As we step into the world of investing, we are not just navigating the financial markets. We also have to face our emotions, which can cloud our judgment. Cognitive biases like loss aversion, confirmation bias, herd behavior, and overconfidence are rooted in our evolutionary past and are thus deeply wired into our brains. They tend to drive us toward decisions that do not neccessarily serve our best interests in the modern context of investing. Understanding these underlying mechanisms is crucial for us, when we risk our hard-earned money in investing. This article aims to shed light on these biases, and illustrate how our primal instincts influence our investment decisions. It offers a set of practical strategies and “golden rules” that should give us the option to recognize and mitigate these instincts, guiding us toward rational and disciplined investing:

  • Cultivate Awareness and Continuous Learning
  • Adopt a Long-term Perspective
  • Establish and Follow a Disciplined Investment Process
  • Diversify Your Portfolio
  • Emotional Detachment and Objectivity
  • Regular Portfolio Reviews and Risk Management

With this list as a teaser, let´s have a look at the main cognitive biases.

Loss aversion

Loss aversion, a fundamental concept in behavioral economics, underscores the intense discomfort we feel from losses. It was shown in social experiments that losses are often felt twice as powerful as the satisfaction derived from gains. When not being concient about this cognitive bias, it can skew our investment decisions towards being overly cautious, impacting our ability to achieve long-term financial success.

Visualisation for loss aversion: a scale with a ghostly shadow on one side, and a treasure chest on the other

At its essence, loss aversion taps into our primal fear of loss, driving us to make decisions that might not align with sound investment strategies. Book losses are perceived as “not real”- in contrast to sell an underwater investment and feel the pain of getting less money back than initially paid for. So investors tend to hold already losing stocks instead of selling them. In literature, this is known as “the disposition effect”. The same mechanism drives investors to sell winning stocks often too early- in fear of losing the already reached gains.

The Cost of Loss Aversion

By prioritizing the avoidance of losses over the rational assessment of potential gains and losses, investors may:

  • Sell assets prematurely: Investors might sell winning investments too early to avoid the pain of a potential future loss, missing out on further gains.
  • Hold onto losing investments: The hope to recover losses can lead to an irrational attachment to underperforming assets, resulting in larger losses.
  • Avoid investing altogether: The fear of loss can deter some individuals from investing, keeping them on the sidelines during market recoveries or rallies.

Overcoming Loss Aversion

Having read and understood all that, how can we mitigate this bias? Overcoming loss aversion requires a combination of awareness, acceptance, and strategy: Awareness: Recognize that loss aversion is a natural bias. Already the fact of you being aware of this tendency should make it easier to identify situations when you’re making decisions driven by fear of loss rather than your rational self.

Have a long-term perspective

Instead of concentrating on short-term market fluctuation- focus on long-term investment goals. Understand that markets move in cycles and both up-/downtrends and volatility are normal parts of investing.

Set pre-defined rules

Establish clear criteria for buying and selling investments. This could include setting stop-loss orders to limit potential losses or having specific targets for taking profits.


Spread your investments across multiple asset classes (read the series of articles in our archive to learn more, you can use this one as a starting point). Diversification will mitigate the impact of any single investment’s performance on your overall portfolio- and thus reduce the emotional stress in times of negative performance of that instrument.

Emotional detachment

Strive to view investment decisions through an objective lens. Consider implementing a systematic investment approach, such as dollar-cost averaging, to help take emotion out of the equation.


The more you understand about the markets, the more confident you will be with your investment decisions. Knowledge is the best countermeasure against fear. By reading this article, you are already accumulating knowledge- Good job 🙂

Confirmation Bias and Herd Behavior

Confirmation bias and herd behavior are the next cognitive biases we should examine. Confirmation bias lets us weigh information that aligns with our existing beliefs higher. Contrary evidence and information, in contrast, tends to be overlooked. This can result in overconfidence in our investment choices (see the next chapter in this article) and resistance to change even when it’s warranted. Herd behavior amplifies this effect by compelling us to follow the masses, driven by a fear of missing out (also known as FOMO) or the discomfort of going against the grain. At the time of writing (first quarter of 2024), the Crypto market is a good example for both effects, with Bitcoin reaching new all-time highs and Crypto buzz being omnipresent in financial and social media.

A visualisation of herd behavior: a flock of sheep

Another example how these biases converge most visibly during market extremes, is the bull market that followed the COVID-19 shock. Investors, influenced by both confirmation bias and herd behavior, rushed into “tech stocks”. Fueled by stories of quick gains and the echo chambers of social media, many ignored overvaluation warnings, believing they could outsmart the market. This phenomenon led to inflated asset bubbles, which, as history taught again, burst when the prospect of raising interest rates caused a shift in the valuation of those stocks, leaving latecomers facing significant losses.

Combating Confirmation Bias and Herd Behavior

Overcoming these cognitive biases requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on critical thinking, independent analysis, and emotional discipline:

Seek Contrarian Views

Actively look for information and analysis that challenge your investment thesis. This can help counteract confirmation bias by broadening your perspective and encouraging a more balanced assessment of potential risks and rewards.

Develop a Research-Based Investment Strategy

Base your investment decisions on thorough research and analysis rather than market sentiment only. This includes evaluating a company’s fundamentals, industry position, and growth prospects, as well as macroeconomic factors.

Set Clear Investment Criteria

Establish and adhere to clear criteria for buying and selling investments. Write those criteria down, grade every single investement decision along this list.This discipline can help you avoid the temptation to follow the herd or to make decisions based on emotional reactions to market movements.

Embrace Patience and Long-Term Thinking

Many of the most successful investors are those who think in terms of years or decades, not days or months. A long-term perspective can provide the patience required to weather market volatility and the discipline to stick to your investment plan.

