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Anchoring effect: the characteristics of this cognitive bias

Anchoring effect: the characteristics of this cognitive bias

November 27, 2021

To what extent are we fully free, impartial and are we safe from any influence at the moment of making a decision? Although we are not aware, there are many factors that exert a great influence on us in the decision-making process.

An example of this is the anchoring effect , according to which, something as simple as the way or the order in which certain information is presented to us can determine the way in which we will interpret the rest and, consequently, our later decisions.

  • Related article: "Cognitive biases: discovering an interesting psychological effect"

What is the anchoring effect?

The anchoring effect, also known as the "focalism effect", is a psychological phenomenon categorized within the group of cognitive biases . This effect describes the tendency of people to stay more with the first information that is offered to them, which influences later decision-making.


That is, when a person is facing a source of information, whatever the nature, the data presented at the beginning are "anchored" in the memory of the person much more strongly than later.

Therefore, during a decision-making process, the anchoring effect occurs whenever people unconsciously use the information perceived at the beginning at the time of forming a opinion, to make a judgment or to make a decision. At the moment in which the anchor is formed, the rest of opinions are formed around this information, hence a cognitive bias.

This tendency to determine information as a starting point, as a result of which we will develop our opinions and decisions, is observed in practically all areas of our life, so that just as it can play against us we can use it for our benefit.


An example is found when discussing or haggling the price of a home, a car or any object for which we must pay or receive a value. The amount that is established initially It will be our point of reference when comparing or make proposals. Knowing this, if the initial price is very high it is very likely that, even if we lower the price, the final cost established will continue to be higher than what we were probably willing to pay, but lower compared to the previous one.

  • You may be interested: "What is the Halo Effect?"

What is the explanation for this effect?

Although there are many theories that try to explain this phenomenon, there is no consensus about which of them offers a more precise clarification. Most researchers and theoreticians report that the anchoring effect is a phenomenon of easy demonstration, but difficult to describe. However, there are three different explanations that can give us a clue about the causes of this effect.


1. Anchoring and adjustment

According to this explanation, once anchoring occurs, people tend to move away to make their final decision. Despite this, they do so ineffectively, so your final decision is closer to the anchored information what they would be if they had not resisted.

This hypothesis has been widely criticized since for this, the anchoring effect should be given in a conscious way; when actually the person is not aware of it .

2. Selective accessibility

An alternative explanation is one that derives from what is known as the "confirmatory hypothesis test". According to the theory of selective accessibility when presenting an information with which to perform the anchoring, the person makes an evaluation in which he thinks if it is an adequate response, and if it is not, he will make a series of subsequent judgments, but all of them they will always be related to the information used as "anchor".

3. Change of attitude

The last of the explanations that have been contributed by cognitive science, is one that explains the anchoring with respect to attitude change. According to this theory, when an "anchor" information is granted, a change or alteration of the person's attitude is carried out in order to make it more favorable to the specific characteristics of this information, which predisposes future responses to be similar to the anchor .

What factors influence?

There are a number of factors or conditions that can modulate, in a certain way, the form and intensity with which the anchoring process occurs. These include mood, experience, personality and cognitive abilities .

1. Mood

Some investigations have revealed that our state of mind influences the possibility of letting ourselves be carried away or not by the anchoring effect. Specifically, People with sad or depressed mood tend to perform more comprehensive assessments and precise information, so it is less possible to give an anchoring effect.

However, other studies reveal very different dynamics according to which depressed people tend to be more passive in their decision making, so they can be influenced more easily.

2. Experience

Other studies point to the idea that people with high knowledge and experience in the specific field referred to by "anchor" information are much less susceptible to the effects of this phenomenon. However, the theorists themselves say that nor the experts are completely free to suffer this effect .

3. Personality

According to some studies in which the degree of susceptibility to the anchoring effect was correlated with some of the features of the Big Five, people with a high degree of kindness and conscience are more likely to be affected by the anchoring, while those with High extroversion are much less likely.

4. Cognitive skills

Although the impact of cognitive ability on the anchoring effect is controversial, recent studies revealed that this phenomenon decreases with people who possess more cognitive skills ; but that in any case they were not even free of him.


CRITICAL THINKING - Cognitive Biases: Peak-End Effect [HD] (November 2021).


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