Cognitive biaises & vocational orientation

cognitive what?

If you’re following Our Millennials Today on instagram (in french), you’re already aware of my growing passion for cognitive biaises. I had already dedicated an edition of my newsletter (in french as well) to Cialdini’s book Influence and manipulation, diving deep into 6 biaises – usually applied to marketing.

But what are cognitive biaises exactly?

Roughly, a cognitive biais can be described as a mental shortcut in reasoning which impacts – negatively – our decision-making.

Personally, I feel like today’s complex society has contributed to us developing more biaises. With the numerical revolution, our (over)connectivity and a growing number of communication channels, simplifying our reasoning is almost becoming a survival instinct to prevent our brains from implosion.

Most papers on the matter – like Cialdini’s – focus on selling products/services, consumption and fueling today’s system. However, I believe those are applicable in many fields, as vocational orientation – which is my passion.


ready to dive in?

This will work simply: here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of cognitive biaises, which I’ll regularly update. For each biais I’ll give you a description, its relation to orientation and (if I found it), a way to dodge the biais or at least reflect on it.

the coherence / commitment biais

One of the most « classic » biaises described by Cialdini.

It states that once you’ve taken a choice, you’re bond to align your following decisions to this initial one. The goal? Build a coherence from this first step. Plus, we tend to act in coherence with the way we see and our environment perceive us.

To illustrate this point, Cialdini takes the American soldiers’ collaboration with China during the Korean war. Indeed, the Chinese had established a strong (but simple) funnel for prisoners to collaborate. Let’s explore the steps:

  1. talk to the soldier
  2. have him – verbally – formulate some critics of the American government (because I mean, who doesn’t have one or two things to comment upon its country’s politics?)
  3. write down their blames and sign the paper (for future ownership purposes)
  4. have their paper read by the Chinese army aloud on the radio, which made it audible to every other soldier and potentially to the whole american population. This precise step is the tipping point for the future collaborator as, with this public announcement, he is perceived by such by his peers
  5. identifying to the collaborator persona, the soldier now conforms to this new image he gives out to the world… and starts to collaborate

Funny to think that without the first step – harmless in appearance but simply design to start the escalation process – none of the followings would have taken place.

how does it relate to orientation ?

Well, many students enter paths they’re not necessarily aligned with, or comfortable with. For Our Millennials Today, I had once interviewed a girl talking about « the escalation of coherence ». As a relatively good student her whole life, she had taken the highway – which was certainly not her way as she found out later. During this highway, she had to contract a student loan, even though she didn’t want to enter the business school she had signed for. But she did anyway…. because she didn’t feel like questioning the series of precedent choices that led her here.

On top of that, Cialdini insists on the fact that, the more « pricy » the result, the more we tend to apply this biais.

how can we dodge it?

Taking a pause, a step back on our values. I’d also say: physically stepping out of our initial environment to also prevent us wanting to conform ourselves to the image others have of our life.

Also, ask yourself: what would breaking the coherence pattern do for you? Is it necessarily bad? (for the interviewee I’m referring to, not signing her student loan would have changed her career choices – affected by this loan afterwards)


the social proof biais

This one is pretty easy.

In times of indecision – and when faced to a choice –, the social proof biais states that the person concerned will tend to go for the option chosen by an apparent majority.

An example: when choosing a restaurant in a foreign country, which place do you tend to choose? The one deserted or the terrasse that seems full of people? Some businesses like the franchise of restaurants Big Mamma in France have built their marketing around queuing, proof that the power of the multitude is strong.

how does it relate to orientation?

When in doubt, students will go for the most chosen path. In my business school, social proof was also used by the administration to directly influence our later choices. In their brochures, they displayed the percentage of students going for x or y jobs after graduation (mostly consulting / finance / marketing), and in the end… the most unsure profiles went for those options thinking it was the best because it was the most « attractive »

how to dodge this bias?

I’d say taking a step back, but also reflect on the possible outcomes of your choice. Why are you taking the decision? Why would not taking the highway affect you? What importance do you give to others’ perception of yourself?


the ikea effect

Have you ever transformed an Ikea kit into a piece of furniture? Can you remember the feeling you had when contemplating you work regardless of the quality of the final product?

That’s the Ikea effect, stating that an emotional transfer happens when you build something.

How does it relate to orientation?

If we feel like we built our career / life from scratch (event if it’s a bit of a kit), we’re far more inclined to develop a certain emotional attachment to it… even if it doesn’t fit our personal need. Because, well, let’s not forget that Ikea has us buy kits and not tailor-made products. It’s the same with orientation: schools / universities often offer a kit experience sold like a unique path (poke to my business school).

how to dodge this biais?

My only advice would be to take some time away to process and/or ask for feedback from an outside source. This way, you’d have an objective point of view on your career / orientation


the cognitive dissonance

This happens when our values & needs are in contradiction with the way we act, which creates a certain (emotional) discomfort. There’s a full spectrum of the cognitive dissonance going from « it’s ok I can live with it » to feeling like you have a double personality.

To quote Cyril Dion, a French activist on the matter « You’re ecologist and work at Monsanto but feel like it’s ok because you’re biking there »

how does it relate to orientation?

This biais can have us chose a certain path in contradiction with our core values

how can we dodge this bias?

I think there is no way we can totally bypass this biais since we all have our little contradictions / paradoxes and its fine. I mean, if we lost time to blame ourselves every time we got out of our activist / personal line we’d never do anything. However, it’s important to know where to draw a line between « acceptable » and « this is a no go ».

So I suggest you take a moment to

  1. reflect on your values & needs
  2. reflect on the type of environment needed to thrive with those
  3. define what compromises you’re willing to take or not
  4. try to match it with something that suits you according to those criteria

dealing with cognitive biases

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to eradicate cognitive biaises altogether. I wish I could tell you all it took was willpower, a magic wand and a homemade formula. But it’s a bit more complex than that

As I wrote in the introduction, I’m convinced we need those intellectual shortcuts to make it through our lives. But you know what they say : « knowledge is power ». Well, it works in this case.

If you want to further explore your relationship to change, you can always check out La culbute (in french), a self-introspective program mixing inspiration, exercises & games. Description here


sources

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