Making Behavioral Biases Work for You
How is it that two groups can be presented with the same information, but come to vastly different conclusions? One reason may be the way the information was phrased. But another factor that often comes into play is bias.
There are many forms of bias. One that we face often in climate communications is confirmation bias – a person’s tendency to seek out or absorb only the information that matches what they already believe to be true. In such cases, the best tactic is often simply pointing out that such a phenomenon exists.
As this article in the Harvard Business Review explains, being aware of bias can help you use those tendencies to generate a positive outcome. Take the default bias, for example. When faced with complex choices, people will usually choose the default option supplied to them. Knowing this, many companies enroll their employees in retirement plans automatically, and require the employee to opt out. The result is usually a big increase in participation.
Climate communicators can make use of this bias by presenting climate-friendly options as the default. In one study, when the default meal choice at a conference was changed to vegetarian, consumption of vegetarian meals rose from 20 to 80 percent. Yet the attendees were still able to enjoy their freedom of choice.
For more tips on how to make behavior change easy, download our communications guide, Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication.
John Beshears and Francesca Gino, contributors to the Harvard Business Review
By now the message from decades of decision-making research and recent popular books such as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow should be clear: The irrational manner in which the human brain often works influences people’s decisions in ways that they and others around them fail to anticipate. The resulting errors prevent us from making sound business and personal decisions, even when we’ve accumulated abundant work experience and knowledge.
Unfortunately, even though we know a lot about how biases like overconfidence, confirmation bais, and loss aversion affect our decisions, people still struggle to counter them in a systematic fashion so they don’t cause us to make ineffective, or poor, decisions. As a result, even when executives think they are taking appropriate steps to correct or overcome employee bias, their actions often don’t work.
What’s the solution? Behavioral economics — the study of how people make decisions, drawing on insights from the fields of psychology, judgment and decision making, and economics — can provide an answer. Since it is so difficult to rewire the human brain in order to fundamentally undo the patterns that lead to biases, behavioral economics advocates that we accept human decision-making errors as given and instead focus on altering the decision-making context in ways that lead to better outcomes. Managers can use this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of a process or system inside their organizations.