Fight Cognitive Biases with these Controversial Methods

Discover controversial methods that can help you combat cognitive biases and think more critically. Uncover the truth with these strategies.


Cognitive biases are inherent flaws in our thinking processes that can prevent us from making rational and objective decisions. These biases cause us to make snap judgments, rely on stereotypes, and interpret information selectively, often leading to flawed conclusions.

Critical thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to objectively analyze and evaluate information to reach well-reasoned conclusions. It involves questioning assumptions, challenging beliefs, and seeking alternative viewpoints. However, even with the best intentions, we can fall victim to cognitive biases without even realizing it.

The impact of cognitive biases on decision-making is significant. They can lead to poor judgment, hasty decisions, and reinforce preconceived notions. In personal and professional settings, these biases can hinder progress, prevent innovation, and impede collaboration.

To combat cognitive biases, we need to employ unconventional and controversial methods that challenge our preconceived notions and encourage critical thinking. By actively seeking out alternative viewpoints, examining evidence objectively, and questioning our own biases, we can enhance our decision-making abilities and mitigate the influence of cognitive biases.

In this article, we will explore five controversial methods that can help us fight cognitive biases. These methods include the Devil’s Advocate approach, Steelmanning, leveraging cognitive dissonance, employing Red Team Thinking, and conducting pre-mortem analysis. Each of these methods has its own merits and potential drawbacks, but when used appropriately, they can help us overcome cognitive biases and make more informed decisions.

Method 1: Devil’s Advocate

The Devil’s Advocate approach is a method that involves deliberately taking on an opposing viewpoint or challenging existing beliefs in order to critically examine one’s own biases. In a group setting, one person assumes the role of the Devil’s Advocate and presents arguments against the majority opinion or commonly held beliefs. This method aims to encourage critical thinking, prevent groupthink, and identify potential flaws in reasoning or biases within decision-making processes.

Pros of Devil’s Advocate:

  • Enhances critical thinking: By intentionally questioning and challenging prevailing opinions, the Devil’s Advocate method helps individuals and teams analyze problems from different perspectives and evaluate alternative solutions.

  • Minimizes confirmation bias: Confirmation bias, the tendency to favor information that confirms preexisting beliefs, can hinder objective decision-making. The Devil’s Advocate method counteracts this bias by actively seeking opposing viewpoints and considering alternative explanations.

  • Strengthens decision-making: Engaging in constructive debates and considering opposing arguments allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of the available options. This method helps to identify potential weaknesses or flaws in the decision-making process, leading to better-informed decisions.

Cons of Devil’s Advocate:

  • Requires a safe and open environment: For the Devil’s Advocate method to be effective, individuals must feel comfortable expressing dissent without fear of consequences or repercussions. If there is a hostile or closed-minded atmosphere, people may hesitate to voice alternative viewpoints, limiting the method’s effectiveness.

  • Potential for excessive skepticism: Constantly challenging ideas can lead to a culture of skepticism, where individuals or teams are hesitant to make decisions or move forward. Striking a balance between skepticism and action is crucial to prevent analysis paralysis.

  • Possibility of diving into polarized debates: While the Devil’s Advocate method aims to foster healthy debates, it is essential for participants to maintain a respectful and constructive attitude. If discussions devolve into personal attacks or heated arguments, the method can be counterproductive and hinder problem-solving.

Real-life Examples:

  • Scientific research: In the field of scientific research, peer review processes often employ the Devil’s Advocate approach to assess the robustness of studies. Researchers with expertise in the subject area critically examine the methodology, results, and conclusions of a study to identify any biases or flaws.

  • Legal systems: In legal proceedings, the adversarial system often incorporates the Devil’s Advocate role. Lawyers are expected to critically analyze the evidence and arguments presented by their opponents, challenging the facts and interpretations to ensure a fair evaluation in court.

  • Business decision-making: During strategic planning or innovation initiatives, organizations may assign a team or individual to play the Devil’s Advocate’s role. This helps to identify potential risks, weaknesses, and limitations associated with proposed plans and avoid over-optimism.

