How aware are you of your cognitive biases and how they can impact your reception and delivery of communication? In a paper to be delivered at ProComm2020, Quan Zhou categorizes and outlines over twenty cognitive biases that can play into the communication act. 

The Cognitive Bias Codex, John Manoogian and Brian Morrissette

In the category of biases that draw from prior experience, Zhou describes how we might play towards confirmation biases – our tendency to respond positively to information that agrees with what we already believe – by conforming to accepted conventions or standards for effective communication in a discipline. Similarly, the opposing Negativity and Rosy Retrospection effects – the tendency to view a past even more negatively or positively – can shape how readers respond to current situations. We can take advantage of these effects by organizing information that either appeals to a positive or breaks from a negative past. 

In the category of biases that are shaped by our response to stimuli, Zhou describes, among others, the role that anchoring – a phenomenon in which our response to information is shaped by the first piece of information we encounter – can play in how we order alternatives, say, for a design. If for example, our first alternative has a high cost, for example, each subsequent option looks better on that metric than had they come first.   Similarly, the recency bias – the tendency to remember the most recent events or information better – suggests that, for example, we might organize a list of alternatives such that our choice falls last on that list. 

These are just two of the four categories Zhou describes – the others being biases that shape how we make decisions and how we absorb social contexts – but they already demonstrate how knowing about these biases should shape how we communicate. As the last two demonstrate, these baises can also powerfully interact with one another. 

Zhou calls for an awareness of these biases and how they impact your audience’s reception of your ideas, but warns against a “mouse-hunt of which biases are at play.” Listen to the paper on July 20th, 2020 at our virtual ProComm2020 for more on these cognitive biases and how use them appropriately, ethically and responsibly in your communication acts.   


Quan Zhou is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Technical Communication & Interaction Design at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, U.S.A. He founded and directs the Graduate Certificate in Design of User Experience. Quan’s research examines design thinking in communication design and user experience. He has published in such journals as Technical Communication and Communication Design Quarterly and a plethora of international conferences in technical communication.  Quan is regularly invited to speak at field events in China.