Cognitive Bias: 13 Powerful Psychology Biases

Copywriting is one thing, and psychology is another, right? Most people think those two topics are exclusive of each other, but that’s not exactly the case.

In fact, they both go hand in hand with each other.

This is where cognitive biases come into play with effective copywriting.

If you want to become a better copywriter, you must understand the basics of psychology. And psychology should be your core fundamental in any form of copy you write.

After all, copywriting is all about building human communication and connection through words. By grasping psychology as a writer, you have the power to persuade and convert the masses.

It’s when psychology and copywriting’s paths meet, readers are able to connect with you.

It’s also safe to say, a successful copywriter is somewhat a psychologist at heart.

In this post, you’ll learn about psychological cognitive biases that influence your readers.

table of contents – Cognitive Bias: 13 powerful psychology biases

What is cognitive bias in psychology?

Cognitive bias is a psychological systemic pattern that influences your rationality or judgment.

Like your instincts, they are behaviors that assist you in your decision-making process. So that you can make a clear and solid decision without error. Look at it as evolved behaviors that developed over time to ease cognitive overload.

Cognitive biases exist in every aspect of your life from the very moment you are born. And they play an integral part in how you interact with and fit into this world.

Cognitive biases are also crucial to understand when writing copy for your readers. Because when you grasp basic psychological biases, you’ll have your readers prompting action.

Though, not all cognitive biases can be helpful. Sometimes we tend to overcomplicate things, and you’ll see why, below.

There is an overwhelming amount of interesting cognitive biases that exist. But let’s take a look at some of the most important ones you can use in your copy to convert your readers.

Cognitive bias 1: ambiguity effect

By nature, humans feel assured and certain on sentiments they know about.

The cognitive bias affects your decision-making process by avoiding uncertain outcomes. Thus it’s why mystery makes you feel uncertain and apprehensive.

The ambiguity effect is the desire to favor choices in which are more familiar.

For example, a vegan in a grocery is looking for a snack that contains no animal products. The vegan finds a bag of crisps with no label stating the use of animal products. This results in the shopper avoiding buying the crisps because they don’t know if it’s vegan or not.

So when writing copy, it’s important to leave your readers clear on your message.

Cognitive Bias 2: anchoring bias

Anchoring, also known as focalism – happens when favoring specific information over others. Thus, your decisions become influenced by what you consider more important. And it’s more emphasized on pieces of information presented first.

Decision-makers rely on and emphasize the first pieces of information when presented.

That is to say, the ‘anchoring’ pieces of information serve as a trigger when making decisions. Humans rely on anchoring bias to help simplify our thinking. It helps in reducing the number of resources we need to take so cognitive fatigue doesn’t occur.

It’s often seen in pricing, sales, and negotiation. Between two parties, whoever submits to giving an offer first, sets the ‘anchor’ price. That price gives reasonable grounds for both parties to work with.

For example, if you walk into your nearest department store that has a sale going on. You think you’re getting a bargain through discounts. In actuality, stores set their prices as an ‘anchor’ to make customers feel they are getting a bargain.

Let’s say a customer sees an item for $50 thinking it’s too expensive. Then they see a discounted item for half the price. The $50 price acts as a hardwired anchor into their brain. Because something half the price seems cheaper in retrospect to something more expensive.

Cognitive Bias 3: authority bias

It occurs when people abide by statements from sources seen as figures of authority. And it’s more prevalent when obeying orders, regardless of the ethics of the commander.

In authority bias, we perceive a higher sense of the accuracy of claims from people of authority.

The 1961 Milgram experiment is famous for studying the psychological bias. Performed by psychology professor, Stanley Milgram at Yale University found shocking results.

Within the experiment, Stanley ordered participants to send electrical shocks to other people. Once participants performed the electrical shocks, receivers of the shocks screamed in pain. Many of the participants felt hurting others through painful shocks was unethical.

Participants continued to send shocks once ordered by Stanley. They continued to do so because they saw Stanley as someone authoritative to run the study. Luckily, the ones receiving the shocks were actors, something the participants didn’t know.

What’s the take away from the Milgram experiment?

This is compelling evidence that shows the influence of and perception of authority. Authority trumps decision-making regardless of one’s virtues.

Cognitive Bias 4: availability heuristic

What’s more deadly? A shark or a vending machine? You likely think sharks are more deadly than vending machines.

While the daunting sight of a shark’s teeth and body figure may seem dangerous, statistics say else. Per year, 1 in 3,748,067 people a year die from shark attacks. That’s far unlikely than 13 snackers who die of vending machines falling on them out of anger.

This is where availability heuristic comes into play. The thinking process relies on making decisions that are relevant to what you can recall. It’s how you make fast decisions.

