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Top 10 Cognitive Biases to Avoid in Dating

Gleb Tsipursky
Top 10 Cognitive Biases to Avoid in Dating
Dating is exciting and full of new opportunities for happiness, but it can also be filled with challenges and misunderstandings. One of the biggest obstacles to finding a healthy and fulfilling relationship is the influence of cognitive biases. These are unconscious mental shortcuts that can lead us to make judgments and decisions based on how we perceive a situation to be, instead of reality.

Understanding the top cognitive biases that may affect dating can help us navigate the dating landscape more effectively and avoid common pitfalls.

In this article, we explore the top 10 cognitive biases to avoid when dating and offer a few strategies to overcome them. By becoming more aware of these biases, you can make better decisions, communicate more effectively, and increase your chances of finding a happy and lasting relationship.


Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is one of the most common cognitive mindsets that can affect dating. It refers to the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms your preexisting beliefs or theories. In the context of dating, this means you’re more likely to seek out and notice information that supports your view of a potential partner while ignoring or downplaying information that contradicts it.

You may only focus on the positive traits of a potential partner and ignore any red flags or warning signs. You could also interpret vague behavior as proof of interest or compatibility, even if that’s not what it really is. This can lead to a lack of objectivity and an inability to see a potential partner's true character.

To handle confirmation bias, it’s good to actively seek out and consider evidence that challenges your beliefs about a potential partner. Ask yourself questions such as: "What would I think if this person didn't share my beliefs or values?" or "What evidence do I have that this person is right for me?" Additionally, get feedback and opinions from friends and family for an outside perspective that helps to challenge your confirmation bias. By keeping an open mind and considering evidence that goes against our preconceptions, we can make more informed decisions. This increases our chances of finding a healthy and fulfilling relationship.

Halo Effect

The halo effect is when people make judgments about a person based on one positive characteristic. They assume that this characteristic reflects positively on other aspects of that person's personality or behavior. For instance, you may think that someone who is physically attractive is also kind, intelligent, and trustworthy.

It’s easy to imagine being more likely to agree to a date or continue a relationship because you find someone physically attractive, even if you haven’t gotten to know them well or noticed red flags in their behavior. You may also overlook negative traits or behavior because you’re attracted to that person. This can lead to a lack of objectivity and problems seeing a potential partner's true character.

That’s why it's important to focus on getting to know a potential partner as a whole person, rather than just one characteristic or trait. Ask open-ended questions, pay attention to non-verbal cues, and spend time together in different settings. Additionally, seek feedback and opinions from friends and family to get a more balanced perspective.

Getting to know each other - first date

Physical attraction is not the only thing that matters in a relationship; be open to the possibility that someone may not be as good a match as you initially thought. People are complex and one characteristic does not define who they are. By focusing on getting to know a potential partner as a whole person, you can make more informed relationship decisions.

Anchoring Bias

The anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they get, known as the "anchor". They then use that as a reference point for subsequent judgments. When dating, you often use an initial impression or piece of information about a potential partner as the basis for all of your subsequent judgments. This happens even when that information isn’t a true representation of that person.

After finding out that a potential partner has a high-paying job or a college degree, you may assume that they’re also intelligent, successful, and desirable. You may use this information as a reference point for all your future judgments. This can lead to a lack of objectivity and an inability to see their true character.

To handle this bias, be aware of the initial information you receive about a potential partner. Challenge your assumptions by seeking out additional information. To do it, be observant of non-verbal signals and spend time in diverse environments.

People are complicated; one piece of information doesn’t define who they are. Moreover, they’re constantly changing. The data you gather about them today might not be accurate tomorrow. 

Self-Serving Bias

You’re said to have a self-serving bias when you assign your successes to internal factors, such as you own abilities or efforts. Also, you attribute your failures to external factors, like luck or other people's actions. You’ve probably come across someone who says they had great relationships because of how great they are, or bad ones they blame on their ex-partner.

The self-serving bias leads to a lack of insight and an inability to see your own role in the dynamics of a relationship. It can block growth and improvement over time. 

That's why it’s important to be aware of your own thoughts and actions and take responsibility for your role in the dynamics of a relationship. You want to make sure to get the perspectives of trusted others about yourself and learn from past relationships. Take the time to reflect on what went well and what didn't, so you improve and grow as a romantic partner going forward.

Pensive self-reflection

Illusory Superiority

Related to the self-serving bias, illusory superiority describes our preference to overestimate our own abilities and attributes while underestimating those of others. When dating, illusory superiority leads us to have an inflated view of ourselves and our own attractiveness while underestimating the attractiveness of others.