Implementing the Devil’s Advocate method encourages individuals and groups to think critically, consider alternative perspectives, and challenge their biases. By embracing diverse viewpoints, we can overcome the limitations of cognitive biases and make more informed decisions.

Method 2: Steelmanning

Explanation of the Steelmanning technique

Steelmmanning is a technique that involves strengthening the argument or position of someone you disagree with before addressing it. It requires understanding the opposing viewpoint and presenting it in its strongest form, rather than attacking a weak or distorted version of it. This approach encourages intellectual honesty, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the opposing argument.

How Steelmanning can help overcome confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek or interpret information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs or biases. It limits our ability to consider alternative perspectives and can hinder critical thinking. Steelmanning combats confirmation bias by forcing us to engage with opposing arguments in a genuine and open-minded manner.

By actively seeking out the strongest points of view that challenge our own, we expose ourselves to new ideas and information. This helps to broaden our perspective and reduce the influence of confirmation bias. Steelmanning allows us to critically evaluate arguments from various angles, leading to more informed decision-making.

Discussion on the potential drawbacks and risks of Steelmanning

While steelmanning can be a powerful tool in overcoming biases, it is not without its drawbacks. One potential risk is that by presenting the opposing argument in its strongest form, individuals may unintentionally validate or strengthen ideas that they fundamentally disagree with. This can be a concern, particularly in cases where harmful or unethical views are being steelmanned.

Furthermore, the process of steelmanning requires time, effort, and patience. It involves deep listening, open-mindedness, and the ability to set aside personal biases. Not everyone may possess these skills or be willing to engage in such a rigorous process. It may also be emotionally challenging to sympathize with viewpoints that conflict with our core values or beliefs.

Case studies illustrating the benefits of Steelmanning

Several case studies demonstrate the benefits of steelmanning in overcoming biases and improving decision-making. One notable example is the partnership between contrasting political parties during peace negotiations. By steelmanning each party’s interests and concerns, negotiators can better understand underlying motivations and find mutually agreeable solutions.

In the field of scientific research, steelmanning is utilized during peer-review processes. Scientists critically evaluate and strengthen the arguments and methodologies of research papers before dissemination. This rigorous approach ensures that only robust and well-supported findings are published.

In a professional context, steelmanning can enhance teamwork and problem-solving. By encouraging individuals to consider a diverse range of viewpoints, it fosters collaboration and creativity. Employees who employ the steelmanning approach are better equipped to navigate disagreements and arrive at well-rounded and informed decisions.

Overall, steelmanning provides a valuable tool for combatting confirmation bias, promoting critical thinking, and fostering empathy. By engaging with opposing arguments in a respectful and rigorous manner, we can broaden our perspectives and make better-informed decisions.

Method 3: Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental discomfort people experience when they hold conflicting beliefs or when their actions contradict their beliefs. This theory, proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger, suggests that individuals strive to reduce this dissonance by either changing their beliefs, altering their actions, or rationalizing their behavior.

In the context of combating cognitive biases, cognitive dissonance can be a powerful method. By intentionally seeking out and embracing information or opinions that challenge our existing beliefs, we can expose ourselves to alternative perspectives and reduce the influence of biases.

However, it is important to acknowledge that using cognitive dissonance as a tool to combat biases comes with ethical concerns and potential dangers. When individuals deliberately expose themselves to conflicting information, they may experience increased psychological distress, uncertainty, and confusion. This can be particularly challenging for individuals who already have fragile mental health or who are not equipped to handle cognitive dissonance.

Moreover, the misuse of cognitive dissonance can lead to manipulation and coercion. Unscrupulous individuals or groups may exploit cognitive dissonance to influence others’ beliefs by intentionally creating a state of discomfort and then offering their preferred or biased perspective as a solution.