Availability heuristic is the ability to make a decision based on what you already know.

Availability heuristic can be dangerous, leading to irrational or incorrect decision-making. What comes to your mind first, doesn’t always mean it’s right or accurate.

Examples of availability heuristic

  • You see the news that the economy will crash and everyone will lose their jobs. This causes you to worry in preparation that you too will lose your job. Thus, you begin looking for other sources of income to fall back on.
  • With flu season on the rise, you get your flu shot in the prevention of getting sick.
  • After heading about a burglary in your neighborhood, you increase your home security.

Regardless if any of these examples were true or not, can lead to fallacy. What if you never were going to lose your job? What if your immune system is already healthy? And, what if the burglary was a false alarm?

Cognitive Bias 5: bandwagon effect

Our surrounding environments have an influence on the decisions we make. And our decisions are more affected when we see others behaving or acting a certain way.

That’s exactly what the bandwagon effect is. Adopting similar traits, practices, behaviors, and attitudes, all because everyone else does it. And it has a strong correlation with the number of people and the decision to mimic their decision. More persons doing it equals more compelling evidence to justify our thought process.

Our social surroundings influence our decisions to copy those around us.

Examples of the bandwagon effect

Sports: you’ve likely heard of the term bandwagoner. It happens when a person follows a sports team because a certain team gains momentum due to winning. Others join in on the excitement, not having an interest in the winning team, but to feel included.

Fashion: styles come and go. And people catch onto things because it looks trendy or fashionable.

Social media: content on social media goes viral because everyone talks about it. And when we see an influencer support a product, people are likely to buy into it due to social proof.

Education: a majority of teens don’t know what they want to do for their future. So they resort to the idea of going to college because “it’s the right thing to do. Many people are successful without a college education.

Politics: citizens vote for the runner they hope or think is winning. This happens due to the publicity the candidates receive, causing hype.

What influences the bandwagon effect?


Societal pressures, social acceptance, and the need to fit in. If we don’t conform to society, we experience the fear of missing out. We don’t want to feel left out.


If everyone else is doing it, it’s right. Right? We use other people’s decisions as a validation to confirm our uncertainty. No one likes being wrong, so we side with what seems to be the winning team.

Why the bandwagon effect can be dangerous

Because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. This can lead to irrational decision making, leading us to make the wrong choices.

Like the old saying goes, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

It doesn’t make it right if everyone else is doing it.

Cognitive Bias 6: decoy effect

It happens when you’re presented between choosing two choices. When you then see a third choice, it gives you compelling evidence to act on a decision. The third choice acts as an asymmetrical dominating alternative to the other two.

The change in preference between two options when a third option comes into the picture. The third choice acts as a decoy to influence one’s decision-making process.

It’s a strategy many food retailers use to trick picking into buying something they don’t need. And it’s how retailers make more money in thinking you’re in for a value-buy.

Imagine queuing in line to buy ice cream on a hot summer day. You’re pretty sure you only need two scoops to please your cravings. You see that one scoop of ice cream costs $2.00, two scoops cost $4.00., and three scoops for $5.00.

You see for one more dollar, you get the best deal of having three scoops of ice cream. Thus, you end up settling for three scoops of ice cream because it’s a bargain.

Why the decoy effect is dangerous

As you can see, the decoy effect can influence our decisions in making the wrong move. When you’re present with two choices that meet your expectations, you end up deviating. Leaving you to diverge from your original intended goal, which was fine in the first place.

It can leave you to:

  • Spend more money than you need to
  • Consume more than necessary
  • Feel overwhelmed and confused in the decision-making process
  • Choose the wrong product
  • Cause cognitive overload in your thinking process.

Unfortunately, more doesn’t mean better. In contrast, fewer decisions can lead to smarter outcomes.

Cognitive Bias 7: optimism bias

We like to see the glass half-full.

Optimism bias causes you to believe you are incapable of negative outcomes. And only good things are likely to happen.

We place higher favorability towards optimistic outcomes over unpleasant scenarios. By nature, we like to hope and believe for the best outcomes. While positive sentiments and intentions are good, they can be as dangerous too.

We like to think we know better than the people around us, because “we know best.” Also, we like to believe that we have the best assets like our cars or houses. And, we like to think we are more healthy, smarter, and successful than the average.

But how true are all those beliefs?

Regardless if they are true or not, optimism bias sets a distorted view of reality. This can lead to false hope, untrue claims, denialism, and the illusion of invulnerability.

Optimism bias makes you believe that the best outcomes will come to you. This influences your thinking into believing nothing but good things will happen. It leads to unrealistic and unpractical decisions because you are invulnerable to risks.

There is a difference between what is true versus what we want to be true.

