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Aug 25, 2021

Know the impact of 13 Cognitive Biases in decision making for UX research, planning & analysis.

Cognitive bias in decision making

Introduction

We tend to develop our perceptions from several external inputs that even interfere with our rational mindset leading to cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases lead to a mixed pattern in the users' behavior that makes it difficult for UX researchers to draw a common consumption pattern. Having said that, the cognitive biases of researchers are also as much a reality as for the users.

Developing cognitive biases happen to be a natural tendency of the human mind which is very difficult to be ruled out. So, what role do cognitive biases play in user research, and how to avoid them? Let's find out.

Researcher's Cognitive Biases

Since the last decade, user research, also called participant research has taken up an important role in determining any product design.

It is hence very important to ensure that participant research should be conducted without any cognitive biases which usually do occur as natural psychology functions in our lives to help us process things and make sense of the information around us.

Researchers are no different human beings. They might have exhausted their mind's tendency of drawing patterns and synthesizing results better than others, but there are chances of cognitive biases seeping into their process of drawing patterns.

Hence, we should be aware of the biases researchers might face while moderating and analyzing data and hence prevent it from recurring.

1. Framing effect

Framing effect

The framing effect is a cognitive bias that comes into play depending on whether the presentation implies a positive or negative outcome.

This is where the mind starts to weigh out loss or gain. This bias eventually stops from seeing through the entire process which might have triggered a different response altogether.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

During a moderation session, the researcher might frame a question that favors a specific opinion about the product or service over holding neutrality about it.

Rather, the question should be more neutral and open-ended which wouldn't invite any bias from the respondent.

For eg: If a question is framed favoring the plus points of the app and the participants are asked if they actually like it, the question is already hinting towards getting a positive response. Such questions will essentially influence the neutral opinion of the user.

2. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias

The natural inclination of the human mind is to look for validation for their preconceived notions. This is confirmation bias. It influences the way they search for, interpret, focus on and remember information.

Factual evidence - Ignored by us, Evidence accepted, Evidences we believe in Confirmation bias tends to lead the mind to agree with data/information which confirms their existing beliefs while discarding information that challenges it. Hence, the individual might not agree with any alternative perceptions despite their validity to the context.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

Confirmation bias might influence the way the researcher presents insight regarding a certain product or service leading them to give more weightage to insights that conform to their belief and mention the rest of the insights as relatively less important.

Thus, the researcher might put forward the same biased insight while presenting in front of the stakeholder. Ruling out this bias, the researcher could have given equal importance to the insights irrespective of his/her own beliefs.

For eg: After a moderation session, out of 10 insights, a researcher might pick up just six insights that confirm his/her belief, and present the same to his/her fellow designers and the stakeholders.

The researcher might completely ignore the remaining four insights or present those with much less emphasis.

3. False Consensus bias

False consensus bias is a cognitive bias that comes into play when someone believes that everyone knows what he/she knows.

They believe that their insights are common and everyone shares the same level of awareness and proficiency in them as they do.

This stops them from identifying the challenges of people who are less informed on the topic.

False Consensus bias

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

False consensus bias can dwarf the scope of the research. With this bias in play, the researcher might not question the participant enough and might assume answers to all the questions from the participant's end.

Thus, they might not ask enough questions believing that they can read the participant's mind, and hence this might impact the insights.

In this way, the minute details remain left out, giving only partial insight about the participant's notion or knowledge about the topic.

The same approach with the designer is sure to lead to a sketchy and rather inappropriate brief regarding the topic.

For eg: While briefing the design requirement to a designer, if the researcher pre-assumes that the designer would have the same level of understanding of the context just as the researcher, he/she would refrain from detailing out the design requirement using the relevant design jargon and other expressions that would make the idea clear to the designer.

4. Social Desirability bias

Social Desirability bias

We all have a different face for a society that presents us to be far more polished and righteous than our natural self. This is called social desirability bias. If the participant's response is influenced by social desirability bias, it can be majorly misleading for the researcher.

In this case, a UX research participant does not respond in a natural way. Rather they respond in a way that is supposed to be socially approved or appreciated.

In the absence of this bias, the participant will be able to reveal their genuine response that will help the researcher track their natural tendencies that shape their understanding of the user's true experience.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

In a moderation session, a participant might refrain from admitting his/her inabilities and confusions about features of the product/service in order to show himself/herself to be socially desirable.

Here, the researcher should probe more to get the required findings, in order to rule out this bias.

As for the researcher, this bias might lead to an analysis that would be rather pleasing and more desirable for his/her client, instead of highlighting the actual concerns in the product/service.

For eg: In a focus group discussion, participants might be conscious of their replies, behavior, and actions in the presence of other participants as well. So they might not be able to provide exact and accurate insights.

