How Anchoring Bias Affects Our Everyday Judgments

1 minutes reading time
Published 9 Nov 2023
Reviewed by: Kasper Karlsson

Imagine you're on a game show, faced with guessing the actual price of a car. The host, with a flourish, suggests it might be around $30,000. Despite your research indicating that this model is typically cheaper, your guess hovers close to that number. Why? Welcome to the pervasive influence of anchoring bias, one of the most common cognitive biases.

Anchoring Bias Definition

At its core, anchoring bias is a cognitive bias that influences us to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we receive (the "anchor") when making decisions. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a tendency to interpret other information around the anchor.

What is Anchoring Bias?

Anchoring bias is more than just a psychological curiosity; it has real-world implications affecting decisions in finance, negotiations, purchasing, and even legal sentencing. It operates subtly, often bypassing our awareness, leading us to make biased decisions that may not serve our best interests.

The Mechanics of Anchoring Bias

The anchoring effect can happen in two ways: self-generated anchors, where the individual develops an anchor based on personal estimates or beliefs, or external anchors, which are often provided unintentionally or strategically by another party.

Anchoring Bias Example

A classic anchoring bias example is found in retail. Ever noticed how discount tags show the original price alongside the sale price? That's anchoring at work. The original price sets an anchor, making the sale price seem like a significant bargain in comparison, even if the actual value of the product is closer to the discounted price.

The Influence of Anchoring Bias

Negotiations: The first offer in a negotiation sets the stage for all subsequent counteroffers. If that initial offer is low, the final agreement is likely to be lower than if the first offer was high.

Marketing: Advertisers often use high initial prices, knowing that they'll offer discounts later. Consumers anchored to the initial price perceive greater value when the price is lowered.

Investing: Investors might rely on the first piece of information they get about a company (like initial public offering price) which could lead to overvalued or undervalued stock based on that figure rather than actual performance.

Judicial Decisions: Research has shown that even legal judgments can be swayed by anchoring. For example, suggesting a sentencing range can anchor a judge’s decision, affecting the outcome for defendants.

Overcoming Anchoring Bias

Recognizing the presence of anchoring bias is the first step in mitigating its effect. Critical thinking and awareness of our decision-making processes can help. It’s also beneficial to seek out multiple perspectives and base our decisions on a wider range of data.

Tedd Wechsler, investment manager at Berkshire Hathaway, employs an intriguing method to bypass anchoring bias during his valuation process. He consciously avoids looking at the stock price before determining his own valuation for a specific company, fully aware of the anchoring effect's potency. Through this approach, he gains even greater confidence in his valuations, ensuring that his assessments are not compromised by this cognitive bias.

In Conclusion

Anchoring bias is not just an interesting psychological phenomenon; it's a critical concept to understand for anyone who wants to make more informed, rational decisions. By learning about and recognizing anchoring bias in our daily lives, we can work towards counteracting its subtle influence and steer our judgments back to a more objective baseline.

The next time you're faced with a decision, remember the hidden anchor and ask yourself: is this truly my own valuation, or am I being weighed down by an anchor?

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