Cognitive Bias 8: ostrich effect

Would you listen to information you don’t want to hear? Or listen to information you find has no value to you?

Likely not.

That’s what the ostrich effect is. It’s the idea of avoiding information we find unpleasant or negative. Because paying your bills was never fun. Or looking at the grade of a test you know you failed.

Ostrich effect causes you to ignore sentiments you find risky or unfavorable.

We tend to shove things “under the rug” in hopes of seeking better outcomes. Because it takes a toll on our emotions, making us feel unmotivated, stressed, or uneasy.

Cognitive bias 9: outcome bias

The influence of our decision-making process based on the final outcome. Rather, than the processes it took to get to the final outcome.

Let’s say you’ve always been a bad basketball player your whole life. You’ve made a bet with a friend in regards to making a shot from the free-throw line. And you know you’re going to miss the shot, losing your bet. Because a bad basketball player, in theory, never scores a shot.

If you make the shot, your friend will believe that you were lying you were a bad basketball player. Whereas, if you missed the shot, you’d likely think you were right the whole time that you missed.

Cognitive Bias 10: Overconfidence

We are quite positive when it comes to rating our abilities or aptitudes. In other words, we’re narcissists and think we are better than we actually are.

The subjective nature of one’s confidence in overestimating their ability or talent.

A study done in 2006 by James Montier, discovered people’s egotistical nature. The study examined over 300 participants and asked job confidence related questions. When asked, “Are you above average at your job?” Under 75% of respondents responded yes. And the remaining 25% of respondents replied with an answer to being average.

In essence, not one single person declared themselves as below par in their abilities. The study goes to show,

Why overconfidence bias can be dangerous

Overconfidence bias can lead to:

  • Unrealistic optimism
  • Unattainable goals
  • Delusion or lack of awareness
  • Underperforming
  • Making risky decisions

Ever hear those stories about overconfident gamblers losing all their stakes? They were too overconfident by putting all their eggs in one basket, leading to the final result to go bust.

Cognitive Bias 11: salience

Not all information you perceive get interpreted the same way. Some information serves as key features noteworthy to focus on. Whether it be features or knowledge that stand out, you ignore some over others.

Salience is the habit to place emphasis on features or information that are distinct.

In decision-making, salience serves as support to make an informed judgment. It makes you weigh your judgment by importance over other considerations.
For example, when deciding to buy something new, the remarkable features are what influences your final decision to buy. The features that matter more to you justify your reasoning of one product over another.

Why salience bias can be dangerous

When you tend to focus on features or information that stands out, it doesn’t value the importance. Salience exemplifies why decision-makers become distracted because they can’t see what matters most. Instead, decision-makers are only able to focus on one aspect of the process.
Salience is the reason to why your blindspots exist when making a judgment.

Cognitive Bias 12: selective perception

Selective perception is the influence of our expectations or viewpoints around a judgment.

That is to say, not everyone’s experiences are alike. Our expectations or viewpoints of what we know around a certain topic vary. This happens due to having different beliefs, values, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Hence, your perception is what influences your beliefs.

It’s a confirmation bias that businesses today use to impact their viewers. In other words, a marketing or advertising campaign will only tell you what you want to hear. By that, you fall into the trap of buying a service or product because of your resonating perception of it.

Why selective perception can be dangerous

Cognitive Bias 13: zero-Risk Bias

Risk in decision-making associates with cognitive strain, leading to errors. 

Zero-risk bias has a heavy influence on the fear of uncertainty. Because more risk or uncertainty can mean more problems. By design, we aim to get the best results by eliminating all risks.

We love certainty because it gives us the courage to move forward in making firm decisions. Thus, the likelihood of eliminating risk is favorable over having some risk associated. We gravitate towards outcomes with the least risk, even if it’s counterproductive. 

The favorability and tendency of reducing risks to zero in one area opposed to other areas.

The concept of zero-risk bias exists in businesses and retailers.

Words like:

  • “100% satisfaction guaranteed”
  • “You have nothing to lose”
  • “Risk-free!”

are all seen to make customers feel comfortable, thinking nothing is at stake. Customers commit to paying a premium to guarantee their satisfaction from a product. Even if the promise does not exist.

Why zero-risk bias can be dangerous

There is no such occurrence of events that are absolute zero-risk. Thus, it is unattainable.

By focusing on eliminating risk and aiming to be 100% risk-free, you exhaust your time and energy. This leads to the decline of cognitive resources, which other areas could use instead. By eliminating risk in one area, increases your risk as a whole.

Final thoughts on cognitive bias in psychology

These are only some of the many cognitive biases out there that exist in psychology. While we may never always be aware of them, but keeping one thing in mind is always important: your audience.

Your copy is what impacts your readers based on the words you choose.