We like to think we’re rational human beings. In fact, we are prone to many different proven biases that cause us to think and act irrationally. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s research into how often human beings do irrational things won him the Nobel Prize in Economics. In his best-selling book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” he showed that often our quick or intuitive decisions or judgments would be better replaced with slower, more deliberate thinking. Are there divorce cognitive biases?
Divorcing spouses are of course not only under stress but also faced with very important decisions. Clear, deliberate thinking is very important. Working with a divorce mediator can support making your own well-informed divorce decisions at your own pace.
Nonetheless it can be helpful to be aware of the cognitive biases we are prone to fall into. These can be viewed as questionable or inappropriate mental shortcuts. Here is an alphabetical list of some of the more notable ones relevant to divorce. They have been extracted from a Business Insider article. More will follow in my next post.
Divorce Cognitive Biases
Affect heuristic. People let their emotions color their beliefs about the world. Our emotions also affect the way we perceive risks and benefits. For example, emotional reactions to the mere subject of spousal support for many can cloud their thinking about it.
Anchoring bias. People tend to be over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear. In a negotiation, for instance, whoever makes the first offer often establishes a range of reasonable possibilities in each person’s mind. Counteroffers will often react to or be anchored by the opening offer. So whoever makes the first offer is usually better off.
Availability heuristic. People tend to overestimate the importance of information that is easy to remember. Such information may come from stories about divorcing couples. It’s wise to put these impressions aside and find out the real options available to you in a divorce and the applicable legal guidelines.
Bandwagon effect. This is a form of groupthink. If you have a number of friends telling what you should get from your divorce, you become prone to adopt this point of view. It could get in the way of working out agreeable solutions out-of-court with your spouse.
Bias blind spots. Failing to recognize your cognitive biases is a bias in itself. We tend to see the existence and operation of cognitive and motivational biases much more in our spouses than in ourselves.
Choice-supportive bias. When you choose something, you tend to feel positive about it even if the choice has flaws. In general, it’s better to go into divorce negotiations with preferences rather than with choices you have already bought into. This gives you a more flexible state of mind that may make it easier to reach workable agreements.
Confirmation bias. We tend to listen only to the information that confirms our preconceptions. Once you’ve formed an initial opinion about something, it’s harder to change your mind. Too much is at stake in a divorce to operate from preconceptions. Dig deeper for a more complete understanding.
Conformity. This is the tendency of people to conform with others. It is so powerful that it can lead people to do ridiculous things. Often a spouse who has been dominated or abused in a marriage will be inclined to conform to the wishes of their spouse in divorce negotiations. This can make mediation inappropriate.
Duration neglect. The duration of an experience is often discounted in the way we consider it. For instance, we remember momentary pain just as strongly as long-term pain. It may be that there was a long period in which the marriage was relatively good which now is discounted due to the current pain of the divorce.
Empathy gap. When we are in one state of mind, we often fail to understand people in another state of mind. If you are feeling hurt or worried, it may be hard to see why your spouse isn’t feeling the same way.
Fundamental attribution error. We tend attribute another person’s objectionable behavior to “the kind of person they are” rather than the situation they are in. We are more forgiving with ourselves, explaining our own non-optimum behavior as situational rather than due to a flaw in our character.
Hyperbolic discounting. There is a tendency for people to want an immediate payoff rather than a larger gain later on. It’s wise to guard against this when working out a financial settlement in a divorce.