Unconscious bias

1 10 2011

We all like to think that we are unbiased. We are logical thinkers, clearly evaluating all of the information and forming sound judgements based purely on the facts.

Unlike others, who form opinions based on little information, informed by prior opinions, unshaken by subsequent logical argument or overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Despite the deep unfairness of it all, logic and psychology do recognise a number of different types of cognitive bias. While we cannot change others, perhaps we can be a little more aware of how these biases might (just might) affect our own judgement.

Confirmation bias: the tendency to believe (remember, give additional importance to) information that confirms our own opinions. The flip side of this is choice-supportive bias, where you remember the choices you made as being compelling and the choices you rejected are trivialised or discounted.

Primacy Bias : Tendency to bleieve (and remember) the first thing you hear. This might be because of its novelty, or because of the amount of effort that is required for processing the first event or information.

Recency bias : Tendency to believe (and remember) the last thing you hear. May be particularly strong in those with poor memory. Primacy and recency are worth considering when you are thinking of job interviews, or marking papers. The first time you hear or read something it might seem clever. By the time a number of people have said it, it becomes discounted.

Egocentric bias : Of course none of US have this one….the tendency to remember memories in ways that are self-serving…

And similarly, Hindsight Bias : the tendency to remember past events as predictable…I knew it was going to happen that way all along.

Correlation effect : the tendency to believe that two events that coincide have a causal link. Sometimes it is just a coincidence, and the probability of coincidences is that they will occur more than once. (Also called illusory correlation)

Framing effect : where the bias is caused by either a too-narrow, incorrect scoping of relevant “surrounding” information, or making different decisions based on the same infromation in the context of other differing information.

Belief bias : where the assessment of the strength of the argument is framed by whether the end result is acceptable.

Fundamental Attribution bias : the tendency to attribute blame or credit to personality-based reasons rather than situational-based reasons.

There are probably hundreds of other biases that we are subject to – and yes, depsite my sarcastic and somewhat flippant introduction, we are all prone to making these errors in our judgement.

A wise person realises that there is more than one side to the story and tries to understand the others’ viewpoint as well as their own. Only then can we (maybe) illuminate the biases in our own, and in others’ thinking.

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