By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
There is a central fiction of our jury trial system, and voir dire in particular. That fiction is that bias is the exception, not the rule. When we treat bias as the aberration, affecting a relatively small handful in any jury pool, we fail to appreciate the ubiquity of these habits and shortcuts of human cognition. We carry cognitive biases, not because we are stupid or flawed, but because our brains like to save time and energy. And biases don't necessarily lead to wrong answers: Styles of thinking that seem unfair or irrational in some contexts work just fine in other contexts. Anyone who is interested in applied psychology, and that should mean all practical persuaders including legal advocates, should have a good working knowledge of the various forms and functions of cognitive bias.
To aid in that goal, I recently came across a “Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet” on the Better Humans site. The guide was written, not by one of the giants of social science research, but instead by Buster Benson of Slack Technologies. The software product manager, who apparently has a high interest and facility with psychology, took four weeks of his paternity leave to sort through some 175 known cognitive biases. He wasn't focused on specific studies, but instead on developing a better way of grouping these biases and describing their functions. Noting that “Cognitive biases are just tools, useful in the right contexts, harmful in others,” he boiled the list down to around 20 unique categories, and then further broke them down into into four general problems that biases help us to solve:
- Too much information
- Lack of meaning
- Need to act fast
- Not knowing what needs to be remembered for later
The goal of stripping away much of the social science lingo and sorting cognitive bias into a few rules of thumb is very appealing in a litigation context. So my focus for this post is to take Benson’s scheme and fill it in with litigation examples.