To responsibly utilize cognitive dissonance as a method to fight cognitive biases, it is essential to approach it with caution and mindfulness. Here are some guidelines to consider:

  1. Self-awareness: Before engaging in cognitive dissonance, it is crucial to have a strong sense of self and a clear understanding of our values and beliefs. This self-awareness will help us maintain our mental wellbeing and prevent us from being swayed or manipulated by others’ biases.

  2. Critical thinking skills: Having strong critical thinking skills is essential when applying cognitive dissonance. We must carefully evaluate the conflicting information we encounter and critically analyze the validity, credibility, and sources of the information. This will help us avoid blindly accepting biased perspectives and facilitate a balanced evaluation of different viewpoints.

  3. Seek diverse perspectives: Actively seek out diverse sources of information and engage with people who hold different beliefs or opinions. This will expose us to a wide range of perspectives and challenge our preconceived notions. However, it is crucial to approach these conversations respectfully and with an open mind, genuinely considering the ideas being presented.

  4. Reflect and introspect: Regularly reflect on your own beliefs and actions, and introspect on any cognitive dissonance you may be experiencing. Embrace the discomfort and use it as an opportunity for self-growth and learning. Reflecting on our biases and actively working to reduce them is an ongoing process that requires self-reflection and self-improvement.

  5. Emotional well-being: Take care of your emotional well-being throughout the cognitive dissonance process. Engaging in conversations that challenge your beliefs can be emotionally draining. Ensure you have support systems in place, such as friends, family, or professionals, who can provide emotional support and guidance during this journey.

While cognitive dissonance can be a valuable method to challenge cognitive biases and expand our understanding, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual’s experience with cognitive dissonance may differ, and it is important to pay attention to our mental health and well-being throughout the process.

By responsibly implementing cognitive dissonance and combining it with other methods, such as critical thinking and seeking diverse perspectives, we can enhance our decision-making abilities, overcome biases, and gain a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the world around us.

Method 4: Red Team Thinking

Red Team Thinking is a powerful method for combating cognitive biases and uncovering potential blind spots in decision-making. It involves deliberately seeking out and embracing opposition and skepticism in order to challenge existing assumptions and biases. By adopting the perspective of a “red team,” individuals or organizations can gain a more comprehensive and objective understanding of a given situation.

Introduction to Red Team Thinking

Red Team Thinking originated in the military, where red teams were formed to simulate the enemy’s perspective and find weaknesses in defensive strategies. Today, it has been widely adopted in various sectors, including business, science, and government, as a valuable tool for critical thinking and decision-making.

The key principle of Red Team Thinking is to actively seek out opposing viewpoints and arguments. This includes inviting individuals or teams with different expertise, backgrounds, or opinions to challenge the existing assumptions and outcomes. By engaging in healthy debate and encouraging opposition, Red Team Thinking aims to prevent groupthink and enhance decision-making.

The Role of Skepticism and Opposition

Skepticism lies at the heart of Red Team Thinking. It challenges the natural tendency of individuals to accept information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs, values, or biases. By actively embracing skepticism, red teams can identify weaknesses in arguments, uncover blind spots, and mitigate the influence of cognitive biases.

Opposition also plays a crucial role in Red Team Thinking. By inviting individuals with opposing viewpoints, red teams can expose biases and assumptions that might otherwise go unnoticed. This allows for a more comprehensive analysis of the situation and helps decision-makers consider alternative perspectives and possibilities.

Case Studies Showcasing Successful Implementation

Red Team Thinking has proved to be effective in various real-life scenarios. One notable example is the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. Prior to launch, engineers at NASA voiced concerns about the potential failure of O-rings in cold weather conditions. However, these concerns were dismissed due to groupthink and the desire to adhere to the launch schedule. A red team investigation after the disaster highlighted the significance of the concerns raised by the engineers and the need for more rigorous decision-making processes.

Similarly, in the business world, companies have embraced Red Team Thinking to challenge their strategies and explore potential risks. For example, Coca-Cola established an “Innovation Red Team” to critically evaluate new product ideas and identify potential flaws. This approach allowed them to uncover potential problems before launching products, leading to more informed decision-making and reducing the impact of cognitive biases.

