Cognitive and implicit biases in nurses' judgment and decision-making: A scoping review

Lorraine M. Thirsk, Julia T. Panchuk, Sarah Stahlke, Reidar Hagtvedt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive and implicit biases of healthcare providers can lead to adverse events in healthcare and have been identified as a patient safety concern. Most research on the impact of these systematic errors in judgment has been focused on diagnostic decision-making, primarily by physicians. As the largest component of the workforce, nurses make numerous decisions that affect patient outcomes; however, literature on nurses' clinical judgment often overlooks the potential impact of bias on these decisions. The aim of this study was to map the evidence and key concepts related to bias in nurses' judgment and decision-making, including interventions to correct or overcome these biases. Methods: We conducted a scoping review using Joanna Briggs methodology. In November 2020 we searched CINAHL, PsychInfo, and PubMed databases to identify relevant literature. Inclusion criteria were primary research about nurses' bias; evidence of a nursing decision or action; and English language. No date or geographic limitations were set. Results: We found 77 items that met the inclusion criteria. Over half of these items were published in the last 12 years. Most research focused on implicit biases related to racial/ethnic identity, obesity, and gender; other articles examined confirmation, attribution, anchoring, and hindsight biases. Some articles examined heuristics and were included if they described the process of, and the problems with, nurse decision-making. Only 5 studies tested interventions to overcome or correct biases. 61 of the studies relied on vignettes, surveys, or recall methods, rather than examining real-world nursing practice. This could be a serious oversight because contextual factors such as cognitive load, which have a significant impact on judgment and decision-making, are not necessarily captured with vignette or survey studies. Furthermore, survey and vignette studies make it difficult to quantify the impact of these biases in the healthcare system. Conclusions: Given the serious effects that bias has on nurses' clinical judgment, and thereby patient outcomes, a concerted, systematic effort to identify and test debiasing strategies in real-world nursing settings is needed. Tweetable abstract: Bias affects nurses' clinical judgment – we need to know how to fix it.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104284
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Publication statusPublished - Sep. 2022


  • Clinical judgment
  • Cognitive bias
  • Dual-process theory
  • Implicit bias
  • Intuition
  • Judgment and decision-making
  • Nursing
  • Scoping review


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