A cognitive bias is a persistent, biased pattern of thinking or decision making. Memory cognitive biases affect our understanding of the past and, through this, our decisions about the future and our relationships with others. These biases can have material impacts on behaviors and decisions in the world of work.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Memory Cognitive Biases

Memory biases are a sub-set of cognitive biases. Other subsets we consider include decision making biases and social biases.

These cognitive biases all relate to the accuracy of our memories. As a theme, we generally tend to modify our memories in ways that cast us in a better light than others would perceive us in. This category of cognitive biases can have a significant effect on our performance at work as our false memories can affect our future performance and decision making. They can also, of course, affect our personal lives.

Choice Supportive Bias

Reframing is a Memory cognitive biases
We consistently re-frame our histories.

We reevaluate and re-frame decisions that we’ve made in the past, convincing ourselves that they were more informed and considered than they actually were.

Consistency Bias

We incorrectly apply our current attitudes and behavioral patterns to our past self, re-framing our past activities, decisions and behaviors in light of who we are in the present.

Egocentric Bias

We incorrectly remember the past in such a way as to improve our sense of who we are. We do this by inflating our levels of performance such as scores achieved, times achieved, volume of work delivered or other, softer and more social factors.

Hindsight Bias

We incorrectly reflect on prior moments of decision making and past events so as to convince ourselves that we “were right all along”, when in truth we were ill-informed or incorrect in our assessments in the past.

Humor Effect

We remember things that are funny more easily than we remember things that are not funny.

Humor affects our memory, an effect of Memory cognitive biases
Funny moments stand out in our memories.

Illusion of Truth Effect

We are more likely to deem statements that we’ve heard in the past and stored in our memory to be truthful than new statements, regardless of the veracity of the statements in question.

Illusory Correlation

We are prone to falsely remembering correlations between unrelated events where no correlations actually exit.

Lag Effect

Spread that learning out over time.

We are better at learning and remembering when we spread the act of learning over a longer period of time than if we condense our learning hours into a shorter period of time. Cramming is less effective than spending the same amount of learning time over several weeks.

Next in Line Effect

We are worse at remembering the things the person who spoke before us said when we’re speaking in groups, than at remembering things at other points in the conversation. Just think how little you remember of what someone who introduces themselves to a group says if you know you’re introducing yourself to the group next.

Peak End Theory

We remember events and activities primarily based on their peaks (the best or worst parts of them) and how they end, not our overall, measured experiences of them.

Rosy Retrospection

We tend to remember the past as being better than it actually was.

old pictures symbolising reminiscence. Looking back positively is a Memory cognitive biases
Ah, the good old days. The good old days were good. Or were they?

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Spotlight Effect

We think the world is more interested in us than it really is. As a result, we consistently overestimate how much others notice our appearance, actions and behaviors. We remember others noticing us much more that others not noticing us.

Stereotypical Bias

We incorrectly remember interactions with members of stereotyped groups in such a way that our memories are more aligned to our perception of the pre-judged stereotype.

I can’t remember building any houses.

Zeigarnik Effect

Tasks that we partially complete, or that we fail to complete, are more prominent in our memories than tasks that we actually complete.

Learning More

The way we think as humans is fascinating. As well as understanding more types of cognitive bias it’s worth looking into our Dual Process way of thinking. These biases and our “irrationality” means that we’re all suggestible and susceptible to nudging and the powers of choice architecture and persuasion.

Communication is another tool often used to change people’s behaviors. Ideas like the rhetorical triangle and the five canons of rhetoric shed some light on how this works. For a more detailed look at communicating for persuasion, explore Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

Increasingly, products are also design to be persuasive, as it were. They are designed to create habits and drive increased use. Examples of this include Fogg’s model and the Hook model of behavioral design.

You can listen to our podcast, below, on nudging to learn more about how our behaviors can be influenced:

The World of Work Project View

We think that cognitive biases are fascinating and important. Memory cognitive biases are almost certainly very helpful for our wellbeing and self-esteem, but they do mean that we may make errors of judgement in the present, based on false analysis of the past.

The good thing though is that, in the future, we’ll probably not remember that we’ve made these mistakes….

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Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ariely, Dan. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. New York : Harper, 2009. Print.

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