Many people believe that they are more attractive or interesting than they actually are. This makes them assume―incorrectly―that others will be attracted to them. They may grow frustrated when their exaggerated expectations aren’t met and blame potential partners instead of looking deeply within themselves. Illusory superiority helps explain the incel community, made up overwhelmingly of young heterosexual men who blame women and society for their lack of romantic success. 

To avoid illusory superiority in dating, note whether you have a tendency to inflate how appealing you are in romantic relationships. Instead, try to be realistic and self-aware. 

Comparing your own attributes to those of others, ask for feedback and practice humility. Recognize that attraction and compatibility are not based on a single trait or attribute, but a combination of factors; potential romantic partners weigh various characteristics differently. Your goal should be to play to your strengths while trying to make up for your weaknesses. 

The Negativity Bias

The negativity bias is about our brain’s focus on bad traits. We give more weight and attention to negative information than positive. That’s why it’s easy to focus on small flaws or mistakes a potential partner makes, instead of their positive traits and qualities; on arguments or disagreements, rather than the happy moments and feelings. This can lead to a distorted view of the relationship, which makes it harder to see its full potential. 

Do you have a tendency to focus on negative information? Practice gratitude and make a habit of highlighting the positive aspects of your relationship or potential partner. Try to seek out affirmative experiences together and make sure to celebrate them effectively. 

Relationships are not perfect. Recognize that conflicts and disagreements are normal; the key is how you handle them.

Couple hiking together

Availability Heuristic

The availability heuristic happens when you estimate an event's likelihood based on how easily examples come to mind. If you had a bad experience with a past partner, it may be easy to think you’ll be hurt again in a future relationship. This can lead to fear of commitment or avoiding dating altogether. 

On the other hand, someone who has heard a lot of positive stories about online dating may overestimate how likely they are to find a perfect match quickly. This can lead to disappointment or unrealistic expectations.

Addressing the availability heuristic in dating requires you to be aware of your past experiences and how they might influence your perceptions of the future. Examine what’s happened to you and seek out different perspectives. Remember that every relationship is different and past experiences don't necessarily predict future outcomes.

Take stories you hear from others with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that people tend to remember and share more extreme or unusual events, especially negative ones, given our brain’s natural negativity bias.

False Consensus Effect

The false consensus effect describes how you overestimate the degree to which others share your beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. You may assume that others share your views on what constitutes a desirable partner, or that they’ll respond similarly to certain situations.

If you’re a sapiosexual, meaning you find intelligence particularly attractive, you may assume that others also prioritize intelligence over other traits, such as a sense of humor or physical appearance. This can lead to disappointment or frustration when a potential partner doesn't align with your expectations. 

Be aware of your own beliefs and attitudes, and remember that others may have different perspectives on what makes someone romantically appealing. Take the time to learn about others rather than making assumptions and being frustrated when they don’t work out. Be accepting of other people’s preferences and know that there's no one "right" way to be in a relationship.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

The final cognitive bias to avoid is the sunk cost fallacy. There’s a reason we saved it for last since it’s about ending a relationship. This bias is about people continuing to invest in a situation or decision because they’ve already invested a significant amount of time, effort, or resources. You’ve probably seen many people who stay in a relationship despite evidence that its not working. This can be due to the investment of time, emotional energy, and more that they have already put into the relationship.

You might see someone who keeps pursuing a potential partner despite the fact that the person isn’t interested. This is because of how much they perceive that they’ve invested. On the extreme, this might turn into stalking behavior. Alternatively, they might systematically pursue the same type of people who are not a good fit for them without recognizing this harmful pattern.

Protect yourself by being aware of your own investments in a relationship or potential partner, and evaluating the situation objectively. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and the dynamics of the relationship. 

Remember that the time, effort, and resources invested in a relationship should not determine whether or not to continue it. Recognize that relationships are a two-way street and it's important to be in a relationship with someone who reciprocates your feelings and effort. 

Conclusion

Cognitive biases can play a significant role in shaping our perceptions and decisions. By understanding and being aware of these biases, we can make more informed and accurate judgments about potential partners and relationships. Dating is complex and sometimes, hard to understand. That’s okay, because even challenges can be overcome with a little work on your own cognitive biases.

Gleb Tsipursky
Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is a writer for Top10 and a scholar of behavioral economics and neuroscience. Called the 'Office Whisperer' by The New York Times, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps leaders improve retention and productivity as the CEO of the consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He's also the best-selling author of several books, and was featured in over 750 titles in CBS News, Time, Scientific American, Psychology Today, Inc. Magazine, and CNBC.