Diversify Your Portfolio

Diversification across asset classes, industries, and geographies can help mitigate the impact of any single investment’s performance on your overall portfolio. This strategy can provide a buffer against the urge to follow the herd into overvalued investments: with a diversified portfolio you are most likely already invested in the trending sectors.

Overconfidence Bias

Overconfidence bias can lead investors to overestimate their knowledge, underestimate risks, and inflate their ability to control outcomes. This cognitive bias can manifest as excessive optimism regarding one’s own judgment, skills, or control over events—often with costly consequences in the volatile financial markets. The widely known Dunning-Kruger effect is a special flavour of this bias, where a subject has particularly low objective knowledge in a certain discipline, but still overestimate their abilities (and usually is very vocal about them- you this kind of people). As every reader of this pages actively tries to learn and gain competence, we’ll stick to the overconfidence bias from now on.

Visualisation for overconfidence: a woman sitting confidently in a chair, dollar bills raining from above

Symptoms of Overconfidence Bias in Investing

As stated, overconfidence bias leads investors to overrate their knowledge, undervalue risks, and believe they have more control over outcomes than they actually do. This bias manifests in various ways, from the belief in one’s ability to predict market movements to the illusion of control over stock prices, and the assumption that desired outcomes are more likely simply because they are preferred. Such overconfidence can lead to aggressive and risky investment strategies that may not be supported by one’s actual financial acumen (like trading with too much leverage) or the reality of market conditions.

Overtrading, driven by the mistaken belief in market timing skills, not only racks up costs. Similarly, overconfidence may result in maintaining concentrated positions in certain assets or sectors- a.k.a. cluster risks. In case of downturns, the usually greater volatility lets investors with those accumulated cluster risks little time to react in time.

This overconfidence is particularly pronounced during bullish market phases, where initial successes—often due to luck rather than skill—bolster confidence, leading to increased risk-taking. However, this cycle of overconfidence can come to an abrupt halt when market conditions shift, catching overconfident investors off-guard and potentially leading to significant losses.

Strategies for Managing Overconfidence Bias

Mitigating overconfidence requires a conscious effort to adopt practices and mindsets that counteract its influence:

Continuous Learning and Humility

Acknowledge the limits of your knowledge and expertise. Embrace a mindset of lifelong learning and be open to new information that may challenge your beliefs.

Seek Diverse Opinions

Purposely expose yourself to viewpoints that differ from your own to avoid echo chambers. This can help challenge your assumptions and provide a more rounded perspective on investment decisions.

Implement a Systematic Investment Process

Develop and stick to an investment strategy based on research, risk assessment, and predefined criteria for buying and selling. This helps reduce impulsive decisions based on overconfidence.

Regular Portfolio Reviews

Periodically review your investment portfolio to assess whether your assumptions and strategies are still valid. Be willing to make adjustments based on new information or changes in your investment goals.

Risk Management

Use stop-loss orders or set aside a portion of your portfolio for more speculative investments, keeping the bulk of your investments in more diversified and less risky assets.

Golden Rules for Overcoming Cognitive Biases in Investing

Reviewing the above strategies to mitigate or counteract various cognitive biases in investing, it’s evident that several core principles emerge consistently across different biases. These principles can be synthesized into a smaller set of “golden rules” for investors:

Cultivate Awareness and Continuous Learning

Recognize and accept that cognitive biases exist, including within your own decision-making process. Commit to lifelong learning to deepen your understanding of financial markets, investing strategies, and, importantly, your own psychological tendencies. This foundation of knowledge and self-awareness is critical for identifying when biases might be influencing your decisions. For further reading and in-depth literature on the topic, have a look at our book recommendations.

Adopt a Long-term Perspective

Focus on your long-term financial goals instead of getting swayed by short-term market fluctuations. Remember that markets are cyclical and volatility is part and parcel of investing. A long-term view helps in maintaining patience and resilience, reducing the temptation to make impulsive decisions based on temporary market conditions or emotions.

Establish and Follow a Disciplined Investment Process

Develop a clear, research-based investment strategy that includes predefined criteria for buying, holding, and selling investments. This strategy should be grounded in a thorough analysis of a company’s fundamentals, macroeconomic factors, and your own investment goals. Implement systematic approaches such as dollar-cost averaging to further remove emotion from your investment decisions.

Diversify Your Portfolio

Spreading your investments across various asset classes, industries, and geographies is a fundamental risk management technique. Diversification helps mitigate the impact of any single investment’s performance on your overall portfolio, providing a buffer against both market volatility and the allure of following the herd into speculative investments.

Emotional Detachment and Objectivity

Strive to view your investment decisions through an objective lens, minimizing the influence of emotions. This includes seeking diverse opinions to challenge your own views and avoiding echo chambers that reinforce existing biases. Emotional detachment also means being willing to reassess and adjust your investment strategy based on new information or changing circumstances, without being tied to past decisions.

Practice Regular Portfolio Reviews and Risk Management

Periodically assess your portfolio’s performance and alignment with your investment goals, making adjustments as necessary. Use risk management tools such as stop-loss orders and allocate only a portion of your portfolio to speculative investments, ensuring the bulk of your assets are invested in diversified, lower-risk options.

These golden rules serve as a strategic framework for investors aiming to navigate the complexities of the financial markets while minimizing the influence of cognitive biases. By adhering to these principles, investors can enhance their decision-making process, align their investment actions with their financial objectives, and ultimately, improve their chances of long-term success in the investing world.

This concludes our introduction into behavioral economics and cognitive biases. For further reading about cognitive biases we recommend this wikipedia article and this blog entry as a starter.

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