The Anchoring Bias: What is it?

The Anchoring Bias: What is it?

While navigating the complexity of thinking, we often find ourselves influenced by cognitive biases. “What’s a cognitive bias?” It’s an inherent thinking ‘error’ we make when processing information. It affects the decisions and judgments that people make.

The anchoring bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the human tendency to rely heavily on the first piece of information (the “anchor”) encountered when making decisions. This means that our initial impression, estimate, or information about a topic or decision can heavily influence how we interpret and process subsequent information. For example, if we first see a product that costs $200 and then see a similar product for $150, we might perceive the second as a bargain, regardless of its actual value, because we’re comparing it to the initial “anchor” price of $200. This bias can affect our lives, including business, investing, economics, and everyday decision-making.

Anchoring Bias: A Deep Dive into the Concept

The anchoring bias happens when you depend too heavily on the first piece of information you encounter (the ‘anchor’) when making decisions. In essence, it’s a cognitive shortcut; one we often take without even realizing it.

Anchoring bias is often used as a cognitive shortcut, also known as a heuristic, because it simplifies the complex decision-making process. The human brain is constantly bombarded with information, and to process all of this efficiently, it often takes shortcuts. One of these shortcuts is the anchoring bias.

It’s a substantial task to consider all possible information, evaluate it thoroughly, and then make a well-informed decision. This process becomes incredibly challenging when the decision is complex or when we’re under time pressure. So, instead of meticulously analyzing each piece of information, our brains will latch onto the first piece of information we encounter (the anchor) and use that as a reference point for making subsequent decisions.

This can be faster and less mentally taxing, but it can also lead to skewed perceptions and poor decisions. For instance, if you’re buying a house and the first house you see is priced at $500,000, you may anchor to this price. If the next house you see is $450,000, you might view it as a good deal, even if it’s overpriced relative to the market. Your brain took a shortcut using the anchor of the first house’s price rather than taking the time and effort to thoroughly investigate the value of houses in that market.

In essence, anchoring bias is a trade-off. It saves cognitive resources at the cost of potentially inaccurate assessments and less-than-optimal decision-making. Therefore, being aware of it and considering other information can help us make better, more informed decisions.

Recognizing Anchoring Bias in Everyday Life

It’s easy to find examples of anchoring bias around you. Ever heard a friend declare their new purchase a ‘bargain’ because it’s reduced from an arbitrarily high original price? That’s anchoring bias in action. They’ve latched onto the initial inflated price and perceive subsequent reductions as savings.

Origins of Anchoring Bias: The Psychology Behind it

At its root, anchoring bias reflects our brain’s preference for simplicity over complexity. It’s easier to rely on one piece of information than continuously adapting and reassessing. And while it’s part of being human, it’s also something we must be aware of. It can create errors in thinking.

The Anchoring Bias in Business and Economics

Businesses use anchoring bias to their advantage, especially in marketing. It’s why you’ll see items priced at $19.99 instead of $20. That one-cent difference might seem trivial, but it influences your price perception. Anchoring bias also plays a role in economic forecasts and stock market predictions.

Anchoring Bias in Negotiations

In negotiations, whoever makes the first offer establishes an ‘anchor.’ This influences the rest of the negotiation. The first figure tends to color subsequent discussions, illustrating the power of anchoring bias in shaping our decisions.

Ways to Overcome the Anchoring Bias

Can we escape from the anchoring bias? Well, awareness is the first step. Knowing that the bias exists helps. Practicing conscious decision-making, gathering more information, and being aware of market norms can also help mitigate this bias.

Examples of Anchoring Bias in Investing

When investing, an initial stock price can be an anchor, leading investors to make less-than-optimal decisions. For instance, if a stock was first seen at $100 and it drops to $70, it might appear as a bargain, even if the real value is lower. This perception arises because the initial price of $100 has created an anchor, causing the $70 to seem like a steal in comparison.

Similarly, consider a scenario where an investor buys a stock for $50. Later, the stock price drops to $30. Despite market trends indicating further decline, the investor holds on, believing it will bounce back to the ‘anchor’ price of $50. This might cause the investor to endure further losses instead of cutting losses early.

Another example can be seen when investors base their decisions on the historical highs of a stock. If a stock peaked at $200 a few years ago and is currently trading at $100, investors might perceive the stock as being undervalued, seeing a potential to reach the ‘anchor’ point of $200 again. They might disregard current market conditions or the company’s recent performance, which might no longer justify such a high price.

In all these examples, the initial stock price or the historical high forms an anchor that skews investors’ judgments about the stock’s actual value. This could potentially lead to suboptimal investment decisions.

Repercussions of Ignoring the Anchoring Bias

Ignoring the anchoring bias can lead to poor decision-making and financial loss. It can cloud our judgment, leading us to make choices that are not in our best interest. Understanding and overcoming anchoring bias is crucial to making balanced, informed decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Cognitive biases, like anchoring bias, influence our judgments and decisions.
  • The first piece of information often serves as an anchor in our decision-making process.
  • Anchoring bias permeates everyday life, business practices, negotiations, investing, and politics.
  • Awareness and conscious decision-making are effective in mitigating the effects of anchoring bias.
  • Ignoring the anchoring bias can lead to significant repercussions, affecting personal and professional decisions.


To be human is to be susceptible to biases, of which anchoring bias holds a primary position. It’s an inescapable part of our cognitive process, latching onto the initial information we encounter and guiding subsequent judgments and decisions. It has a substantial effect in numerous fields, from economics to politics.

The critical part is that we can overcome it through conscious effort. We can make reactive, reflective, and well-informed decisions by acknowledging its existence and understanding its influence. Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate the bias completely; it’s human nature- it’s to understand it, mitigate its effect, and in doing so, navigate our choices more mindfully.