Anchor bias: what is it, characteristics, examples and how to avoid it

  • Jul 26, 2021
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Anchor bias: what is it, characteristics, examples and how to avoid it

If they ask you, do you think there are more than a million people in Madrid? You would probably answer yes and give a million dollars. If instead of asking if there are more than a million people in Madrid, they asked you if there are less than 10 million, you would probably say yes, but you would suppose a higher figure than the first. The reason for this is that you tend to anchor yourself to an initially supplied or stable reference point and then adapt your response to that reference point. In this Psychology-Online article, we will discover together what is anchor bias, its characteristics, some examples and how to avoid it.

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  1. What is anchor bias
  2. Types and characteristics of anchor bias
  3. Examples of anchor bias
  4. How to avoid anchor bias

What is anchor bias.

The anchor bias, also know as anchor heuristic, has been discovered by cognitive psychologists and belongs to a number of cognitive distortions

to which human beings are subject when making decisions. It was first comprehensively described by American psychologists Daniel kahneman Y Amos Tversky in the 1960s, based on the fact that people are unconsciously influenced by environmental factors when making decisions, even if they have nothing to do with their own decision.

Anchoring is, in fact, a psychological heuristic method that describes the propensity to make decisions based on the first information found. According to this method, individuals start with an implicit reference point (the anchor) and make adjustments to arrive at their own assessment. For example, the first price offered for a second-hand car sets the standard for all other negotiation, in the sense that a lower price seems reasonable even if it is higher than the value of the car. Or a characteristic that is considered so dominant in a larger whole that it informs all of its parts: for example, a person is not considered for their integrity, but as a woman, man, black, white, criminal, policeman, before anything else that can be thought of this.

In this article we explain what are cognitive biases.

Types and characteristics of anchoring bias.

The anchoring effect derives from a heuristic judgment, an orientation mechanism that our brain uses in decision situations. This bias is therefore a cognitive distortion resulting from the heuristic, and two types of anchors can be distinguished:

  1. The unconscious anchor, is characterized by the so-called "priming": people extract information from their environment and use it as a reference for a decision. The information acts as an unconscious suggestion that influences the next action. Kahneman and Tversky have carried out an experiment in this regard: the participants had to first turn the wheel of fortune and then estimate the number of African states. The result: the greater the number obtained by turning the wheel of fortune, the more African states were presumed.
  2. Conscious anchoring. The anchoring effect can also be deliberately imposed for the purposes of an accommodation heuristic, for example to stimulate a decision when people have little information available. In this case, they use the little information available as an anchor point, although not as relevant for decision-making. If a customer is asked how much she would spend on a drink that contains caffeine with substances that enhance the system immune system, it will use the price of ordinary coffee as an anchor, because it is not able to estimate the value of the product a stranger.

Examples of anchor bias.

As has been shown in research by Scott Plous (1989), the anchoring and adaptation heuristics can influence social judgments. A first group of participants were asked if they thought that the risk of a nuclear war soon was greater than 1% (a 1% anchor); a second group was asked if they thought this risk was less than 90% (90% anchorage). All participants were invited to estimate the probability of a nuclear war soon. Those who had been invited to reflect on a risk greater than 1% estimated the probable risk in 10%, while those that had been anchored at 90% provided estimates around the 25%.

How to avoid anchoring bias.

When one has to make uncertain judgments, ambiguity is generally reduced by anchoring in a stable benchmark, progressive adjustments are made, and finally the final decision is made. Indeed, when formulating a social judgment, when an initial value is given, a reference point stable, it seems that we selectively recall information that is consistent and confirms the anchorage.

Numerous studies have shown that it is very difficult to avoid the anchoring effect, and this applies even when the anchors provided are obviously incorrect. Therefore, it seems that it is very difficult to get rid of this negative effect, which nevertheless manifests itself mainly when we are under pressure to make a quick decision, or if we have a tendency to make decisions precipitous. To try to avoid it, however, it may be helpful to:

  • Reflect on your own past history, calling to mind moments when too hasty decisions have been made.
  • Slow down, if possible, your current decision-making process, and take more time. If someone is trying insistently to hurry us, it is a wake-up call: they could act against our interests, taking advantage of the anchoring effect.
  • Find another, totally different from the firstEven made up, if it's any use. If we get the second to influence us as well, we can at least weaken the effect of the first a little.

Learn about other cognitive biases such as negativity bias, representativeness bias or confirmation bias.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to Anchor bias: what is it, characteristics, examples and how to avoid it, we recommend that you enter our category of Cognitive psychology.


  • Crest, O. (2015). Gli errori cognitivi - L’effetto ancoraggio. Recovered from:
  • IONOS (2020). Effetto ancoraggio: come sfruttare a cognitive distortion a vostro vantaggio nel marketing. Recovered from:
  • Myers, G. D. (2009). Social psychology. Milan: McGraw-Hill.

Anchor bias: what is it, characteristics, examples and how to avoid it

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