Choice-supportive bias (Cognitive Bias #3)

June 3, 2006

This is the bias that makes one tend to believe that their choices of the past were better than they actually were.  This is due to:

  1. Having a rich understanding of choice taken, while having an abstract or distant idea of the choice not taken.  Just like we are more attached to people we come into contact with every day than we are of people who live on the other side of the world (even if both are equal strangers to us), we are attached more to our own decisions than of decisions not taken.
  2. The "it's too late anyway" line of reasoning.  As soon as we begin to think about that other choice, we have a short circuit that turns it off because "it's too late anyway" and "better make due with what we have".
  3. It supports the belief that we are learning and growing through the choices we have made.  We assume that every experience is a one of learning, even though we are only learning about the choices we have made and not about the choices we didn't make.  Just because a choice led to a good outcome doesn't mean that the other one wouldn't have led to an equal or better one.  However, it's more difficult to assume that that's possible.

This bias isn't harmful in itself, but we should be aware of it.  Especially when basing future decisions on knowledge "learned" from choices not taken.


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