Why Do We Make Irrational Decisions?

Why Do We Make Irrational Decisions?​

We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, carefully weighing our options before making a decision. However, the truth is far more nuanced.​ As someone who’s always been fascinated by human behavior, I recently delved into the world of cognitive biases and discovered just how prone we are to irrationality.​

Just the other week, I was at the electronics store, ready to buy a new laptop. I had done my research, compared specs, and settled on a model that perfectly fit my needs and budget.​ Then, I saw it – the “limited-time offer” for a slightly fancier model with a negligible discount.​ The catch?​ It was almost at the edge of my budget.​ Logic dictated I stick with my original choice.​ But, the fear of missing out (FOMO) on a “deal” hijacked my reasoning.​ Guess who walked out with a pricier laptop?​

This experience opened my eyes to the powerful, often invisible forces shaping our decisions. We are all susceptible to these cognitive biases, subconscious shortcuts our brains use to process information quickly.​ While efficient, they often lead to irrational choices. Let’s delve deeper into some of these biases:

1.​ Anchoring Bias

Ever wondered why stores showcase an expensive item first, followed by cheaper alternatives?​ That’s anchoring bias in action.​ We tend to fixate on the first piece of information we receive, using it as a reference point for subsequent judgments. In my laptop situation, the initial “deal” anchored my perception of value, making the original option seem less appealing.​

2.​ Availability Heuristic

After watching a news report on shark attacks, I swore off swimming in the ocean, convinced it was too risky.​ This is the availability heuristic at play ー we overestimate the likelihood of events based on how easily we can recall similar instances. Vivid memories and media exposure can skew our risk perception, leading to irrational fears and decisions.​

3.​ Confirmation Bias

I’ve always been a proponent of electric cars. When researching them, I found myself gravitating towards articles and reviews that praised their benefits, conveniently ignoring any negative press.​ This is confirmation bias ー our tendency to seek out information confirming our existing beliefs while dismissing contradictory evidence.​ It’s a significant barrier to objective decision-making, keeping us trapped in echo chambers of our own making.​

4. Loss Aversion

A while back, I invested in a stock that started to plummet.​ Even though all signs pointed to selling, I held on, paralyzed by the thought of realizing the loss. This is loss aversion ⎼ the pain of a loss is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of an equivalent gain.​ This often leads us to hold on to losing investments, hoping for a turnaround, even when it’s not financially rational.​

5.​ The Framing Effect

Imagine two yogurt containers: one claiming “90% fat-free” and another stating “10% fat.​” While containing the same amount of fat, the former seems healthier due to the framing effect.​ How information is presented significantly influences our choices, even if the underlying options are identical.​

So, What Can We Do?

Recognizing these biases is the first step towards mitigating their impact.​ Here’s what I’ve started doing:

  1. Seek Diverse Perspectives: Actively seek out information challenging my viewpoints.
  2. Be Aware of Emotional Triggers: Am I making this decision out of fear, excitement, or FOMO?​
  3. Take Time to Reflect: Avoid impulsive decisions. Sleep on it, weigh the pros and cons, and seek objective opinions.​
  4. Reframe the Problem: Look at the situation from different angles to avoid framing bias.​

While we can’t completely eliminate these inherent biases, understanding and actively countering them can lead to more rational and informed decisions.​ It’s an ongoing process of self-awareness and conscious effort, but the rewards – better choices, reduced regret, and a clearer understanding of our own minds – are well worth the journey.

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