The Kahneman–Tversky interpretation of biases as deviation from rationality was challenged by Gigerenzer on the basis that heuristics help making decisions and, thus, rational from the evolutionary point of view.

What drawbacks of "fixing" biases have been empirically confirmed? I mean, avoiding heuristic rules requires more cognitive efforts, which possibly affect really important decisions.

PS: This question was separated from Are cognitive biases hardwired in the brain or they are acquired during lifetime?.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting question, but simply referring to 'cognitive biases' is a sweeping statement which may make it harder for people to help. Can you narrow the scope a bit? $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Nov 13, 2014 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @AnaHevesi Information about any biases would be great. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2014 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Ecological psychology is also based around this idea. $\endgroup$
    – dwn
    Jan 15, 2015 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ How do you "fix" a cognitive bias? $\endgroup$
    – rumtscho
    Jan 15, 2015 at 14:33

2 Answers 2


"Fixing" (compensating for) a cognitive bias means "improving the result", so by definition, the result is always better. The drawback, as stated, is in the time and resources spent getting there.

Having said that, even when time spent is controlled for, there are scenarios where subjects make better decisions when they "trust their gut" rather than "think things through".

One example, cited here:

Students were asked to select a poster to take home, and then followed up a few weeks later to find out how happy they were with their selection. The control group simply chose their preferred poster, while the experimental group was asked to provide reasons first. The results: Students who provided reasons for their choice made different choices – preferring a different style of poster – and their satisfaction levels at follow-up were significantly lower. Winner: Heuristics.

Another example described here:

Subjects were given descriptions of several cars, in the form of pros and cons, and asked to select the “best” one. Most of the cars had an equal number of pros and cons or more cons than pros, but one of the cars had 75% pros and 25% cons, making it the correct choice. Subjects in the experimental group were asked to give their decision some thought, while subjects in the control group were given the same amount of time to decide but asked to perform a distraction task during that time. Clearly the experimental group had the advantage of dedicated mental resources to make a deliberated decision, while the control group would rely on heuristics. The results: When the total number of pros and cons is small (4), conscious decisions are indeed significantly better than unconscious decisions. However, when the total number of pros and cons is relatively large (12), heuristics have the edge.

Also see: Bounded rationality.


The question is asked – and Arnon's answer is given – based on the assumption that biases play a role only in "momentous" descisions, that is decisions that are relatively rare and can profit from rational consideration.

But biases play a constant role in navigating your everyday life. For example, you don't do the Pepsi Challenge every time you buy food. You just pick the joghurt that you know you like (bias), or whose list of contents appear most healthy to you (bias), or the price of which you find signals quality (bias) or is cheap (bias). Assuming that you understand the effects of food packaging, placement, shop lighting, muzak, shop aisle geography, price structure, advertisement you don't even remember having seen, etc., and can ignore its effects is just another bias. And maybe you are a nutritional scientist and actually (think that your science enables you to = bias) know what is healthy food, you probably are not a psychologist, financial expert, political scientist, sociologist, and so on, too, and will have to rely on hearsay (bias) or experience (bias) for most of your other decisions. And since you are almost constantly making decisions throughout the day – which turn do I take?, should I brake when the traffic light is yellow?, is it worthwhile to fight this out with my wife or will we have better sex when I let her be right?, should I correct my son or am I being overprotective?, what clothes should I wear today?, will it be fun to watch tv or will I have more fun tomorrow if I go to bed now?, is this online debate really worth my comment?, etc. etc. etc. –, and rational decision making is effortful (Baumeister), most of your decisions must be made heuristically.

Removing biases and forcing you to rationally process all information would leave you overwhelmed and unable to function. You simply don't have the time and mental resources to make every minor decision rationally. Biases are absolutely necessary for your survival. Without them you are reduced to a state similar to that of a toddler, who has yet to acquire biases, i.e. develop this mechanism that automatically filters the relevant from the irrelevant.

Of course biases can lead to wrong decisions. But these errors do not indicate that you should abandon all biases completely, but that you need to refine those that are misleading to more accurately reflect reality.


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