How Cognitive Bias Can Affect Your Writing

Writer’s Relief
4 min readFeb 28

What is cognitive bias? It’s an error in thinking that occurs when the brain tries to interpret the world around it. Specifically, it happens when what we’re interpreting doesn’t match up with our sense of logic, so we draw our own conclusions — which may or may not reflect reality. Cognitive bias can both help and hurt your fiction and nonfiction writing. Here’s how cognitive bias can affect your writing.

7 Types Of Cognitive Bias And How They Can Affect Your Writing

Confirmation bias: In this common form of bias, people only look for information that backs up what they already believe to be true. The data can come from news reports, statistics, and even the opinions of other people. If you are trying to be persuasive, it is better to review your argument from both sides — rather than just your own — to build credibility. However, leaning into cognitive bias can show flaws in a character you’ve created, which is good story building.

Hindsight bias: This type of bias happens when someone interprets the outcome of a past experience as more predictable than it really was. For example, you can reflect on a past relationship for your memoir and think “oh, of course we were going to break up,” and list the reasons for it — but at the time, you didn’t know what the outcome would be. In reality and in writing, the conclusion isn’t always obvious before the narrative is finished.

Self-serving bias: People will usually claim positive outcomes over negative ones. For example, one person might take the credit for a group’s success. But if the group fails, the individuals are more likely to distribute the failure among all the group members. Failure and success are the product of multiple efforts, so be careful not to gloss over others’ contributions in favor of one character’s rights or wrongs.

Anchoring bias: This bias happens when we make decisions based on pre-existing information or the first bit of information we receive. This commonly occurs when shopping: If you see two versions of an item, one sold at $1000 and another at $100, you stop looking for options and go with the $100 item — even if it might be available elsewhere for $10. You settle for the second price and don’t continue to price shop because it is a…

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