Learn about 50 cognitive biases that you should become aware of and avoid to become the best version of yourself

One of the most important factors for academic and professional success, but also for a quality and fulfilled life is the ability to think in a rational and logical way. Assessing situations, problem-solving and the power of creativity largely depend on that. But, the correct way of thinking also impacts the way in which we see the world, other people, and ourselves, i.e. it impacts the overall quality of our life. Therefore, it is important to be able to think calmly and not make mistakes.

One of the most important steps in that process is avoiding biases. There are as many as 50 common cognitive biases that influence our thinking, causing a distorted image of the world, and preventing us from becoming the best version of ourselves.

The best way to avoid these biases is to become aware of them. For that reason, instruction at Savremena implies dedication to students and introducing them to numerous cognitive biases and ways to overcome them.

The following infographic presents 50 most common cognitive biases with definitions and illustrative examples. Everyone can identify mistakes in their reasoning, and everyone can overcome them, but in order to do that, we need to become aware of them.

  • Memory
  • Social
  • Learning
  • Belief
  • Money
  • Politics

Availability cascade


Definition: Refers to the so-called urban myths.Collective beliefs gain more acceptability through public repetition. This phenomenon is tied to our need for social acceptance.

Definition: Refers to the so-called urban myths.Collective beliefs gain more acceptability through public repetition. This phenomenon is tied to our need for social acceptance. Example: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

Ben Franklin effect


Definition: We like doing favors; we are more likely to do another favor for someone if we’ve already done a favor for them, than if we had received a favor from that person.

Example: Marko loaned Ana a pen. When Ana asked Marko to borrow 500 dinars from him, he readily agreed.

Self-serving bias


Definicija: Definition: Our failures are situational, but our successes are our responsibility.

Example: You won that award due to hard work rather than help or luck. Meanwhile, you failed a test because you hadn't gotten enough sleep.

Naive cynicism


Definition: We believe that we observe objective reality and that other people have a higher egocentric bias that they actually do in their intentions/actions.

Example: Popular opinion that money or material gain is the main motive of voluntary blood donors.

Belief bias


Definition: We judge an argument’s strength not by how strongly it supports the conclusion, but how plausible the conclusion is in our own minds.

Example: If a person mentions their supporting theory about our conspiracy theory, we will adopt it wholeheartedly despite the fact that they have very little evidence for it.

Framing effect


Definition: We often draw different conclusions from the same information depending on how it’s presented.

Example: Ana hears that her favorite candidate is “killing it” with a 45% approval rating. Marija hears that her candidate is “disappointing the country” with a 45% approval rating. They have wildly different interpretations of the same statistic.

Survivorship bias


Definition: We tend to focus on those things that survived a process and overlook ones that failed.

Example: Marko tells Ana her purse business is going to be great, because a successful fashion company had the same strategy. (Ignoring the fact that 10 other companies which had the same strategy failed.)

Defensive attribution


Definition: As a witness who secretly fears being vulnerable to a serious mishap, we will blame the victim less and the attacker more if we relate to the victim.

Example: The less similar we are to the culprit, the more prone we are to blaming them, and vice versa, the more similar we are to the culprit, the sooner we will try to understand them and attribute less responsibility to them.

Just-world hypothesis (Just-world misconception)


Definition: Based on the belief that the world is just; therefore, we assume that acts of injustice are undeserved, and vice versa.

Example: Ana’s purse was stolen because she was mean to Marija – bad karma.

Halo effect


Definition: Phenomenon known in psychology as the first impression effect. Based on the assumption that our overall impression of a person can be based on very little information we have about them, or even no information at all. If we see a person as having a positive trait, that positive impression will spill over into their other traits. This also works for negative traits.

Example: Ana could never be mean to anyone – she’s so cute!



Definition: Due to a desire for conformity and harmony in the group, we make irrational decisions often to minimize conflict. The desire for group cohesion overcomes our critical thinking and personal boundaries, i.e. the need for harmony is dominant no matter what.

Example: Ana wants to get ice-cream. Marija wants to shop for T-shirts. In her desire for conformity, Ana suggests going shopping, and then getting ice-cream.

Zeigarnik effect


Definition: We remember incomplete tasks better than completed ones. Being aware of the Zeigarnik effect can help us master procrastination, and improve our mental health.

Example: Marko feels guilty for never getting anything done, forgetting how many tasks from his list have already been checked off.



Definition: Tendency to do the opposite of what we are told, especially when we perceive threats to personal freedoms. This phenomenon manifests as a reaction to orders, and everything else imposed from outside is perceived as threatening to personal freedom.

Example: A student refuses to do his homework, even though both his teacher and his parents tell him to.

Bystander effect (Diffusion of responsibility)


Definition: The phenomenon that the more people are around, the weaker our personal responsibility is. In other words, the more people are at the scene of an accident, the less likely we are to help the victim.

Example: In a crowd of people, no one called the ambulance or the police when someone got hurt in a fight.

