The metaphor of the iceberg, the guide: only a small part of our choices and our decision-making processes are in fact conscious, most are hidden, underwater, also governed by cognitive biases.
But what are the Cognitive Biases?
The Cognitive Biases are mental shortcuts that often lead us to make errors of judgment or to lack objectivity in judgments, they are preferences and inclinations that make us decide quickly, but not always correctly. Also, they are often referred to as “systematic” brain errors.
Over time, the human cognitive system has adapted to the demands of the external environment by developing different strategies of reasoning and decision, among which we find the heuristics. The heuristic reasoning, as opposed to the algorithmic one, requires an answer to be reached by relying on intuition rather than following a procedure that we could define as logical.
Although intuitive thinking offers many advantages (speed, lack of effort, etc.) and allows us to decide effectively, there are conditions in which the application of heuristics and mental shortcuts leads us to wrong conclusions about the world around us.
A new classification process
In 2016, Buster Benson publishes an article explaining the process of classification of the Wikipedia biases, supported by this infographic drawn by John Manoogian III.
It achieves great success in various sectors, from cognitive psychology to fields such as marketing, communication, and design, for the ability to synthetically communicate the richness of data on the Wikipedia page.
A few years later, we tried a different classification, which proposed a different look and it was equally usable and easy to interpret.
The 191 Cognitive Biases present on the Wikipedia page are organized in 3 distinct macro-categories:
- Biases of decision-making processes, beliefs, and convictions
- Social Biases
- Memory Biases
The first phase of the research focused on the analysis of individual Biases. Each element was transcribed on post-its and placed in the initial category.
In the next step, we reworked the arrangement of these Biases by creating new groups: 3 containers were evidently few to represent the facets of the human mind.
By involving more people, with a method that can be traced back to the card sorting, we have rearranged the 191 post-it notes by creating new categories with labels designed for the widest possible audience, while at the same time trying to preserve correctness.
As we continued to add and delete categories, we realized that many biases could be defined as “contact areas”, in a transition zone between one category and another. So we tried to enhance, rather than hide, these points of contact between all the various categories, trying to represent the 191 biases as a single heterogeneous block, inside which there is a continuous and non-discrete transition from one category to another, as in a sort of “gradient”.
We have therefore arrived at a satisfactory organization, identifying three macro-categories which contain three other subcategories within them; there are also areas of transition, or rather of contact, both between sub-categories and between macro-categories. Everything is held together by a central group, which includes all those transversal biases and, in our opinion, not declinable in the individual categories because they are placed at a different level of depth.
From classification to representation
In this phase of the project, our focus has shifted from classification to data display. We, therefore, had to find a way to represent this impressive number of factors, trying to convey the idea of unity but at the same time of organization: the groups are distinct, but interconnected, and form a single system of elements.
A series of prototypes and feedback over time have led to the birth of the “final” interface.
Why the iceberg? What does it mean?
The iceberg metaphor serves to visually represent the human psyche, highlighting how only a small part, the tip of the iceberg, consciously guides the choices and decisions we take “rationally”. Most of our decisions, our attitudes, and our behaviors are instead influenced by the mechanism of the cognitive biases, which in fact are all together under the water, hidden but extremely rooted in us: they are nothing but an evolutionary response to the needs of our brain to create mental shortcuts.
We need these shortcuts: they allow us to interpret reality quickly and efficiently. However, there is a percentage of these heuristics that lead us to blind alleys, wrong conclusions about the world around us.
The areas of our iceberg and their labels
The following are the ten areas that make up the iceberg of the cognitive biases; around each area, some transition bias make a unified and continuous representation possible
- What I believe in
- How I behave
- How I make my decisions
- I respect others
- Me along with the others
- The others compared to us
- My mind deceives me
- How I see the world
- How my mind thinks
- How we hold the pieces together
In the high-resolution version, it is easy to see the individual biases referable to these areas.
Two versions, one for the web and one for printing
Two versions of the same infographic were produced. The aspect varies little, as does the formal aspect, it changes the size of the format and the number of contents.
The Web version (1920×1080 px) has a sharper macro division. The cognitive biases are all present, but some, which we thought were more symptomatic for the category, were highlighted using a different color and a larger font.
The printable version (A1, 841 x 594 mm), contains all the cognitive biases with the same visual importance, enclosing each in its cell and with a chromatic distinction between macro areas and clearer and more continuous sub-categories. This version also contains a legend that contains the description of each category.
For more information:
List of cognitive biases