How Psychology and Cognitive Biases Influence Your Financial Choices

Understanding psychological factors and cognitive biases and how they influence personal financial decisions is important for improving and maintaining financial health.

How Psychology and Cognitive Biases Influence Your Financial Choices

Table of Contents

  1. What Psychological Factors Affect Your Financial Decisions?
  • Emotional Influence (Fear and Greed)
  • Overconfidence
  • Loss Aversion

2. How Cognitive Biases Impact Your Financial Decisions

  • Anchoring Bias
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Herd Behavior
  • Status Quo Bias

3. Strategies to Manage the Effects of Psychological Factors and Cognitive Biases

  • Get Serious About Your Financial Literacy
  • Set Clear Financial Goals
  • Seek Professional Advice
  • Carry Out Regular Portfolio Review and Rebalancing
  • Use Behavioral Regulation Techniques

4. FAQs


You're scrolling through Instagram and see a pair of shoes on sale - 50% off - that you didn't plan to buy. Despite not needing new shoes and the fact that you promised to stick to your budget this month, you feel a strong urge to buy them.

Image Source- Imgflip

What do you do at this point?

Do you:

a. Order the shoes, make the transfer/pay with your card and complete the order?

b. Start the order and give up halfway?

c. Save the post and continue scrolling?

d. Continue scrolling Instagram without saving the post?

Whatever choice you made, your original urge was influenced by psychological factors such as emotions (e.g., excitement over the sale) and cognitive biases like the "scarcity effect" (e.g., believing you might miss out on a good deal if you don't buy now).

Psychology is fascinating for many reasons, and a major one is how it explains the "method to our madness".

In this article, we will discuss various psychological factors, such as emotions, overconfidence, loss aversion, cognitive biases like anchoring, confirmation bias, herd behaviour, and the subtle but impactful ways our minds shape our financial decisions.

We will also discuss strategies to mitigate these biases to make more informed and rational financial choices that may help you achieve sustainable financial well-being.

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

What Psychological Factors Affect Your Financial Decisions?

Psychological factors shape financial decisions, often driving behaviours that deviate from purely rational economic models, such as saving for a rainy day or sticking to a budget.

Emotions like fear, greed and happiness can heavily influence our choices, impacting everything from day-to-day spending habits to long-term investment strategies.

Let's break down the role of psychological factors into three parts:

  • emotional influence
  • overconfidence
  • loss aversion.

1. Emotional Influence

Fear and greed are two powerful emotions that significantly affect financial decision-making. Fear can cause overly cautious behaviour, such as holding on to cash for too long instead of investing or panic selling during market downturns. This behaviour may result in missed opportunities and financial losses.

Conversely, greed can drive risky financial behaviours, like chasing high returns without adequately considering the associated risks. This often manifests in speculative investments or frequent trading, which can lead to substantial financial losses.

2. Overconfidence

Confidence can be misleading. Overconfidence is a psychological factor that can skew financial decisions.

Many individuals, especially smart people, overestimate their knowledge and ability to predict market movements, leading to excessive trading and investment in high-risk assets.

This overconfidence can convince people to underestimate risks and overestimate potential returns, ultimately leading to suboptimal financial outcomes.

This behaviour is driven by the illusion of control and the belief that they can outperform the market despite evidence to the contrary.

Photo by cottonbro studio

3. Loss Aversion

When talking about psychological factors that affect almost every facet of financial decision-making, there is no better example than loss aversion. The pain of a loss is described as twice as intense as the pleasure of a win.

Loss aversion is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. This factor influences irrational financial behaviours, such as holding onto losing investments for too long in the hope of a rebound or avoiding necessary but potentially risky investments.

Loss aversion is closely related to the endowment effect, where people value assets they own more highly than those they do not, leading to a reluctance to sell underperforming investments.

How Cognitive Biases Impact Your Financial Decisions

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement that often significantly influence personal financial decisions. These biases can influence you to make financial choices that are not in your best interest.

Understanding these biases is crucial for making more informed and rational financial decisions.

Here are four of the most common biases that affect financial decision-making:

1. Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive as an "anchor" when making decisions. In financial contexts, this may manifest in various ways, such as setting initial prices for investments or expenditures based on an initial value, which might not be accurate.

