engaging with information, especially if we want to combat some of the harmful consequences they entail.

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Politics

How Do Democrats and Republicans Feel About Certain U.S. Industries?

A survey looked at U.S. industry favorability across political lines, showing where Democrats and Republicans are divided over the economy.

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A cropped chart with the percentage of Democrats and Republicans that found specific U.S. industries "favorable."

Industry Favorability, by Political Party

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Much and more has been written, in the last decade particularly, about the U.S. political sphere becoming increasingly polarized. The two main parties—Democrats and Republicans—have clashed over how to run the economy, as well as on key social issues.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Democrat and Republican voters are also divided on various U.S. industries, per a YouGov poll conducted in 2022.

Between November 7-9th of that year, the market research firm polled 1,000 adult Americans, (sampled to represent prevailing demographic, racial, and political-party-affiliation trends in the country) on their opinions on 39 industries. They asked:

“Generally speaking, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the following industry?” — YouGov Poll.

In this chart we visualize the percentage with a favorable view of an industry minus those with unfavorable view, categorized by current voter status.

A higher percentage means more Democrats or Republicans rated the industry as favorable, and vice-versa. Negative percentages mean more respondents responded unfavorably.

Democrats vs. Republicans on Industry Favorability

From a glance, it’s immediately noticeable that quite a few industries have divided Democrats and Republics quite severely.

For example, of the sampled Democrats, a net 45%, found Higher Education “favorable.” This is compared to 0% on the Republican side, which means an equal number found the industry favorable and unfavorable.

Here’s the full list of net favorable responses from Democrats and Republicans per industry.

IndustryDemocrat Net
Favorability
Republican Net
Favorability
Agriculture44%55%
Trucking27%55%
Restaurant53%54%
Manufacturing27%53%
Construction23%49%
Dairy45%46%
Higher education45%0%
Technology44%36%
Food manufacturing15%37%
Transportation27%37%
Railroad37%35%
Mining-3%36%
Automotive19%36%
Grocery35%22%
Hotels30%35%
Textiles24%34%
Entertainment34%-17%
Shipping24%33%
Retail31%31%
Book publishing30%29%
Alcohol23%16%
Television22%3%
Waste management15%22%
Education services21%-16%
Wireless carriers19%19%
Broadcasting17%-30%
News media17%-57%
Airlines11%3%
Oil and gas-28%7%
Real-estate-2%6%
Utilities2%6%
Health care3%4%
Fashion4%-6%
Cable-12%3%
Finance2%-2%
Professional sports1%-2%
Insurance-12%-14%
Pharmaceutical-18%-14%
Tobacco-44%-27%

The other few immediately noticeable disparities in favorability include:

  • Mining and Oil and Gas, (more Republicans in favor),
  • Entertainment, Education Services, and News Media (more Democrats in favor).

Tellingly, the larger social and political concerns at play are influencing Democrat and Republican opinions about these parts of the economy.

For example Pew Research pointed out Republicans are dissatisfied with universities for a number of reasons: worries about constraints on free speech, campus “culture wars,” and professors bringing their politics into the classroom.

In contrast, Democrats’ criticisms of higher education revolved around tuition costs and the quality of education offered.

On a more recent note, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, a big Harvard donor, pulled funding after criticizing universities for educating “whiny snowflakes.” In October, donors to the University of Pennsylvania withdrew their support, upset with the university’s response to the October 7th attacks and subsequent war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the reasons for differences over media favorability are more obvious. Commentators say being “anti-media” is now part of the larger Republican leadership identity, and in turn, is trickling down to their voters. Pew Research also found that Republicans are less likely to trust the news if it comes from a “mainstream” source.

But these are industries that are already adjacent to the larger political sphere. What about the others?

U.S. Politics and the Climate Crisis

The disparity over how the Oil & Gas and Mining industries are viewed is a reflection, again, of American politics and the partisan divide around the climate crisis and whether there’s a noticeable impact from human activity.

Both industries contribute heavily to carbon emissions, and Democrat lawmakers have previously urged the Biden transition to start planning for the end of fossil-fuel reliance.

Meanwhile, former President Trump, for example, has previously called global warming “a hoax” but later reversed course, clarifying that he didn’t know if it was “man-made.”

When removing the climate context, and related environmental degradation, both industries usually pay high wages and produce materials critical to many other parts of the economy, including the strategic metals needed for the energy transition.

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