In a previous life, I facilitated training sessions on managing obstetric emergencies; clinical skills, teamwork, leadership, decision-making and so on. One of the features of effective decision-making is the awareness of cognitive biases and so we discussed the problems that may arise from unhealthy hierarchies, tunnel vision and closed minds. The terminology has moved on in the intervening years (the above chart is borrowed from the Journal of the American Medical Association network) but it struck me recently (thanks to a WhatsApp discussion with a writing buddy) how applicable these biases are to writers as we self-edit our work.
For example, I know I am guilty of the following biases:
- Anchoring Fixing on a certain action for a character without considering if this action really fits with their backstory and motivation;
- Availability bias Being influenced by whatever war diary or novel I happen to be reading at the time;
- Confirmation bias Failure to consider alternative actions because they don’t fit with my worldview or preferences;
- Sutton’s Slip Failure to think outside the literary box and look for alternatives;
- and a sort of reverse form of Zebra’s retreat; making my characters do something weird and unlikely for shock value – and just because I can.