Availability heuristic


Definition: Tendency to rely on immediate examples that come to mind while making judgments.

Example: When trying to decide which store to visit, you choose the one you most recently saw an ad for.

Backfire effect


Definition: Persistence in maintaining a belief despite new information that contradicts it. In other words, disproving evidence sometimes has the unwarranted effect of confirming our beliefs.

Example: The evidence that disproves your conspiracy theory was probably faked by the government.

Confirmation bias (Selective memory)


Definition: Tendency to seek, interpret or remember events and information that confirms our existing perceptions or beliefs.

Example: Ana, who doesn’t like the music genre that can often be heard from the next-door apartment, is convinced that the music keeps her awake, while ignoring the fact that she cannot sleep even when there is no music.



Definition: One of the most common cognitive biases. It is manifested as generalized beliefs that members of a group will have certain characteristics, despite not having information about the individual. The most negative aspect of stereotyping involves ethnic stereotyping.

Example: Ana believes that all Germans are cold, reserved and rigid.

Placebo effect


Definition: The placebo effect impacts a patient’s expectations and perception. If we believe a treatment will work, it will often have a small physiological effect. It is believed that the Placebo effect is the result of autosuggestion – a person will indeed help themselves by believing the treatment works.

Example: Marija was given a placebo for headache, and her pain decreased.

Status Quo bias


Definition: Tendency to prefer things to stay the same, i.e. avoiding changes at all costs, because they are perceived as a negative experience. The Status Quo bias minimizes risks associated with change, but it also causes a person to miss out on the potential benefits that could outweigh the risks.

Example: Even though the app’s terms of service invade Marija’s privacy, she’d rather not switch to another app.

Declinism (Romanticizing the past)


Definition: Tendency to romanticize the past and view the future negatively, believing that societies/institutions are by and large in decline.

Example: “In my day, kids had more respect!”

Sunken Cost fallacy (Escalation of commitment)


Definition: Sunken costs include any investment that seems absolutely unprofitable, due to objective circumstances. Situations in which we invest more in things that have cost us something rather than altering our investments, even if we face negative outcomes.

Example: “In for a penny, in for a pound!”

Google effect (Digital amnesia)


Definition: Tendency to forget information that’s easily looked up in search engines. Named after Google search engine that allows access to a variety of information.

Example: “What’s the name of that actor in that funny movie? I’ve looked it up like eight times…”

Outgroup homogeneity bias


Definition: This cognitive bias correlates with excessive generalization, and refers to the tendency to perceive out-group members as homogeneous, and our own in-group as more diverse.

Example: Ana is not a gamer, but she believes that “all gamers are the same”, i.e. unsocial eccentrics only interested in gaming, while she also believes that people “outside the gaming world” have more varied interests.

In-group favoritism


Definition: As the name suggests, it is the tendency to favor people who are in our in-group, their behavior, attitudes or tendencies, as opposed to an out-group.

Example: Marija is in your church, so you like her more than Ana.

Naive realism


Definition: Belief that we observe objective reality and that other people are irrational, uninformed, or biased.

Example: “I see the world as it really is – other people are biased.”



Definition: Neurological condition that alters a person’s perception of time, usually caused by physical exertion, drug use, or trauma. For someone who suffers from tachypsychia, the perception of time is changed. Time seems longer, and events appear slower.

Example: “When the car almost hit me, time slowed down.”

Dunning-Kruger effect (Illusory superiority)


Definition: The less you know, the more confident you are. Individuals with a lack of knowledge and skill are convinced of their own superiority, believing that their abilities are far greater than they actually are.

Example: Marko, who has read very little about history, is happy to share his opinions whenever he has the chance, believing that what he has to say on the topic is relevant.

Gambler’s fallacy


Definition: We think future possibilities are affected by past events. This cognitive bias refers to people’s tendency to think that, after one deviation, there must be another, just in the opposite direction (positive outcome) in order to maintain balance.

Example: Marko has lost nine coin tosses in a row, but he is sure to win the next one.

Moral luck


Definition: Better moral standing happens due to a positive outcome; worse moral standing happens due to a negative outcome. The problem of moral luck arises because it seems we are committed to the general principle that we are morally responsible only to the extent in which the thing we are held responsible for is in our control (the so-called Principle of control).

Example: X culture won Y war because they were morally superior to the losers.

Spotlight effect


Definition: Tendency to overestimate how much people are paying attention to our behavior and appearance. The reason for this bias is a man’s inherent tendency to forget that just because he is the center or his own world doesn’t mean that he is the center of other people’s world as well.

Example: Ana is worried that everyone in the lecture hall will notice that she is the only one not taking down notes, because she has forgotten her backpack.

Anchoring (Fixating on a single point/aspect)


Definition: Tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information introduced when making decisions, instead of thinking rationally. One aspect of the problem is assigned undue importance to a thing, which directly impacts the conclusions about the given problem.

