Clear, deliberate thinking is very important in a divorce. Unfortunately, we are prone to many different proven biases that cause us to think and act irrationally. A previous post listed a number of these unwise mental shortcuts. Here are some additional ones that are possible cognitive biases in divorce. They have been extracted from a Business Insider article.
Cognitive Biases in Divorce
Illusion of control. People have a tendency to overestimate their ability to control events. In divorce negotiations, this could lead to a failure to consider possible contingencies or alternative scenarios in a co-parenting plan or in the financial settlement.
Loss aversion bias. People generally prefer to avoid losses instead of acquiring gains, even when the gain would exceed the loss.
Negativity bias. This is the tendency to put more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. People with this bias will tend to perceive threats more than opportunities in a situation such as a divorce.
Ostrich effect. Some people deal with dangerous or negative information by ignoring it. This of course can have very serious consequences in a divorce.
Outcome bias. This is judging a decision based on the outcome rather than how exactly the decision was made. Often in reaching the agreements necessary for a divorce some compromises have to be made. Neither spouse may be entirely pleased with the result but it may the best that could be done given the circumstances. This is often the case when money is very tight in a divorce.
Overconfidence. Some of us are too confident about our abilities and this can cause us to take unwise risks or make commitments in a divorce we may be unable to fulfill.
Over-optimism. Researchers say we’re hardwired to underestimate the probability of negative events so this bias can be especially hard to overcome. One way to counter this in a divorce is to work out ways to guarantee payment of child support or spousal support, perhaps by setting the funds aside in advance and/or with insurance.
Pessimism bias. This is the opposite of the over-optimism bias. Pessimists over-weigh possible negative consequences. People who are depressed are more likely to exhibit the pessimism bias.
Planning fallacy. People tend to underestimate how much time it will take to complete a task. This often applies to how long it will take to work through the whole divorce process.
Reactance. A spouse sometimes wants to reject or do the opposite of what their spouse wants them to do, as a reaction to prove their freedom of choice.
Reciprocity. This is the urge to give something in return in response to someone giving us something. Salespeople often use this to try to hook people into feeling like they should reciprocate somehow. In divorce negotiations, it’s wise to be wary of this so that you don’t gave away too much in response to a concession or generosity from your spouse.
Salience. Our tendency to focus on the most easily-recognizable aspects of something. For example, in divorce there is actually a fair amount of complexity associated what the law says about child support and spousal support. It’s wise to understand these areas clearly rather than settle for a superficial grasp.
Seersucker illusion. We tend to over-rely on expert advice, sometimes to dodge responsibility. Sometimes obtaining legal advice simply confirms what you are hoping to hear rather than what is likely to occur in court. In other words, “for every seer there’s a sucker.”
Selective attention. People often allow their expectations to influence how they perceive the world. In a divorce, what one spouse expects or considers to fair is often not how a judge or the other spouse would view the same subjects.
Status quo bias. This is preference for inaction over action perhaps because it is easier or results in less change. One of the challenges in divorce is that difficult decisions have to be made. If you can’t agree on them with your spouse, a judge may have to make them.