Assumptions are fundamental beliefs that we accept as true without proof or empirical evidence for their claims.
Often, our assumptions are subconscious. We don’t realize that many of our claims and beliefs have a range of underpinning assumptions that have not been sufficiently scrutinized.
So, critical thinking is necessary to analyze and challenge our own assumptions as well as those presented by others. By turning the spotlight on the assumptions underpinning belief systems, we can adjust, refine, improve, or even outright reject assumptions that are established on faulty logic.
1. Cultural Ignorance
Example: “Everyone Celebrates Christmas”
Cultural Ignorance is an assumption that mistakenly universalizes one’s own cultural norms.
For instance, the belief “Everyone Celebrates Christmas” simplifies the rich tapestry of global cultural practices down to the singular tradition familiar to the person holding this assumption. This kind of assumption can lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication, and it highlights the importance of cultural awareness and sensitivity.
2. False Consensus Bias
Example: “Other People Think Like Me”
False Consensus Bias refers to a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate the extent to which their beliefs, values, characteristics, and behaviors are shared by others.
In the instance of the assumption “Other People Think Like Me”, individuals believe that their personal viewpoints are the norm. This error in judgment can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding of others’ experiences.
See More: False Consensus Effect Examples
3. Fundamental Attribution Error
Example: “That Person’s just Incompetent”
The Fundamental Attribution Error is a cognitive bias where we overemphasize personal characteristics and ignore situational influences when judging others’ behavior.
For example, concluding “That Person’s Incompetent” after observing a single mistake overlooks the potential role of situational factors, such as stress or lack of resources. It’s common when judging car accidents, where we assume someone’s a bad driver and don’t pay attention to more complex factors that contributed to the accent. It’s important to avoid this bias to make balanced, fair judgments about others.
See More: Fundamental Attribution Error Examples
4. Gender Bias
Example: “The Man must be the Doctor”
Gender Bias is an unfounded inclination or prejudice for or against one gender in comparison to the other. This is an often implicit assumption we’ve received from internalizing cultural stereotypes throughout our lifetimes.
The assumption “The Man must be the Doctor” exemplifies gender bias, whereby certain occupations are stereotype-anchored to specific genders. Gender bias can foster discrimination and inequity and impede social progress.
See More: Gender Bias Examples
5. Halo Effect
Example: “She’s Good at This, so she Must be Good at That”
The Halo Effect is a cognitive bias that influences how we perceive other’s abilities based on our overall impression of them.
The statement “She’s Good at This, so she Must be Good at That” is a typical manifestation of the Halo Effect. Here, a person’s proficiency in one area is mistakenly projected onto their capabilities in unrelated areas. In other words, we assume someone is good at everything because they’re good at one thing.
See More: Halo Effect Examples
6. Hindsight Bias
Example: “How did they not Foresee That Outcome?”
Hindsight Bias, also known as the “knew-it-all-along” phenomenon, is the tendency for people to assume that events that have already occurred would have been more predictable than they were before they took place.
An example is the question “How did they not Foresee That Outcome?” which overlooks the fact that predicting an outcome with certainty was not possible before it happened. Hindsight bias leads to oversimplification of decision-making processes and overlooks the complexity of situations.
See More: Hindsight Bias Examples
7. Just-World Bias
Example: “He Probably Deserved his Misfortune”
Just-World Bias occurs when we tend to assume that justice will prevail in the universe. As a result, we tend to falsely attribute consequences to moral reasons, maintaining the belief that the universe is fundamentally just.
In the case of the assumption “He Probably Deserved his Misfortune”, we’re assuming that the person deserved whatever misfortune they stumbled upon. This assumption, however, can lead to blame-victim mentality and hinder the development of empathy.
8. Optimism Bias
Example: “It will all Work Out”
Optimism Bias refers to the assumption that positive outcomes will happen in the future, often to a greater extent than is objectively likely.
The statement “It will all Work Out” is an example of this bias, where a person irrationally anticipates the best possible outcome. While optimism can be beneficial, this generalized assumption might lead to poor decision-making if the potential for negative outcomes is not considered.
9. Overgeneralization Bias
Example: “Everything must be Like This”
Overgeneralization Bias occurs when individuals extend a general rule to assume it fits into a broad set of scenarios.
The idea “Everything must be Like This” reflects this bias, portraying a mental shortcut where specific experiences or examples dictate our view on the entirety of a category. Such assumptions can lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings, thus it’s essential to avoid this bias.
Example: “All teenagers are rebellious.”
Stereotyping is making assumptions about a group of people based on incomplete or distorted information.
With the assumption “All teenagers are rebellious,” we assign characteristics to all members of the group regardless of individual differences. This can lead to prejudice and discrimination, undermining the complex and unique nature of individuals in a group.
See More: Types of Stereotypes
11. Confirmation Bias
Example: “I knew he was like that because he did that one thing.”
Confirmation Bias is our tendency to favor and emphasize information that confirms what we already believe, while ignoring conflicting data.
In the case of “I knew he was like that because he did that one thing,” confirmation bias is at play. We overlook contrary evidence and amplify one piece of confirming evidence. This assumption can prevent us from forming accurate views based on comprehensive data.
See More: Confirmation Bias Examples
12. Availability Heuristic
Example: “I’ve seen it happen a lot recently, so it must be common.”
Availability Heuristic is a mental shortcut which inclines us to make judgments based on immediate and salient examples in our minds, rather than examining the larger context or statistical reality.
In the assumption “I’ve seen it happen a lot recently, so it must be common,” we make a broad assumption based on a few recent examples. Therefore, we might overlook the larger picture and form incorrect beliefs.