For instance, Imagine you're shopping for a new laptop, and you see a high-end model priced at $2000. You then come across a mid-range laptop for $1000. Even though the mid-range laptop may still be more expensive than others of similar quality, you might perceive it as a great deal because it's half the price of the $2000 laptop you saw first.

This is anchoring bias in action, where the initial price you saw (the anchor) influences your perception of the subsequent prices you encounter.

Photo by PNW Production

2. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is when you favour information that confirms your preconceptions or disregard information that contradicts them. This bias can lead to skewed financial decisions, as individuals selectively gather or interpret data to support their beliefs about a financial product or market trend.

Here's an example of how it works:

You're excited to try out a new budgeting app that promises to help you save money effortlessly. You start using it and immediately notice a slight increase in your savings account.

Excited by this progress, you begin to overlook any significant glitches in the app or negative reviews you come across online. You only pay attention to the positive comments from friends who also use the app, reinforcing your belief that it's the best tool out there for managing your finances.

This is a classic example of confirmation bias, where positive experiences and selective focus on favourable information can cloud your judgment.

3. Herd Behavior

The tendency of individuals to mimic the actions of a larger group, often driven by FOMO or the assumption that the group must know something they do not, is commonly referred to as "herd behaviour".

In financial markets, this can lead to herd behaviour that may cause bubbles or crashes, as collective buying or selling drives prices to irrational levels.

It is important to do enough research and form your own opinion about a particular investment, product, coin, token or stock to avoid falling prey to this bias.

4. Status Quo Bias

Status quo bias is an emotional bias. It is the preference for maintaining your current state of affairs and resisting change. This bias can result in inertia in financial decisions, where people stick with their current investments or financial plans, even when better options are available.

For instance, a person might continue to hold a savings account with a low interest rate, ignoring opportunities to invest in higher-yielding financial opportunities. This reluctance to change can slow down and even halt the achievement of your financial goals.

Photo by rupixen on Unsplash

5 Strategies that can help you manage the effects of Psychological Factors and Cognitive Biases on your finances

1. Get Serious About Your Financial Literacy

Education is one of the most powerful tools for mitigating cognitive bias effects. By learning about common biases and understanding how they impact decision-making, you can become more aware of your own thought processes and recognise when you might fall prey to irrational thinking.

For instance, reading books and articles on behavioural finance, attending workshops, or taking online courses can help you anticipate the biases you are likely to encounter in different situations and decisions.

2. Set Clear Financial Goals

Establishing clear, long-term financial goals can help you stay focused and avoid short-term thinking, often driven by these biases. When goals are well-defined, making decisions that align with these objectives becomes easier rather than being swayed by momentary emotions or market noise.

Setting a goal to save for retirement or a child's education encourages disciplined saving and investing. It can help you resist impulsive financial decisions based on market fluctuations or peer pressure.

3. Seek Professional Advice

Seeking advice from financial professionals can provide an objective perspective that counteracts your personal biases. Financial advisors often offer guidance based on a comprehensive understanding of market conditions and economic principles rather than individual emotions or subjective judgments.

Advisors can also help you develop detailed financial plans, set realistic goals, and encourage accountability. Their expertise can be invaluable in navigating complex financial decisions and avoiding common pitfalls influenced by psychological factors.

4. Carry Out Regular Portfolio Review and Rebalancing

Regularly reviewing and rebalancing your investment portfolio ensures that it remains aligned with financial goals and risk tolerance. This practice can counteract the status quo bias, where individuals might otherwise neglect necessary adjustments to their investment strategy.

Periodic reviews will also reveal whether your portfolio has drifted from its target allocation due to market movements.

Rebalancing involves selling overperforming assets and buying underperforming ones, which can help mitigate the effects of emotional decision-making and herd behaviour.

Image source: Pexels

5. Use Behavioral Regulation Techniques

Practising mindfulness and emotional regulation techniques can help to manage the stress and emotions associated with financial decision-making. Practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and cognitive behavioural techniques can reduce anxiety and improve focus, leading to more rational decisions.

Taking a moment to pause and reflect before making a significant financial decision can help you assess whether your choice is driven by reason or by an emotional reaction to recent events.

To Round Up

Understanding psychological factors and cognitive biases and how they influence personal financial decisions is important for improving and maintaining financial health.

