Social cognitive biases are a biased pattern of thinking about others. We may think too highly of them, too lowly of them or just incorrectly. Social cognitive biases affect our ability to rational assess others, or to assess rationally as a result of our views of others. These biases can have material impacts on behaviors and decisions in the world of work.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Social Cognitive Biases

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

Social biases are biases that relate to our perceptions of ourselves or others, or the ways that we behave, act and reach decisions as a group. They play a huge role in our social fabric at a sociopolitical level, and also at a personal level. These factors are very important in most work places as well due to the social nature of many forms of employment.

Actor-observer Bias

We consider the actions and behaviors of others to be predominantly driven by personality as opposed to circumstance, but we consider our own behaviors to be predominately driven by circumstances as opposed to personality. This is also know as Fundamental Attribution Bias.

Authority Bias

We consider the opinions of authority figures to be more accurate than those of others, and are more influenced by them than by those of others, regardless of the quality of the actual opinion.

Bandwagon Effect

We believe certain things, do certain things or act in certain ways simply because others do so too.

Egocentric Bias

We allocate a greater proportion of the credit to ourselves for the achievements of a collective group than an external, impartial observer would allocate.

False Consensus Effect

We usually overestimate how much others agree with us.

Forer Effect

We allocate high levels of credibility and accuracy to descriptions of ourselves which we are told are specific and bespoke, even if they are generic and could apply to many people. Think horoscopes. And then think personality tests.


We reach irrational, sub-optimal or even detrimental decisions, or undertake similarly flawed actions, as groups because of our desire to minimize confrontation and maximize harmony and conformity within our groups.

Halo Effect

We think that if someone is good at one thing, then they will be good at other things too. Their positivity in one area of expertise increases our overall estimation of their abilities across a wide range of unrelated areas. The inverse of this bias is know as the “horns effect”.

Illusory Superiority Effect

We generally overestimate our positive qualities and underestimate our negative qualities compared to others.

In-group Bias

We give preferential treatment and allocate higher levels of credibility to those we consider to be in our own in-group, than to those who are not.

Naive Realism

We think that we are rational and not biased in our views and actions, while at the same time thinking that others are irrational and biased.

Pygmalion Effect

The expectations others have of us, affect our actual performance regardless of our underlying ability and potential.

Self-serving Bias

We claim more responsibility and credit for successes than we do for failures. We also evaluate new information in ways that are beneficial to our own interests.

System Justification

We generally support and defend the current system and status quo from a political and structural perspective, challenging alternatives even when it’s not in best to do so.

Trait Ascription Bias

We consider ourselves to be variable and responsive individuals, but we consider others to be inflexible, consistent and aligned with our perception of their personalities and traits.

Worse than Average Effect

We often consider ourselves to be worse than others at tasks that are deemed to be difficult.

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. Social cognitive biases are important not just in our working lives, but in our personal lives and in society as a whole. They lead us to reach irrational decisions that may be detrimental to us as individuals, and to those around us in our immediate circles, or in wider society.

Learning about our social biases can help us understand some of our thought patterns and recognize when we are being irrational, which may help us make better decisions. The mechanisms of these biases are ingrained into us, so fighting them may be difficult, but it’s the right thing to do. Learning about them is a great start to that process.

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Sources and Feedback

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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