Health14 Jun 2010 07:52 am
Choice-supported bias is the tendency to give positive qualities to an option we’ve chosen, simply because we’ve chosen it. It is an example of cognitive dissonance, a psychological theory that describes the uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Cognitive dissonance theory holds that people have a motivational drive to reduce psychological dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing them. “Dissonance” occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency in their beliefs, which compels them to minimize the discrepancy through a variety of ego defense mechanisms, such as choice-supported bias.
Choice-supported bias describes the human tendency to believe that one’s past decisions were better than they actually were. People adopt a smug attitude about their choices for a number of reasons, all of which defend the ego against the threat of regret. When we make a choice, it becomes a part of our identity and is incorporated into our self image. Upon recalling a past decision, people often distort their memories to make their choices appear superior to the alternatives that existed at the time. As a result, we can rest on our laurels and feel positive about ourselves and have less regret for bad decisions. This might explain why older people tend more towards this bias than younger individuals.
Choice-supported bias is facilitated by the following three factors:
1. We can only know the details of the choices we have made. Thus, potential alternative outcomes remain abstract or distant in our mind and therefore ripe for self-serving manipulation.
2. The “it’s too late anyway” line of reasoning. This occurs when an individual quells their thoughts about past alternatives by telling themselves “it’s too late anyway”.
3. It supports our belief that we learn and grow from the choices they have made. Thus, we can self-soothe our fragile psyches by telling ourselves that our past decisions made us wiser. However, this line of reasoning fails to account for the fact that we are only learning from the choices we have made and not from 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 would be wrong to conclude that choice-supported bias is an entirely negative phenomenon. Like all ego defensive strategies, it can help people better focus on the here and now by staving off fruitless and crippling regret about the past.
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