See More: Availability Heuristic Examples
Example: “I don’t trust him because he probably thinks the same way I do.”
Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where individuals attribute their own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or motives to another person.
The statement “I don’t trust him because he probably thinks the same way I do” is an example of projection. Here, the lack of trust isn’t based on objective judgment, but stems from personal insecurities projected onto another person. It’s important to recognize that this assumption says more about the person making it than about the person it’s directed towards.
14. Anchoring Bias
Example: “The first piece of information I received about them must be the most accurate.”
Anchoring Bias is a cognitive bias where individuals rely too heavily on an initial piece of information (the “anchor”) when making decisions.
Under the influence of the “The first piece of information I received about them must be the most accurate” assumption, one neglects the potential for complexity, change, or additional information. This can lead to an oversimplified understanding of people and situations.
See More: Anchoring Bias Examples
15. Fixed Mindset
Example: “I cannot improve, no matter how hard I try.”
Fixed Mindset is a belief an individual has about their abilities and talents as being unalterable, static characteristics.
In the case of the “I cannot improve, no matter how hard I try” assumption, an individual believes that their abilities are set in stone. This mindset constrains personal and professional growth by discouraging effort and resilience.
To learn more about this concept, coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, read the following guides:
Example: “I could have done it if I had tried.”
Self-Handicapping is a cognitive strategy where people create obstacles and excuses to avoid self-blame when they do poorly.
With the assumption, “I could have done it if I had tried,” the person is creating a safety net to protect their ego from potential failure. This assumption can lead to a pattern of poor performance, as it may prevent a person from pursuing challenges and trying their best.
17. Illusion of Control
Example: “I can control or influence this outcome more than I actually can.”
The Illusion of Control is a psychological mechanism where a person overestimates their ability to control events that are largely, if not entirely, made of chance occurrences.
For example, a person claiming “I can control or influence this outcome more than I actually can” falls into this illusion. While it can create confidence, this assumption can lead to disappointment when actual control doesn’t match perceived control.
18. Endowment Effect
Example: “What I own is more valuable just because it’s mine.”
The Endowment Effect is a psychological bias that causes individuals to overvalue things simply because they own them.
With the assumption, “What I own is more valuable just because it’s mine,” the person overlooks the objective value of an item in favor of its subjective, personal value. This bias can lead to unrealistic expectations and hinders the ability to see things unbiasedly.
19. Negativity Bias
Example: “I remember my failures more than my successes, so I must be a failure.”
Negativity Bias is the tendency to give more weight and attention to negative experiences or information than to equal positive ones.
In “I remember my failures more than my successes, so I must be a failure,” your focus is on negative events. This bias impacts your self-image, and it can become detrimental to your mental health if not balanced with positives.
Read More: Negativity Bias Examples
20. Illusory Superiority
Example: “I’m better than average at this task.”
Illusory Superiority is the perception that our abilities are above average, irrespective of reality. This cognitive bias is often due to overconfidence.
The assumption “I’m better than average at this task,” indicates this bias. It can lead us to downplay our weaknesses or underestimate the capabilities of others.
See More: Overconfidence Bias Examples
21. Planning Fallacy
Example: “I can get this done (faster than I actually can).”
Planning Fallacy is a cognitive bias that results in an individual underestimating the time required to complete a future task.
An underestimation is a poor assumption. For example, in the statement, “I can get this done faster than I actually can,” you overestimate your efficiency. This bias disrupts productivity and can lead to time management challenges.
22. Status Quo Bias
Example: “Things should stay the way they are because that’s how they’ve always been.”
Status Quo Bias is a psychological preference for the current state of affairs, resisting change due to comfort and familiarity with the existing situation.
The assumption “Things should stay the way they are because that’s how they’ve always been” is an example of the Status Quo Bias. This can prevent improvements, innovations, or necessary changes from being made.
See More: Status Quo Examples
23. Survivorship Bias
Example: “Successful people did X, so doing X will make me successful.”
Survivorship Bias is a logical error of focusing on the people or things that have “survived” some process and inadvertently overlooking those that didn’t because of their lack of visibility.
In the statement “Successful people did X, so doing X will make me successful,” you are neglecting the many people who may have done “X” but did not succeed. This can lead to misguided career or life choices based on incomplete information.
See More: Survivorship Bias Examples
24. Zero-Sum Bias
Example: “If someone else gains, I must lose.”
Zero-Sum Bias is the assumption that one individual’s gain is another’s loss, as if there’s a finite amount of success, wealth, or happiness in the world.
The statement “If someone else gains, I must lose” showcases a typical zero-sum mentality. It doesn’t take into account the possibilities for mutual benefits or shared success. This assumption can limit cooperation and create unnecessary competition.
25. Gambler’s Fallacy
Example: “I’ve lost three times in a row, so I’m due for a win.”
The Gambler’s Fallacy is the erroneous assumption that if a certain event occurs more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa).
In the example “I’ve lost three times in a row, so I’m due for a win,” the person wrongly assumes that previous losses increase the probability of future wins. This flawed assumption can lead to poor decision-making, particularly in situations involving risk.
See More: Gambler’s Fallacy Examples
Not all assumptions are wrong. In fact, oftentimes, our intuition is correct. And intuition is based on assuming things without explicit evidence.
Nevertheless, we need to constantly examine all the underlying assumptions in our thoughts and beliefs. Through this introspective process, we can improve our thought processes and lead to better results.
Furthermore, by examining the assumptions of our opponents during debates, we might be able to find fallacies and flawed heuristics that can help us rebut their points and come up with a strong refutation.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]