Example: “That’s 50% off? It must be a great deal!”

False memory


Definition: Mistaking imagination for real memories. The person is not aware of the fact that what they perceive as memories has never actually happened, but it’s just a figment of their imagination. The appearance of changed, redefined memories is common for people who had suffered a trauma.

Example: Marko is certain that Ana said a really funny joke, when that joke actually came from a TV show.



Definition: Permanent or relatively permanent suggestibility is manifested as one’s readiness to accept other people’s opinions for granted and change their behavior to fit the imposed opinion. Children especially sometimes mistake ideas suggested by adults for their own memories.

Example: “So, did you fall off the couch before or after your mom hit you?”

IKEA effect


Definition: We place higher value on things we partially created ourselves, than things created by others. It should be noted that the IKEA effect occurs only when a job is already done, an incomplete task or a failed creation does not cause the IKEA effect.

Example: “Don’t you love this chair I paid 2000 dinars? I painted it myself!”

Fundamental attribution error


Definition: Tendency to judge others on their personality or fundamental character, but we judge ourselves on the situation. A very cognitive bias that correlates with other cognitive biases that refer to the sense of inflated personal superiority. The fundamental attribution error explains why people often blame others for things they have no control over.

Example: Ana is late to class; she is lazy. You are late to class; means you had a bad morning.

Curse of knowledge


Definition: Once we know something, we assume everyone else knows it, too.

Example: This cognitive bias is common for teachers who do not know how to understand the perspective of their students, but assume their knowledge is greater than it actually is.

Bandwagon effect


Definition: Tendency to accept ideas, attitudes and beliefs that have already been accepted by others. Ideas, fads and beliefs grow as more people accept them without question.

Example: Marko bought a new iPhone 12 just because that particular model is currently very popular and in demand, despite the fact that he is in serious debts, and that he already has a perfectly functional iPhone 10.



Definition: The opposite of False memory, this cognitive bias involves mistaking real memories for imagination, or when old memories return as new situations/ideas.

Example: Marko almost had a car accident a few years ago, but now he’s pretty sure that it’s just a bad spooky dream.

Forer (aka Barnum) effect


Definition: Tendency to identify with general descriptions and vague statements, believing them to be accurate and to apply just to us, even if they apply to a wide range of people. People recognize and focus just on those parts that could refer to them, while ignoring the rest.

Example: “This horoscope is so accurate!”

Zero-risk bias


Definition: Tendency toward absolute certainty, i.e. tendency to reduce small risks to zero, even if we can reduce more risk overall with another option. This cognitive bias reflects our need for certainty and avoidance of everything that we cannot control.

Example: “You should probably buy the warranty.”

Blind spot bias


Definition: Blind spot bias is a cognitive bias that involves a person’s belief that they don’t have a bias, and seeing it in others more than in themselves.

Example: “I am not biased! I am rational and objective, it is other people who are subjective and irrational.”

Pessimism bias (Seeing things worse than they are)


Definition: Overestimating the likelihood of bad outcomes. The perspective of such people is largely negative, i.e. they start from negative assumptions, and always expect a negative outcome. Such people are said to see “the glass as half empty”.

Example: “Nothing will ever get better.”

Authority bias


Definition: Tendency to trust and be more influenced by the opinions of authority figures due to their alleged superiority over ourselves.

Example: “I’m sure what I did was right, because the teacher once said that he acted in a similar way.”

Optimism bias


Definition: In contrast to starting from a negative perspective, this cognitive bias refers to the situations in which we are sometimes over-optimistic about positive outcomes. Our starting point is always positive, even when there is very little chance that the outcome will be good for us. People with this bias always see “the glass as half full”.

Example: “It’s going to turn out great, no reason to be otherwise.”

False consensus


Definition: Tendency to believe that more people agree with us than is actually the case. People with this bias uncritically believe that their own ideas and values are correct, and that most people share their attitudes.

Example: “I am right, everyone thinks that!”

Clustering illusion


Definition: The clustering effect or pareidolia is the tendency to interpret vague or random patterns or clusters, whether visual or auditory, as clear and meaningful. Tendency to find “clusters” or patterns in random data.

Example: “That cloud looks like a man, Ana.”

Third-person effect


Definition: Belief that others are more affected by mass media consumption that we are, i.e. that we are more critically aware than other people. Negative opinion of the media in general, believing them to be deceitful and manipulative, plays a significant role in this cognitive bias.

Example: :You’ve clearly been brainwashed by the media!”

Automation bias


Definition: Over-reliance on automated systems, sometimes trusting too much in automated correction of actually correct decisions.

Example: Your phone auto-corrects “its” to “it’s”, so you assume it is right.

Law of triviality (Bike-shedding)


Definition: Tendency to give disproportionate weight to trivial issues, often avoiding more complex issues.

Example: Rather than figuring out how to help the homeless, a local city government spends a lot of time discussing putting in a bike path or bike sheds.


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