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What Is the Anchoring Effect? 

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that influences how people make decisions, assessments, and judgments by relying too heavily on an initial piece of information provided. This first piece of data provided creates an “anchor” that shapes people’s perceptions, frames their thinking, and impacts the decisions they go on to make.

Understanding this common psychological phenomenon is vital for making sound judgments and choices in life and business. Here is everything you need to know about the anchoring phenomenon.

An overview of anchoring effect

The anchoring effect was first demonstrated in 1974. It refers to the tendency for people to overly depend on an initial piece of information when making decisions. 

The original data point, even if irrelevant or inaccurate, is the “anchor.” It fundamentally influences how people process and judge additional data moving forward. Rather than updating their perspective meaningfully as new data comes in, people who fall victim to the anchoring bias stay anchored to that initial anchor reference point when making final assessments and choices.

The anchoring effect persuades people to rely much more heavily on the initial information anchor than rationality would dictate. Even experts can be massively influenced by the anchoring effect without even realising it is happening.

Types of Anchoring Effects

There are two primary ways anchoring effects take hold:

● Self-generated anchoring: This occurs when people generate their original estimate that anchors their final assessments. For example, when first asked to guess how many countries there are in Africa, someone might guess an overly high number, like 100. Then, that initial estimate acts as the anchor, so when they learn that there are 54 African nations, that number looks low.

● Externally provided anchors: This happens when people are given a specific anchor point, and the external data influences their subsequent perceptions and judgments. For example, listing a product at a high price first frames buyers’ perceptions of a reasonable or acceptable price after that anchor is set.

In most cases, external anchors provided in pricing data, statistics shared, expert opinions, etc., influence people’s assessments and decisions most strongly.

The anchoring effect in action: real-world examples

The anchoring phenomenon shapes outcomes across all life and business domains in mild and major ways. Here are some of the most notable examples of how anchoring sways perceptions and decisions:

● In negotiations and pricing strategies

The anchoring bias heavily influences how business and sales negotiations play out. When selling a car or home, sellers set the listing price high so that buyers anchor their assessment around an elevated level. Then, price drops seem more reasonable. 

Anchoring also impacts negotiating salary packages: final salaries stay lower if the first number is lower versus starting higher.

● In judgments and uncertainty 

When an unclear scenario emerges with missing data, the anchoring effect kicks in strongly to shape assessments of the situation. Initial information announced, even speculative statements, sway end interpretations. 

For example, hostage situations see initial demands anchor final negotiations, and uncertain legal cases find people anchor around early media interpretations that may have no factual merit.

● Influence on consumer behavior

Retail anchoring is extremely common, with even arbitrary “compared to” stickers showing fake “original prices” convincing buyers they are getting an awesome bargain on sale items. Similar dynamics play out in real estate when list prices shape buyers’ concept of home values in the neighbourhood.

● Ethical considerations

While legitimate pricing and promotion use anchoring tactics ethically, ill-intentioned actors can weaponise anchoring more severely. Racial biases, jury views on sentencing, political smears, and false advertising leverage anchoring unethically by highlighting an extreme anchor point first to sway assessments.

Implications of the anchoring effect

This deep-rooted cognitive shortcut carries meaningful implications for individuals, organisations, and collective social decision-making:

● Personal decision distortions  

Anchoring severely limits the quality and rationality of judgments. Life decisions like buying homes, negotiating salaries, etc. depend heavily on initial anchors that may have no factual accuracy or relevance to ideal market values.

● Economic and business impact

Anchoring permeates pricing and value assessments, often artificially inflating price tags, offer levels, etc., in irrational ways that are not aligned with real value. This causes pricing distortions.

● Ethical considerations 

While mild retail anchoring tactics are legal, in many contexts, leveraging anchoring crosses ethical lines. Racial and jury biases demonstrate society’s responsibility to address deliberate misuse of anchors.

Strategies for overcoming the anchoring effect

Because this cognitive shortcut is so instinctual and subtle, it’s essential to learn strategies to counteract anchoring’s influence. Here are smart tips for negating this bias:

● Pause before deciding

When an anchor is first presented, pause first before assessing any additional data. Let the anchor dissipate rather than instantly respond.

● Seek diverse opinions

Consult independent assessments that are not influenced by the original anchor data point to balance out the initial biased perspective.

● Establish a pre-decision range

First, commit to value thresholds before receiving externally provided pricing or valuation anchors. Stick to evidence-based ranges versus adjusting to arbitrary anchors.  

● Flip the script 

Imagine if an assessment was framed around the opposite data point provided and recognised anchors as arbitrary rather than factual reference points.

● Educate yourself

Learn about typical pricing metrics, historical averages, and other benchmark data points in any negotiation to maintain rational expectations. Become an expert rather than a beginner swayed by any initial anchor suggested.  

● Use precise counter-anchors

Introduce highly specific competing reference points to demonstrate another legitimate frame of reference beyond the first anchor.

● Regularly review decisions  

Re-evaluate previous calls made where anchoring potentially played a role. Audit past distortions.

● Practice mindfulness 

When making big decisions, train focus on rational data points versus instinctive reactions to any arbitrary anchors shared early on.

● Create a framework

In institutional contexts, create structured data-driven frameworks for decision rules rather than depending on anchors.

● Seek feedback and reflect

Discuss key decisions with trusted contacts to assess whether anchoring potentially skewed perspectives subconsciously.


The anchoring effect is one of the most potent invisible influences shaping perceptions, pricing dynamics, assessments of situations and abilities, and more. By better understanding this phenomenon and applying smart strategies to counteract anchoring’s impacts, both individuals and organisations can make substantially better-quality decisions.

Remaining aware of anchoring and steadfastly focused on factual accuracy rather than suggesting arbitrary reference points will lead to better communication, ethical negotiation tactics, informed evaluations, and overall elevated decision-making.


What is anchoring in simple terms?

Anchoring is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information provided when making decisions. This initial ‘anchor’ shapes how we view everything else afterwards.

How does the anchoring effect work in real life?

In real life, the anchoring effect causes us to make biased decisions about prices, value, negotiations, assessments, and more based on that initial anchor reference point rather than rational facts.

What’s an easy-to-understand example of anchoring?

A classic retail example is putting an inflated original price on items before showing the ‘sale’ price. That higher original anchor makes the sale price then look amazing value – even if it’s still overpriced for what it is. 

Can anchoring be used intentionally to manipulate people?

Yes, anchoring is often intentionally leveraged unfairly to sway perceptions – like real estate list prices shaping buyers’ value assessments higher than reality. Racial biases and false advertising also leverage anchoring to manipulate views unethically.

How can I stop myself being tricked by anchoring? 

Strategies include pausing before assessing more data, getting unbiased opinions, committing to value thresholds beforehand, and educating yourself on benchmark metrics so arbitrary anchors don’t sway you.

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