Every day corporations, the media and politicians exploit your cognitive biases to manipulate you.
Status quo bias
Amazon’s Prime Video skillfully profits from this cognitive bias to realize a 50% premium from a typical purchase. Here’s how.
The screenshot above illustrates Prime Video’s default purchase option. To access the discounted pricing in the screenshot below, the user must overcome the bias for the status quo and expend the effort necessary to explore “More Purchase Options.”
With that single click, the user can avoid paying a 50% premium and purchase the episode for $1.99 rather than $2.99. This is a rationale choice, especially if the DVD quality delivered by standard definition (SD) is appropriate and high definition (HD) is not a requirement. Why should that dollar go to Amazon when it can stay in your pocket?
Confirmation bias “occurs when people seek out or evaluate information in a way that fits with their existing thinking and preconceptions. “
The media is particularly adept at profiting from our susceptibility to confirmation bias. When we turn on the news, we likely select channels that reinforce rather than challenge our world views: Fox News for one set of beliefs; MSNBC for another.
Being fed a carefully curated flow of information that confirms your existing biases may be comforting. But that comfort comes at significant costs.
First, you are being denied relevant information that might make you more fully informed about a complex or nuanced issue. Second, by tuning in you are unwittingly contributing to your media outlet’s bottom line. Indeed, the business plans of multi-national news corporations are built on the foundations of confirmation bias.
The availability heuristic
The availability heuristic is the “tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater ‘availability’ in memory.” This bias results in our selecting information more easily recalled from memory than information that isn’t. We are especially prone to this cognitive bias when memories are emotionally charged.
Politicians are expert at exploiting this bias. It’s why lying or promoting conspiracy theories can be a very successful strategy. The more a politician repeats a lie, the more available it is in our memory. The more he promotes a conspiracy theory, the more we estimate its likelihood to be true.
Be very aware of the availability heuristic. Whenever you accept a politician’s lie as truth or repeat a conspiracy theory as fact, you have been manipulated.
Root out cognitive biases
Cognitive biases are insidious because they are often unconscious. While it’s very hard to spot our own biases, it is possible. We can critique ourselves and test for biases.
Don’t be played. If you suspect that someone is exploiting a cognitive bias to profit at your expense, fight back.
Start today. Where are you currently victim to the natural human inclination to status quo bias, confirmation bias or the availability heuristic?