Implementing Red Team Thinking

To apply Red Team Thinking effectively, organizations should consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the problem or decision at hand and assemble a diverse team: Select individuals who possess different perspectives, experiences, and expertise relevant to the issue being examined. Include members who are comfortable challenging assumptions and expressing opposing views.

  2. Define the goals and objectives: Clearly outline the objectives of the exercise, making sure everyone is aligned on what needs to be achieved. This helps guide the Red Team’s thinking and ensures that the analysis remains focused.

  3. Assign roles: Designate a Red Team leader who will coordinate and facilitate the process. This leader should ensure that all viewpoints are heard, encourage healthy debate, and keep discussions focused on the objectives.

  4. Conduct an independent analysis: Members of the Red Team should thoroughly examine the assumptions, arguments, and evidence presented. They should critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current position and identify potential biases.

  5. Present alternative perspectives and arguments: The Red Team should present their findings and recommendations, highlighting alternative viewpoints and proposing potential strategies or solutions. This should be done in a constructive and evidence-based manner, encouraging further debate and analysis.

  6. Foster open dialogue and feedback: After the Red Team presents its findings, encourage open dialogue and feedback from all participants. This allows the team to refine their recommendations and ensures that all perspectives are considered.

  7. Follow through with action: Implement the insights and recommendations generated through the Red Team Thinking process. This may involve adjusting strategies, altering decisions, or adopting new approaches based on the challenges and insights identified.


Red Team Thinking offers a valuable approach for combating cognitive biases and improving decision-making. By actively seeking opposing viewpoints and nurturing healthy skepticism, organizations can uncover blind spots, challenge assumptions, and make more informed choices. The successful implementation of Red Team Thinking in various sectors highlights its effectiveness as a tool for critical thinking and problem-solving. By adopting this method, individuals and organizations can mitigate the influence of cognitive biases and enhance their decision-making processes.

Method 5: Pre-mortem Analysis

Pre-mortem analysis is a powerful technique that can help individuals and organizations overcome cognitive biases by anticipating and addressing potential failures or shortcomings before they occur. This method, also known as prospective hindsight or a premortem exercise, allows individuals to identify and mitigate biases that may be influencing their decision-making process.

Explanation of pre-mortem analysis and its relationship to cognitive biases

Pre-mortem analysis involves imagining that a decision or project has failed and then working backward to identify the reasons why it failed. Unlike a post-mortem analysis, which is conducted after a failure has occurred, a pre-mortem analysis helps individuals identify biases and potential blind spots in their decision-making process before they make a final decision.

Cognitive biases can significantly impact decision-making by distorting perceptions, influencing judgments, and leading to irrational choices. By conducting a pre-mortem analysis, individuals can actively challenge and counteract these biases by focusing on potential failures or weaknesses.

Steps to conduct a pre-mortem analysis to reveal biases

  1. Set the stage: Begin by explaining the purpose of the pre-mortem analysis and the importance of identifying potential failures or risks. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where participants feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns.

  2. Imagine failure: Ask participants to imagine that the decision or project has failed, taking into account various scenarios or circumstances. Encourage them to think outside the box and explore different perspectives.

  3. Brainstorm reasons for failure: Invite participants to generate ideas and reasons for the failure. Encourage them to share any potential biases or assumptions that may have influenced the decision-making process.

  4. Compile and discuss: Collect all the ideas and reasons for failure generated by the participants. This can be done through a group discussion or anonymously through written submissions. Create a comprehensive list of biases and assumptions that may have contributed to the failure.

  5. Evaluate and mitigate biases: Analyze each bias or assumption identified and explore strategies to mitigate their influence on decision-making. This can include seeking alternative perspectives, conducting additional research, or reevaluating the decision criteria.

