Representativeness bias: when an isolated example becomes a generality

After months of hard work, you are finally ready to present your case to your client. You receive your client's invitation with the link to the videoconference - horror, he doesn't use the visio tools you're used to, but complicated and unstable software. You recognize it well: you discovered this tool during a presentation that was punctuated by technical bugs, and ended with a dissatisfied client and a lost contract. Cruelty of fate: so much work, and a fiasco on the horizon.


What's going on in your head: the representativeness bias

When you received this invitation, your brain searched for information that would allow it to make a judgment about your ability to handle this new situation(Will I be able to make this presentation when the time comes? ). However, theavailability heuristic makes you base your judgment on the information most immediately available in your memory: here, you have been marked by the name of this tool, which reminded you of this failed presentation. This information marked you because it is very close to your future situation: an important presentation, to a customer, in visio, with the same tool.

The soil was ideal for germinating the bias of representativeness, which pushes you to make particular cases or examples, a generality. Rather than considering this isolated event as such, you adopted it as a reference to judge your situation. This ability to link past and future situations is what allows you to capitalize on your experiences: unfortunately, your brain has sinned by overzealousness.

That's all it took to reduce your Sense of Personal Effectiveness (SEP): that is, the extent to which you feel "capable of". Conceptualised by Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford, MS is impacted by personal experiences, among other things. With personal experience distorted through representativeness (the only meeting you have attended with this tool has failed), your MS is too weak, not even allowing you to imagine taking action. In other words, you have already decided that the meeting would be a failure before you have even thought about what you should do to make it a success.

The representativeness bias pushes you to make judgments with no probabilistic justification, and to make an ocean out of a drop. Put logic back on your side by streamlining the brakes that demotivate you - which will allow you to better circumvent them.


Nudges to the Rescue: Mental Contrast

It's a princess coming to your rescue! But Gabriele Oettingen is mainly a psychologist, and invented mental contrast. Mental contrast works in 2 simple steps: 1) Identifying obstacles to taking action to make them conscious; 2) Planning to overcome these difficulties in a real situation.


Rather than taking it for granted that your presentation will go wrong, list all the reasons why it might fail

Why? By anticipating your difficulties, you make them real: from irrational fears, they become concrete obstacles, which you can prepare to resolve. Of course, the exercise allows you to anticipate and prepare yourself. And moreover, by imagining yourself overcoming an obstacle, you increase your Feeling of Personal Effectiveness!

How? Concentrate on the elements that you control (e.g. maintaining attention with a clear visual support) or that you can at least bypass (e.g. preparing an e-mail with the support, in case you can't share your screen).


Once all your difficulties have been written down, and therefore externalized, you will already feel clearer: you will be in better conditions to prepare, point by point, the way you will get around each of these obstacles.