5. Authority bias

Authority bias

Going by the norm we always place a lot of faith in opinions coming from people we look up to. Authority bias comes from our tendency to go by the verdicts or notions set by an authority figure that may include our seniors, some elderly people, or celebrities.

Given a situation, people tend to think about how an authority figure would have responded instead of approaching the situation with an open mind.

However, if participants go by the opinion of an authority figure while responding to the questionnaire, then again, the researcher will end up with misleading information. If they could rule out the other person's opinion, their behavior or notion could have been more neutral and relevant.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

After a series of interview sessions with the same client, a researcher could be influenced by the client's opinion while analyzing the result of the interview.

Similarly, the participant's response can also be influenced by the popularity, third-party review/recommendation of the product/service.

The best way to ward off the authority bias is to consciously decide to not let any kind of third party influence work. Rather, approach it with an open mind and report the real experience while using the product/service while answering the questionnaire.

For eg: While giving an interview for a popular brand, the participant could manipulate his/her response by highlighting only the positive features of the company's service and refrain from mentioning any of its drawbacks lest it ends up damaging the brand image.

6. Halo effect

Halo effect

When the participant's response is influenced by his prior perception or judgment about the product/service, in other words, the prior notion 'spills over' the present insight, it is known as the halo effect.

With this cognitive bias in play, the participant tends to form their opinion on the basis of the earlier reputation of the product or service.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

The Halo effect might influence the researcher's inference of a participant's insight depending on a preconceived notion about the participant's likeness to approve or disapprove of a product/service.

The researcher might conclude from the participant's prior negative or positive response regarding product usage. Ideally, the researcher should free his/her mind of any such pre-conceived notion and take a fresh approach for every new insight of the participant.

For eg: A researcher interviewing a client during stakeholder interviews hears from him that his/her product is difficult to be used by most of his/her users.

This might bias the whole moderation session in case the researcher got under the halo effect and most of the insights from the interview would favor the client's statement that most of the users don't like the product and hence wouldn't use it.

7. Serial Position effect

Serial Position effect

When we go through a series of items, our mind can register the first few and the last few things effortlessly. Everything that comes in between is the least likely to be remembered unless there's some compelling reason to remember them.

Suppose, you have attended your kid's annual function. You will be able to remember how the event started by lighting the lamp, felicitating the guests, and the keynote address of the Chief Guest before the program started. Likewise, you'll also remember how the event ended.

But how much would you be able to retain from the main program that comes in the middle apart from your kid's performance? Not much and not clearly. This is called the serial position effect.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

Serial position effects can create a severe bottleneck for researchers who try to analyze a set of interviews from their memory with the objective of presenting the overall finding to someone.

They are most likely to miss out on significant portions from the middle. A similar situation would be there in recalling the findings from the earlier and later user interviews conducted by the researcher.

For eg: When a researcher is made to recollect findings from a series of interviews he has conducted in a row, he/she would be easily able to recall ones from the last and the first interview but might have forgotten the details in the middle.

8. Availability Heuristic

Availability Heuristic

The human mind has a tendency to jump into the first available information that comes to mind.

It is easy to go by the first thing that comes to mind rather than taxing the mind to look for more. And hence, you give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future. This is termed the availability heuristic.

The availability heuristic is a cognitive bias that makes a person rely on mental shortcuts to evaluate and process the information that he/she has come across recently from an external source.

This might lead to overestimating the probability of occurrence of similar incidents. Here, a participant relies on his/her subconscious memory of the last occurred event to perceive a similar situation.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

During a moderation session, if a participant doesn't describe something to the moderator, it is a good practice to ask the participant for details rather than assuming details through the known impression of the object in the subconscious memory.

Even while framing the questions the UX researcher should focus on covering all the details and avoid assuming the participant's response.

For eg: When a participant is asked about his preference of navigation in a product app, he is most likely to say that he usually uses all types of navigation in the app.

Here, with the available heuristic in play, the researcher who is aware of the different navigation types in the app, goes by the words of the participant and assumes that he has complete knowledge about the navigation types.

Instead, the researcher should probe deeper by making the participant use the various navigation types on the app and take a note of the participant's proficiency in using the navigation accordingly.

9. Blindspot bias

Blindspot bias

Blindspot bias is triggered by overconfidence or misplaced self-esteem. It is the 'I know it all feeling' that comes in the way of responding to a situation in a more receptive manner.

With this bias in play, a person believes that he knows most of it and creates his perceptions about people, incidents, and situations accordingly.

Due to this bias, he/she might not be able to develop perception based on the actual fact and hence might misjudge certain events.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

During a user interview, the researcher might assume that she has understood the context properly (maybe based on responses from other user interviews) andmight miss out on asking relevant questions to collect all the feedback needed for getting the full picture of the scenario.

This might also come in the way while preparing the report if the researcher subconsciously presents his own viewpoints instead of that of the participants.