Examination of potential criticisms and limitations of this method

While pre-mortem analysis can be a valuable tool for overcoming cognitive biases, it is not without its limitations. Some potential criticisms and limitations include:

  • Negativity bias: The focus on failure can sometimes skew the analysis towards negative outcomes, potentially overlooking potential benefits or positive aspects of the decision or project.
  • Confirmation bias: Participants may be prone to focusing on biases that align with their existing beliefs or assumptions rather than exploring a wide range of potential biases.
  • Limited perspective: The success of a pre-mortem analysis heavily relies on the diversity and inclusion of different perspectives. If participants have similar backgrounds or ways of thinking, the identification and mitigation of biases may be limited.

Despite these limitations, the benefits of conducting a pre-mortem analysis often outweigh the drawbacks. By actively engaging in critical thinking and challenging assumptions, individuals can significantly reduce the impact of cognitive biases.

Examples of organizations benefiting from pre-mortem analysis

Many well-known organizations have used pre-mortem analysis to identify and address cognitive biases in their decision-making process. One notable example is Google, which has employed this technique to assess potential failures before implementing new projects or initiatives.

In one instance, Google conducted a pre-mortem analysis before launching its Google Glass project. By envisioning various scenarios where the project could fail, the team was able to identify potential biases and risks, such as privacy concerns, lack of practical applications, and public perception. This analysis allowed them to proactively address these challenges, ultimately leading to a more successful product launch.

Additionally, NASA has used pre-mortem analysis in its space exploration missions. By anticipating failures and biases, they have been able to enhance safety measures and improve decision-making throughout the planning and execution stages.

Overall, pre-mortem analysis offers a valuable opportunity to uncover biases and enhance critical thinking. By incorporating this method into decision-making processes, individuals and organizations can overcome cognitive biases and ultimately make more informed choices.


In conclusion, cognitive biases can significantly impact our decision-making process and hinder our ability to think critically. However, there are controversial methods that can help combat these biases and lead us towards more objective and rational thinking.

The Devil’s Advocate approach is one such method that involves deliberately challenging our existing beliefs and assumptions. By encouraging alternative viewpoints and perspectives, we can uncover blind spots and consider different possibilities. While this method can be effective in breaking through cognitive biases, it is essential to strike a balance and avoid becoming overly contrarian, as it may hinder progress.

Another method, Steelmanning, focuses on actively seeking out and understanding opposing arguments. By engaging in strong argumentation against our own beliefs, we can overcome confirmation bias and increase our ability to evaluate evidence objectively. However, the potential drawback of this method lies in the risk of diluting the importance of evidence and relying solely on rhetoric.

Cognitive dissonance theory offers a unique perspective on combating biases. By leveraging the discomfort caused by conflicting beliefs or behaviors, we can encourage ourselves to reevaluate our biases and align our thoughts more closely with reality. However, the ethical concerns surrounding the manipulation of cognitive dissonance should not be overlooked, and it should only be used responsibly.

Red Team Thinking emphasizes the role of skepticism and opposition in challenging biases. By assigning individuals or teams to actively play the role of “opponents,” we can identify weaknesses in our arguments and decision-making processes. This method has been successfully implemented in various sectors, including the military and intelligence communities, leading to improved outcomes and informed decisions.

Pre-mortem analysis, another powerful method, helps unveil biases by imagining a future failure and analyzing the causes retrospectively. By identifying and addressing potential weaknesses, we can make more informed decisions and mitigate risks. However, it is essential to recognize the potential limitations of this method, such as the reliance on imagination and the inability to foresee all possible outcomes.

To thoroughly combat cognitive biases, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of critical thinking and self-awareness. By continuously questioning our beliefs and seeking out alternative perspectives, we can minimize the impact of biases on our decision-making processes. It is also essential to remain open-minded and adaptable, as new evidence and information may challenge previously held beliefs.

In conclusion, these controversial methods provide valuable tools for fighting cognitive biases. While each method carries its own set of advantages and risks, understanding and applying them responsibly can lead to improved decision-making and a more accurate understanding of the world. I encourage readers to explore and experiment with these methods, as they have the potential to uncover the truth and create positive change.