Five Cognitive Biases to Avoid when Teaching

When you are learning something new, it is easy to be influenced by a built-in inclination. These inclinations may help you determine if the new information is useful and can be trusted. However, It may also cloud your judgment. This is known as Cognitive Bias. Everyone has Cognitive Biases so you may assume that it offers little harm to the learning environment. But cognitive biases can lead to students missing the point of the lesson and affect their decision-making. A good way to avoid cognitive biases in the classroom is to familiarize yourself and your classroom with the most common kinds. In this post, we’ll look at five of the most common kinds: Stereotyping, Selective Perception, Placebo Effect, Ostrich Effect, and Bandwagon Effect. 


Stereotyping can occur when you expect a person to have certain qualities based on generalized opinions on their group. These opinions can be based on patterns you’ve noticed, comments by friends and family, or portrayals in the media. Stereotyping can affect learning if students, for example, make unsubstantiated assumptions on historical figures based on where they’re from. Many films and TV shows repeat stereotypes so it can be difficult to show clips on the subject that don’t reinforce these stereotypes as well. This clip, from The Simpsons, however, satirizes stereotypes on women working jobs involving manual labor by showing Marge not get work for her carpentry despite her fine work: The Simpsons

Selective Perception

Selective Perception occurs when people choose to perceive something based on how they want to see it. This is like when you assume your team is always in the right when a penalty is called. If we want it to happen that way, why would we believe it won’t? Perceptive Bias can influence students to not pay attention to cause-effect and reject some solutions. This scene from Avatar: The Last Airbender is a good example. In this clip, two warring tribes retell a story based on their own perspective and always view their side as in the right in the story: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Placebo Effect

The Placebo Effect occurs when you believe that something will have the desired effect so much that the desired effect actually occurs. This effect happens all the time in medical trials, so patients are often given fake “placebo” pills to make sure their belief in the medicine is not alone responsible for the effect. In a classroom, this effect can occur with overconfidence so that students won’t accept other answers. Say, for example, your student gets the right answer but used the wrong formula to get there. They will be confident that the wrong formula will work and be wrong the next time. This clip from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia shows Charlie suffering from the Placebo Effect, in which he has overconfidence that he was magically made more intelligent by the scientists fake treatment:  It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Ostrich Effect

The Ostrich Effect Occurs when someone purposely ignores dangerous or negative information. It gets its name from the natural occurrence where Ostriches put their heads in the ground when in danger. This can be problematic in the classroom when students purposefully ignore negative information, like not acknowledging the bad characteristics of their favorite president. This clip from Johnny English Strikes Again shows Johnny English brushing off the dangerous information his sidekick has given him about a woman he has a crush on:  Johnny English Strikes Again

Bandwagon Effect

The Bandwagon Effect occurs when one person adopts a belief based on its popularity with others. This is just like when your friend starts liking the sports team just because they won the championship. You just jump on what everyone else likes instead of having an opinion of your own. This can lead students to not sharing their true opinions in the classroom and be detrimental to their learning experience. This clip from Seinfeld shows everyone in the city following his way of eating candy because they believe its popular instead of the way they prefer to: Seinfeld

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