Meet Your Cognitive Bias

Earlier this summer, I was walking to my mailbox when I spotted a snake on my sidewalk. It was a tiny ribbon snake, completely harmless, yet I was barefoot and I immediately jumped back. My heart was racing, my breathing rate increased, my palms got sweaty. And then, I noticed the snake wasn’t moving. It wasn’t moving because it was a string my kids had left in the yard. I had been certain though, not only that I had crossed paths with a snake, but also that it was a specific species of snake I’d seen in my yard before.

All of this happened in lightning fast time due to my cognitive biases. We all have cognitive biases. They are a helpful tool that make it easier for us to make quick decisions when we don’t have time to think through every possibility. Unfortunately, cognitive biases aren’t limited to distinguishing the difference between a string, a stick, or a snake. These biases also come into play when we are researching a topic, or weighing the pros and cons of a decision. Anytime we interpret information from the world around us, we are using our cognitive biases to simplify the process. When evaluating information, the “Hey, that makes sense” thought is an important first step, but also a sign that cognitive bias has come into play.

None of us are immune to this process, though many of us suffer from “blind spot bias”, which means we can easily spot cognitive bias in others while believing we are less biased than average. Moving past blind spot bias is the first step toward being less influenced by your biases. Once you learn more about biases and recognize the ones you’re most susceptible to, they will have less effect on your decision making. Following are five common biases that may affect the work of birth and lactation professionals:

Confirmation Bias

Humans tend to pay more attention to the information that agrees with their pre-conceived opinion. Especially with current internet algorithms, we may find ourselves in a “bubble” where everything we find agrees with us. You can work around this bias by purposely seeking out information with an opposing opinion.

Survivorship Bias

In birth and lactation work, it’s common for us to hear, “when I was a kid we xyz, and I turned out just fine.” It can be difficult to remember that those who did not turn out fine aren’t here to share their experiences.

Availability Bias

This bias is often combined with the “neglect of probability” bias. We tend to put more weight on the outcome/situation we have seen more often, regardless of the actual probability of that event.  Or, we may overestimate the incidence of an unlikely event because we have had an emotionally charged encounter with that rare event.

Outcome Bias

Also related to “neglect of probability” is the outcome bias.  This is when we judge a decision based on its eventual outcome, even if that outcome was based on chance or statistically unlikely. Staying within our scope of practice helps us avoid making questionable or potentially harmful decisions due to an outcome bias.

Curse of Knowledge

Our knowledge can sometimes be a detriment when we are talking to new parents or students that have less background than we do.  The Curse of Knowledge bias prevents us from understanding what it is like to learn information without any background knowledge in the topic.  Class and client evaluations will help you be sure your education methods are effective for new learners.

Kimberly Hill


Kimberly Hill, BS, IBCLC, CLE® currently is the owner of Mom’s Milk B/CS, a private lactation practice in Central Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in 2002 and became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in 2007. She has extensive clinical experience from helping well over 1,000 families with situations ranging from basic latch difficulties to assisting in the diagnosis and treatment of an extremely rare genetic disorder. Kimberly has a passion for bringing affordable, quality lactation support to all families and enjoys teaching in the Lactation Educator program where she knows that each student may, in turn, touch the lives of hundreds of families. Kimberly has been married since 2003 and has three wonderful daughters.

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1 thought on “Meet Your Cognitive Bias”

  1. I love this! It is also helpful to remember that the medical folks we interact with have these biases as well…all the testing that is done on low risk pregnant women is a testament to those biases! Great article!

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