Awareness of common biases such as overconfidence, loss aversion, and herd behaviour can help you better understand your decision-making processes.

When this awareness is combined with strategies such as diversification, dollar cost averaging and budgeting, you can maintain a disciplined and practical approach to personal finance.


FAQs

Q: How do emotions like fear and greed influence financial decisions?

A: Fear can lead to overly cautious behaviour, such as holding onto cash instead of investing or panic selling during market downturns, resulting in missed opportunities and financial losses. Greed can drive risky financial behaviours, like chasing high returns without adequately considering the risks, often leading to speculative investments and substantial financial losses.

Q: What is overconfidence in financial decision-making?

A: Overconfidence is a psychological factor where individuals overestimate their knowledge and ability to predict market movements. This can lead to excessive trading, investment in high-risk assets, underestimating risks, and overestimating potential returns, often resulting in suboptimal financial outcomes.

Q: Can you explain loss aversion and its impact on financial decisions?

A: Loss aversion is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. This can lead to irrational financial behaviours, such as holding onto losing investments for too long in hopes of a rebound or avoiding necessary but potentially risky investments. It's closely related to the endowment effect, where people value assets they own more highly than those they do not.

Q: What is anchoring bias, and how does it affect financial decisions?

A: Anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive (the "anchor") when making decisions. In financial contexts, this can manifest in setting initial prices for investments or expenditures based on an initial value, which might not be accurate. For example, seeing a high-priced item first can make subsequent items seem like better deals, even if they are still overpriced.

Q: How does confirmation bias affect financial decision-making?

A: Confirmation bias is the tendency to favour information that confirms your preconceptions while disregarding information that contradicts them. This can lead to skewed financial decisions, as individuals selectively gather or interpret data to support their beliefs about a financial product or market trend, ignoring contrary evidence.

Q: What is herd behaviour in financial markets?

A: Herd behaviour is when individuals mimic the actions of a larger group, often driven by fear of missing out (FOMO) or the assumption that the group knows something they do not. In financial markets, this can lead to bubbles or crashes as collective buying or selling drives prices to irrational levels.

Q: What is status quo bias, and how does it impact financial decisions?

A: Status quo bias is the preference for maintaining the current state of affairs and resisting change. This bias can result in inertia in financial decisions, where people stick with their current investments or financial plans, even when better options are available, such as continuing to hold a low-interest savings account despite better investment opportunities.

Q: What strategies can help manage the effects of psychological factors and cognitive biases on finances?

A: Strategies include:

  • Improving financial literacy through education and resources.
  • Setting clear, long-term financial goals to stay focused.
  • Seeking professional advice for objective perspectives.
  • Regularly reviewing and rebalancing your investment portfolio to maintain alignment with goals.
  • Using behavioural regulation techniques like mindfulness to manage stress and emotions.

Q: Why is it important to improve financial literacy?

A: Improving financial literacy helps you understand common biases and their impacts on decision-making. It makes you more aware of your thought processes and better equipped to recognize and counteract irrational thinking. Resources such as books, articles, workshops, and online courses can help in this regard.

Q: How can setting clear financial goals help mitigate cognitive biases?

A: Clear financial goals provide a long-term focus, helping to avoid short-term thinking driven by biases. Well-defined goals make it easier to make decisions that align with these objectives rather than being swayed by momentary emotions or market noise.

Q: What role does seeking professional advice play in financial decision-making?

A: Professional advice offers an objective perspective, countering personal biases. Financial advisors provide guidance based on a comprehensive understanding of market conditions and economic principles, helping to develop detailed financial plans, set realistic goals, and encourage accountability.

Q: Why is regular portfolio review and rebalancing important?

A: Regular reviews and rebalancing ensure your investment portfolio remains aligned with your financial goals and risk tolerance. This practice counters the status quo bias and helps mitigate emotional decision-making and herd behaviour by adjusting investments based on market movements and goals.

Q: How can behavioural regulation techniques aid in financial decision-making?

A: Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and cognitive behavioural methods help manage stress and emotions associated with financial decisions. Pausing and reflecting before making significant financial choices can lead to more rational decisions by reducing anxiety and improving focus.


Disclaimer: This article was written by the writer to provide financial guidance and understanding. It is not an exhaustive article and should not be taken as financial advice. Obiex will not be held liable for your investment decisions.