What is Choice-Supportive Bias?

Our lives are filled with countless choices that have the power to shape our present and future. From simple decisions, such as – what to wear or eat, to much more complex ones, like career paths or significant purchases; the impact of our choices is far-reaching. However, beneath the surface of seemingly rational decision-making, there exists an intriguing cognitive phenomenon that influences our perception and evaluation of those choices, which is known as choice-supportive bias. This subtly influences how we perceive and evaluate our daily choices. It distorts our memory and perception, leading us to retrospectively view our chosen options more favorably than they may have been at the time of decision-making. This bias arises from our innate desire to justify and validate our choices, protecting our self-image and maintaining a sense of confidence in our decision-making abilities.

By understanding the workings of choice-supportive bias, we can gain valuable insights into the complexities of decision-making. Recognizing this bias empowers us to approach our choices more objectively, seeking a more balanced assessment of their merits and drawbacks. Ultimately, by navigating this cognitive bias, we can strive to make more informed and rational decisions in our lives.

What is Choice-Supportive Bias?

Choice-supportive bias, also called “post-purchase rationalization”, is the tendency to give a chosen option more good qualities, while downplaying the positive aspects of other options. This cognitive bias occurs after a decision has been made and influences how we remember and evaluate our choices. Research suggests that most of our decisions are made by our subconscious mind, and the brain’s reward center has a greater impact on purchase decisions than personal preferences. This means that we often don’t fully understand why we make certain choices. Our brain automatically generates reasons after the event to support self-perception. (1) Hence, when someone chooses option A over option B, they are prone to overlook or minimize the flaws of option A while amplifying or attributing new negative aspects to option B. Simultaneously, they are likely to highlight and magnify the advantages of option A while neglecting or de-emphasizing those of option B.

Moreover, memory plays a crucial role in decision-making, and the way we remember our choices can significantly impact our feelings of regret or satisfaction. Research suggests that the process of making and recalling choices often leads to distorted memories characterized by predictable patterns. (1) In cognitive science, it’s a common error to remember good things about the chosen option, even if they weren’t originally linked to it, while negative things are linked to choices that were not chosen. This biased evaluation of our past actions can influence future decision-making processes.

Furthermore, these biases are kept in our memories based on our individual experiences, past information, beliefs, motivations, objectives, and social context. During the encoding and retrieval processes, the brain is unable to distinguish between true and false memories, which causes both types to develop through the same mechanism.


Different Forms of Misremembering Leading to Various Types of Choice-Supportive Biases

Different forms of misremembering can result in a wide range of choice-supportive biases. By selectively highlighting the positive aspects, downplaying the negatives, and distorting information – our memory biases influence how we perceive our choices. The following are some examples of it:

1. Misattribution – This is a widely recognized commission error in cognitive research, which contributes to a specific type of choice-supportive bias by attributing information to the wrong source. (2) This bias occurs when positive attributes of the unchosen option are mistakenly remembered as positive attributes of the chosen option, or vice versa.

For instance, consider a scenario where one must choose between two pairs of sneakers. If the chosen pair fits slightly tighter and the unchosen pair fits perfectly, misattribution would lead to the memory of the chosen pair fitting perfectly. In contrast, the unchosen pair would be remembered as being slightly tighter, despite this not being the actual case. Hence, it’s important to note that misattribution relies on accurate encoding and recall of information related to the decision, but the source of the information becomes unclear or incorrect. Therefore, it should not be confused with entirely false information.

2. Selective Forgetting – This refers to the tendency to remember certain information while intentionally or unintentionally forgetting other information. In the context of decision-making, this bias can manifest as a preference for ignoring the negative aspects or drawbacks of our chosen option while actively suppressing or downplaying the positive aspects of the alternatives we didn’t choose. (3)

Suppose you choose Job A over Job B. Over time, you encounter challenges in Job A, but you conveniently forget or downplay them. Meanwhile, positive aspects of Job B become known to you, but you selectively forget or underestimate them. This bias reinforces your satisfaction with Job A and diminishes any potential regret.

3. False Memory – This occurs when individuals remember items that were not originally part of the decision as being presented. Whether positive or negative, this new information is erroneously associated with the chosen or forgone option, respectively. For instance, a chosen pair of shoes might be remembered as great for running, although there was no information presented regarding its running capabilities.

This type of bias differs from other forms of misremembering in choice-supportive biases because it stems from a completely fabricated memory, rather than a confusion or distortion of previously encoded information. False memories can significantly influence our future attitudes and decision-making processes by introducing inaccurate information. (4)



Decision-making is essential to our daily lives, impacting small tasks and important life choices. However, the presence of choice-supportive bias somehow complicates this process. This cognitive phenomenon leads us to attribute positive qualities to our chosen options while downplaying the merits of unselected alternatives. It goes beyond innocent skews, encompassing the selective forgetting of negative aspects of our personal choices. Recognizing and understanding this bias is crucial for making objective decisions. By acknowledging its influence, we can strive for greater self-awareness, critically evaluating our choices, and considering alternative perspectives. Also, this helps us make more balanced decisions by accurately weighing the pros and cons. Furthermore, by navigating choice-supportive bias, we empower ourselves to make well-informed choices aligned with our goals, enhancing our overall decision-making process.


(1) Mather, M.; Johnson, M.K. (2000). “Choice-supportive source monitoring: Do our decisions seem better to us as we age?” (PDF). Psychology and Aging. 15 (4): 596–606. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.15.4.596. PMID 11144319. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-07-06.

(2) Lind, Martina; Visentini, Mimì; Mäntylä, Timo; Del Missier, Fabio (2017-12-04). “Choice-Supportive Misremembering: A New Taxonomy and Review”. Frontiers in Psychology. 8: 2062. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02062. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 5723021. PMID 29255436.

(3) Schacter, Daniel L. (2002). The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547347455.

(4) Laney, Cara; Morris, Erin K.; Bernstein, Daniel M.; Wakefield, Briana M.; Loftus, Elizabeth F. (2008). “Asparagus, a Love Story: Healthier Eating Could Be Just a False Memory Away”. Experimental Psychology. 55 (5): 291–300. doi:10.1027/1618-3169.55.5.291. ISSN 1618-3169. PMID 25116296.