Common Cognitive Biases: Part 1

Thinking clearly and rationally is hard at the best of times, but perhaps particularly so at this frenetic time of the school year.  Below, I’ve listed five common cognitive biases that tend to affect the way we behave and view the world around us.  Forewarned is forearmed and all that.  Click on this link to access the information on a Word document.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

The more investment that we make in a particular venture, the less likely we are to hold a rational view of its value; we tend to develop disproportionate emotional attachments.

‘I spent the whole weekend marking, so it’s bound to have a real impact.’

When it comes to workload, always focus on the future costs and benefits of the time you plan to invest.

Confirmation Bias

We tend to be far more receptive to information that reinforces our existing opinions and we actively seek it out; conversely, we have a habit of ignoring information that conflicts with our beliefs.

‘The new behaviour system has worked because our exclusion figures have fallen.’

Actively seek out the views of staff at all levels when evaluating new or existing systems.

Overconfidence Effect

There is often a significant difference between what we know and what we think we know; we systematically overestimate our ability to make accurate predictions.

‘The data suggests that we’re on track for a record breaking Progress 8 score.’

 Err on the side of caution, particularly when predicting final exam grades.

Herd Instinct

We are influenced by the behaviour of others; typically, we tend to make judgements on the normality and acceptability of behaviours based on what we see other people do.

‘But everyone turns up late, so why are you having a go at me?’

Explicitly promote desirable norms and behaviours to help shape a positive school culture.

Availability Heuristic

We have a tendency to rely too heavily on information that is easy to recall or that has been recently presented; we routinely make judgements based on what is available in the moment.

‘The class weren’t particularly engaged; I think he must be struggling.’

Remember that individual lesson observations only offer a snapshot into the complexities of teaching and learning.


Thanks for reading –




Find my latest blog post on Lecturing Year 11 here
Lecturing Year 11

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