Beware Your Starting Point—Anchoring Bias {Bias Day 25}

Beware your starting point - Anchoring Bias

What is anchoring bias?

Anchoring bias (or anchoring effect) is when we anchor our decisions too heavily on the first piece of information we receive.

It’s our tendency to use this initial information as our main point of reference, even if it’s inaccurate or irrelevant. It can cause us to jump to a bad conclusion and be blinded to other possibilities.

What’s an example of anchoring bias?

You’re shopping for a sweatshirt. The first one you see costs $700. The second one you see costs $70. It seems like a bargain in comparison, so you buy it, even though it also was over your budget.

Here’s an example given by Daniel Kahneman in his excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

“Supermarket shoppers encountered a sales promotion for Campbell’s soup at 10% off the regular price. On some days, a sign on the shelf said LIMIT OF 12 PER PERSON. On other days, the sign said NO LIMIT PER PERSON.

Shoppers purchased an average of 7 cans when the limit was in force, twice as many as they bought when the limit was removed.”

Another example: if you weren’t allowed to date until you were 16 years old, 16 becomes the anchor age you rely on for allowing your own children to date.


Why are we susceptible to anchoring?

It’s not clear why we’re prone to anchor. Experts disagree why, but all agree that we are. And strongly. This bias is among the strongest of our mental biases.

Different factors may affect our persistent use with the anchoring bias.

  • Some studies say we’re more prone to anchoring when we’re sad; other studies suggest the opposite.
  • Some say that experts are more resistant to anchoring, yet even experts are susceptible to anchoring.
  • Conscientious people are more prone to it; extroverts are less likely to be affected.

Is anchoring bad?

Anchoring isn’t always bad. It can be helpful to have a starting point as an anchor, if it’s a good one.

But overall, anchoring bias clouds our decision making. And because it’s such a pervasive bias, it often connects with other biases.

For example, the planning fallacy. Once we become fixed on our anchor plan (say, a 3-month schedule to remodel a kitchen), we are slow to budge from it, even when new information becomes available to suggest it’s no longer reasonable.

Anchoring can work against us in multiple ways. (And can also be used as a tool for manipulation.)

  • We’re more likely to buy a $20,000 car if we’re first shown a $70,000 car instead of a $2,000 car.
  • Doctors can misdiagnose patients based on an initial impression of their symptoms.
  • Price tags “marked down” from a ridiculously high number to a lower number are more tempting.
  • The first number suggested in a salary negotiation influences all further negotiations.

How can we counter anchoring bias?

It’s unlikely to totally counter this one. It generally stays hidden in our subconscious. But here are some strategies we can use in our attempts to interrupt anchoring bias.

  • Slow down your decision. Seek more information. Play with reasons to counter the anchor number. 
  • Be aware of the bias. Don’t assume that the anchor number is the number you have to begin negotiations with. Think the opposite.
  • Drop your own anchor first. If you’re negotiating a house purchase, decide what your budget allows and work from that number, before you begin looking at houses.

What would Jesus think about anchoring?

Jesus is the one anchor we can rest securely on. He is the standard. All else revolves around him.

Humility, kindness, goodness—anything related to love—can start and end with Jesus, the solid anchor for our soul.

The anchor itself is an ancient symbol of hope. Our hope, our anchor, is based on God’s faithfulness and goodness. We can rely on him to keep us steady, regardless of the waves that come against us.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Hebrews 6:19

How have you seen this bias in your own life or relationships? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day 25 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Normalcy Bias {Bias Day 24}
“Think It’ll Never Happen? Is Your Head in the Sand?”

Next: Biases in a Pandemic {Bias Day 26}
“Living (and Dying) with Our Biases During a Pandemic”

5 thoughts on “Beware Your Starting Point—Anchoring Bias {Bias Day 25}

  1. Anita Ojeda

    I’ve fallen prey to the mark-down part of this bias multiple times. After all, who doesn’t love a good bargain? Next time, I’ll make sure 1) I need it, 2) it’s actually a good value for the money!

  2. Paula Short

    Oh my gosh Lisa, did you ever pin point me, I wasn’t aloud to date until I was 16 and had the anchor set for 16 as the age my girls could start dating. I had no idea about anchoring Bias. Thank you for sharing this information, I am going to have to intentionally be mindful of this. Blessings.

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