The barrier of cognitive biases in UX: False consensus effect and confirmatory bias.


Any work with people is complex. And UX research is no different. 

Laura Martin

User Research & UX/UI Design

The barrier of cognitive biases in UX: False consensus effect and confirmatory bias.

Any work with people is complex. And UX research is no different. 

One of the problems we encounter when dealing with user research is the recurrent occurrence of cognitive biases that can hinder the research process. 

People make assumptions about the desires, frustrations and expectations of those around us. It is inherent in our nature and something we do on a recurring basis.

We spend much of our time assuming as absolute truth beliefs that are flawed by our cognitive biases. Failure to check, regularly, and throughout any process in which we work with (and for) people, can lead us in the wrong direction.

False consensus effect

One such limiting bias is the one that makes us assume that our own habits, values and beliefs are those of the majority of people. 

We believe that others think and behave as we do in a given context. And that only those who are very different would do otherwise.

This is the so-called false consensus, which, in the words of Professor Ricardo Zúñiga Contreras, PhD in Social Psychology, is that "egocentric tendency to believe that our behaviour and thoughts are representative of society or of a group to which we belong and which we believe we represent. And that leads us to explain the behaviour of others based on our own evaluations and interests".

In the field of UX we often forget that we are designing for people, who do not have our experience, motivations or fears.

In the first phase of UX Design Thinking we set out a hypothesis or problem. But it is something that we will have to keep revising constantly to avoid projecting our behaviours and reactions on the users for whom we are designing. 

They (our users) have a different mindset from us, different goals, different backgrounds and different experiences with user interfaces. 

It seems logical that the UX/UI motto keeps reminding us, from time to time, that "We are not our user".

Confirmatory trends

Another bias we need to be aware of is that tendency we have as people to gather information to ratify our own beliefs. 

We tend to pay more attention and give more importance to information that suits us and reinforces our ideas. On the other hand, this causes us to downplay the importance of information that disproves our beliefs or supports other alternatives. And goodbye to critical analysis. 

It is a thousand times easier at a cognitive level to accept little data that is compatible with our ideas than to assume that we are wrong.

To avoid this tendency or confirmation bias in the field of UX research, Torresburriel Estudio raises the following points: 

  • Obtain data early in the project, ensuring that our designs are data-driven from the outset.
  • Investigate, not validate. 
  • Ask unbiased questions (not at all seeking confirmation of what we want to hear and not interfering in shaping the answer).
  • Obtain information through different methods, so that the data will be more accurate. It is about seeking other points of view to enrich our analysis.

...Ego is a bad UX partner (in all senses).

Laura Martín Novellas

Social Psychology, 2021, UEMC, Ricardo Zúñiga Contreras