The only way to avoid this is to mute your own mind and ask all the relevant questions even if you know the possible answers for it, pay full attention to what the participant is saying and analyze the data as it has been recorded.

For eg: In a moderation session, when a participant already has a certain level of expertise in the domain of the product/service, his response might be influenced by Blindspot bias.

His response could be completely different if he approached the questions without being influenced by this cognitive bias.

10. IKEA effect (Sunk cost Fallacy)

IKEA effect (Sunk cost Fallacy)

People tend to feel more akin towards things that they develop on their own. IKEA is a Swedish furniture company that sells furniture that needs to be assembled.

The band had recorded a whopping 63% higher sales in this category than similar furniture that did not require assembly. Hence, this cognitive bias is called the IKEA effect.

It is also known as the sunk cost fallacy because it leads people to remain invested in failing projects all because they have put in their efforts into it.

Their involvement in its development process makes them biased towards it even though the perceived value by the others might not be that much.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

The researchers might perceive that all the insights synthesized from the interview sessions conducted, should be relevant and would impact the design greatly because of the value they associate with the time and effort that they have put in.

Even while framing the questions the UX researcher should focus on covering all the details and avoid assuming the participant's response.

If they could free their minds from this effect, they would be able to judge the findings of the interview inputs with more precision and hence meet the objective of the research in a better way.

For eg: If the researcher had conducted an exhaustive study involving multiple locations and inputs from more number of participants, he would expect that the study would yield the required impact on the product launch.

Whereas, it might be the IKEA effect that makes him/her think that. Ruling out the effect, he could have found relevant insights even with the optimal number of participants.

11. Gambler's fallacy

Gambler's fallacy

Gambler's fallacy, Monte Carlo's fallacy, and the fallacy of the maturity of chances is the propensity of predicting future possibilities of events based on the frequency of their occurrences in the past.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

While conducting a moderation session, a researcher might get impacted by the insights from the interviews conducted in the past.

Thus the researcher might predict the findings to be similar to the earlier outcomes of his study.

This, in turn, might affect the way the researcher questions the participants in future interviews and the kind of details he covers in those interviews.

For eg: In usability testing interview sessions, a researcher has moderated 8 out of 10 interviews and is only left with two interviews.

At this point, he might be affected by Gambler's fallacy to presume that the remaining interviews will also bring out the same insights as the previous ones. This further influences how he probes the participants for their insights. Thus the outcome of the interview would also bear the influence of this cognitive bias.

12. Status Quo Bias

Status Quo Bias

Change might be the only constant. But the human mind couldn't care less about it. We tend to prefer things to stay the same. Changes from our familiar patterns always rake discomfort.

When there is a need for a change, we tend to cling more to our comfort zones, considering it to be safer and more beneficial than the new situation simply because its associated benefits are difficult to foresee.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

If the researcher has already framed a set of questionnaires that calls for a review at a later stage, he might want to avoid it thinking it to be a waste of time.

Thus he would fall prey to the status quo bias.

In order to avoid this bias, a researcher has to be open to any changes according to the relevance of the context. The same holds true for the client as well.

For eg: If insights obtained from research conducted preceding to product design are very different from what the client has been expecting, it might become difficult for the client to adopt the insights which might be a complete U-turn from the current design.

This is also because the client might be a contributor to the design and is accustomed to it and hence might not be ready to adapt to the changes which would be induced on the basis of the research insights.

13. Implicit Bias

Implicit Bias

The implicit bias refers to the attitudes and stereotypes we associate with people without our conscious knowledge.

These stereotypes might affect the actual judgment about that person and would be based on the individual's acquired perception of the person.

How this may impact User Experience (UX) research?

Implicit bias may lead a researcher to manipulate her conversation with the participants because of the associated stereotypes.

This may impact the way he frames the question and conducts himself during the interview. This would lead to skewed responses and changed behavior of the participants which would hence yield poor insights.

For eg: The researcher during a telephonic interview might not be able to judge the body language and impressions of the interviewee.

Because of which the researcher might form an impression about the person on the call through his style of conversation and the lingos he uses and also from the background of the person (economic class, education qualification, and social status).

Ruling out the bias, the researcher could probe more to know about the individual without forming an impression about the person on the basis of certain stereotypes that the researcher might hold.

Conclusion

Cognitive biases can mislead the outcomes of the user research and hence jeopardize the very purpose of the research.

To avoid this, the researchers have to be aware of the several cognitive biases that can influence the participant's behavior and approach towards the interview.

Then they have to be mindful enough to avoid biases during the moderation as well as while analyzing the inputs to draw a behavioral pattern of the users.

Researchers should create exhaustive questionnaires and probe more if they find the participants to be giving repetitive answers.

It's the researcher's onus to eradicate the chances of cognitive biases from each stage of user research. And the answer to it lies in being aware and reminding yourself to approach each new participant with a fresh mind and carry out the entire process without drawing any hasty or predictive conclusion.

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