How Does Anchoring Bias Influence the Mind?

While cognitive biases can function as "mental shortcuts," they can also harm us when making a decision. The anchoring bias leaves us tied to the first piece of information we learn.
How Does Anchoring Bias Influence the Mind?
Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fatima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 06 October, 2022

Imagine this situation: two people receive the same information, and when asked what they think of it, they elaborate and make a completely different reading. If this happens, the anchoring bias has appeared.

But what is it that determines their different interpretations? In addition to previous experiences, there are often certain cognitive biases that guide the way we understand the world and our surroundings.

What is the anchoring bias?

This is part of the many cognitive biases that exist, which is a concept widely used in cognitive therapy and also worked on by Daniel Kahneman (a psychologist and Nobel Prize winner in economics) and Amos Tversky (a cognitive psychologist). Biases refer to a systematic misinterpretation of information.

As its name suggests, anchoring bias refers to the first information or interpretation that we receive or make about a fact that often tends to be the one we linger on. That is to say, this information functions as an anchor or as a starting point on which everything that happens afterward revolves.

In turn, the anchoring bias also influences our attitude and the meaning we give to things. We often become biased towards one way of seeing using a single lens while dismissing subsequent inputs.

This can block receptivity, listening, and even our exchanges with other people. We then become selective, trying to fit data in terms similar to that which was given to us in the first place.

Another factor to consider is that it can distort information. In the political or market arena, for example, it’s possible to present a number that’s not real just to support and fix a given position. For instance, if we state that the expected loss of a business will be 1,000 euros beforehand and then I show that it was only 450 euros, the person receiving this information gets the feeling that everything went better than expected.

Discounts using the anchoring bias
In economics and marketing, the anchoring bias is used in favor of companies. The offers, on the other hand, are often not.

Practical applications

This type of bias is very present in the field of marketing and sales. Let’s take a look at an example:

We go to buy a pair of pants and on the label we see that the price is 120 euros. This price really seems too high. However, then the seller tells us that the pants are currently on sale for 35 Euros. Automatically, the price seems tempting and it’s much more likely that we’ll make the purchase.

This is due to the anchoring bias. We always go by the first price we saw, even if that price was unreasonable from the start. That’s why it’s a bias; we settle for a piece of information without asking questions.

Finally, it’s true that cognitive biases often operate to economize our mental effort. That is, they prevent us from overanalyzing an event.

However, this benefit can also mean a risk if we’re not aware of it. We could act more impulsively or automatically. It’s a matter of recognizing that these biases exist, are present, and could influence our decisions. By being aware of this, we can avoid acting recklessly.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: The Modular Theory of Mind: How Does the Human Brain Work?

How to avoid the anchoring bias

Like any biased or distorted reading, the anchoring bias can lead us to make mistakes or miss opportunities. That’s why we can apply some measures to avoid falling into it:

  • Ask yourself questions that question this starting point or anchor. What are the chances that I’m overvaluing the information? How else could I elaborate on this idea? Is there a chance that this would be different in the eyes of another person? In this way, you seek to promote logical, linear thinking in order to broaden the diversity of factors at play.
  • Consult another person. You can tell a third party who’s not connected with the situation about the issue you’re concerned about. In this way, by listening to their opinion, you may detect elements that you were overlooking. It often happens that, by explaining it out loud, our perspective also changes.
  • Analyze and think before making a decision. For example, you can go back to previous experiences and analyze how they turned out when you were guided by that first impression.
anchoring bias in conversations
Consult a friend about the situation to overcome the anchoring bias. In this conversation, you can get another perspective.

Like this article? You may also like to read: 5 Keys to Calming a Restless Mind and Finding Internal Peace

Don’t lose the forest for the trees

As the famous saying goes, anchoring bias leads us to keep a partial, fragmented and incomplete reading as if it were a first impression that’s then impossible to change. However, it also challenges us to think beyond our first impressions. We have to know that life is subject to countless nuances, and the first piece of information isn’t aways the definitive answer.

That’s why it’s always necessary to retrace a belief or idea in order to make better decisions.

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