We also tend to be overly influenced by the first piece of information that we hear, a phenomenon referred to as the anchoring bias or anchoring effect.

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For example, the first number voiced during a price negotiation typically becomes the anchoring point from which all further negotiations are based. Researchers have even found that having participants choose a completely random number can influence what people guess when asked unrelated questions, such as how many countries there are in Africa.

This tricky little cognitive bias doesn’t just influence things like salary or price negotiations.

Doctors, for example, can become susceptible to the anchoring bias when diagnosing patients. The physician’s first impressions of the patient often create an anchoring point that can sometimes incorrectly influence all subsequent diagnostic assessments. If you ever see a new doctor and she asks you to tell her your whole story even though everything should be in your records, this is why. It is often the physician, or analogously anyone trying to get to the bottom of a problem, who discovers a vital piece of information that was overlooked as a result of the anchoring bias.

It Influences Much More than Money

The anchoring effect has an impact on many areas of our daily lives beyond financial and purchasing decisions. For example:

  • How old should your kids be before you allow them to date? Your kid argues that his or her peers are dating at 14, but you were raised to believe that 16 is the minimum dating age. The anchoring effect leads you to believe that 16 is the earliest age a kid should be allowed to date.
  • How long do you expect to live? If your parents were both very long-lived, you might automatically expect that you will also live a long life. Because of this anchoring point, you might ignore the fact that your parents lived a healthier, more active lifestyle that probably contributed to their longevity while you eat poorly and are mainly sedentary.
  • How much television should your children watch each day? If you watched a great deal of TV as a kid, it might seem more acceptable for your kids to be glued to the television for hours each day.
  • What illness is responsible for a patient’s chronic pain? The anchoring effect can influence a physician’s ability to accurately diagnose an illness since their first impressions of a patient’s symptoms can create an anchor point that impacts all subsequent assessments.

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