Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Cognitive Biases Within Decision Making During Fire Evacuations



Michael Kinsey, Steve Gwynne, Erica D. Kuligowski, Max Kinateder


During a fire evacuation, once an individual perceives cues from a fire event, they must interpret them to assess the new situation and determine whether action is required. It is proposed that this assessment and action selection can employ either an automatic or reflective processing system depending on the nature of the situation and the experiences of the individual involved. This decision-making process is bounded in terms of the information available, the time available, and an individual's resources to process such information that influences which processing mechanism is adopted. To compensate for such limitations and manage the uncertainty and complexity associated with the decision-making process, people may employ heuristics that reduce decision-making from a cognitively effortful problem-solving task requiring mental reflection, to a less effortful pattern-matching process, where stored conditions and expectations are quickly scanned to identify relevant responses. During this decision-making process cognitive biases may occur which cause an individual to neglect or be biased towards certain information: this may potentially lead to an inappropriate and/or unexpected response. Cognitive biases affect performance without the individual being directly aware of them. This paper identifies cognitive biases from existing literature that may influence a person's decision-making process during a fire evacuation, along with how these align with general decision-making in the process. The purpose of the article is to promote consideration of cognitive biases in the modeling of evacuee behavior, as well as during the fire safety design of buildings and evacuation procedures.
Fire Technology


decision making, evacuation, human factors, cognitive bias


Kinsey, M. , Gwynne, S. , Kuligowski, E. and Kinateder, M. (2019), Cognitive Biases Within Decision Making During Fire Evacuations, Fire Technology, [online], (Accessed June 13, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created March 7, 2019, Updated October 12, 2021