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The battle against cognitive bias

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14 | INCITE Volume 40, Issue 9/10 September/October 2019 INCITE | 15
Humans often like taking shortcuts and mental shortcuts,
known as heuristics, to help us make quick decisions when
needed. Heuristics are basically rules of thumb or simplifying
strategies for decision making. Although such shortcuts
are helpful in many ways especially in coping with the
complex environment surrounding out decisions, they can
also be the cause of cognitive biases. In a way, cognitive
biases are systematic errors in our thinking that can affect
our judgements and decision making. It should be noted
that cognitive bias is not the same as being prejudicial
or unwilling to have an open mind. Cognitive biases are
complex psychological phenomena and occur because
of the limitations on our ability to properly deal with and
process all the information that is available.
Researchers have so far identied about 180
cognitive biases. Some of them are more common
than others, for instance, conrmation bias; anchoring
bias; and attention bias. Conrmation bias is favouring
information that conforms to our beliefs and disregarding
or devaluing evidence that does not. Anchoring bias
is a heavy reliance on the rst piece of information
we learn. Attention bias is paying attention to some
things while ignoring others. All these biases have
implications for information professionals as they affect
how users use information sources and services.
Research has shown that cognitive biases affect how
people look for and use information, whether it is health
information or information related to holiday planning.
Cognitive biases can result in selective searching, selective
attention to information, selection interpretation of
information, and misremembering. For instance, as a result
of conrmation bias users might ignore alternative pieces
of information and only use information that might not be
necessarily trustworthy. Anchoring bias makes users apply
the rst thing they learn about something and not consider
alternatives (eg using different keywords for searching).
MEMBER AND SECTOR NEWS
Understanding of cognitive biases is more important
now than ever given the current information environment
which is full of fake news, misinformation and self-
deception. Information professionals and librarians
can play an active role in encouraging debiasing and
in mitigating the impact of some of the cognitive
biases. A rst step for information professionals is to
understand their own cognitive biases and to reect on
how these may impact their own practice. In developing
an understanding of our own biases, we will be able to
increase our capacity to mitigate against them for others.
To help users, information professionals can take
several measures. Cognitive biases should be explained in
information literacy training. Skills such as critical thinking,
rational discourse and active open-mindedness should
be promoted in training for information literacy. Providing
alternative information sources and exposing users to
alternatives, especially counter bias information can help
them avoid biases and improve their perception and
decision making.
It should be noted that simple awareness of the existence
of cognitive biases does not necessarily result in avoiding
them; education and practice are needed. Dialogues,
reection and deliberations should be included in group
activities and communal programs to help people be
exposed to different perspectives and understand various
points of view. Information professionals should play a role in
mitigating the negative effects of cognitive biases.
HAMID R JAMALI AALIA
ALIA Research Advisory Committee Member
Senior lecturer, School of Information Studies
Charles Sturt University
h.jamali@gmail.com
The battle
against
cognitive bias
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Information behavior, as a part of human behavior, has many aspects, including a cognitive aspect. Cognitive biases, one of the important issues in psychology and cognitive science, can play a critical role in people’s behaviors and their information behavior. This article discusses the potential relationships between some concepts of human information behavior and cognitive biases. The qualitative research included semistructured face-to-face interviews with 25 postgraduate students who were at the writing-up stage of their research. The participants were selected using a purposeful sampling process. Interviews were analyzed using the coding technique of classic grounded theory. The research framework was the Eisenberg and Berkowitz information behavior model. The relationships that are discussed in this article include those between the principle of least effort on the one hand and availability bias and ambiguity aversion on the other; value-sensitive design and reactance; willingness to return and availability bias; library anxiety and ambiguity aversion, status quo bias, and stereotypical bias; information avoidance and selective perception, confirmation bias, stereotypical bias, and conservatism bias; information overload and information bias; and finally, filtering and attentional bias.
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