Let’s admit it: we all have biases. And even if you think you’re well rational enough and that won’t get in the way of your own self-interest, well… you might not be so good at making unbiased decisions as you think. Research shows that we tend to hang on to our biases even when they will obviously cost us cold, hard cash.
Related media: Confirmation Bias In 5 Minutes
You’re Biased As Broke
Confirmation bias explains the phenomenon of the human tendency to ignore any facts that aren’t in line with what they already believe. In a 2018 study published in the Journal for the Public Library of Science Computational Biology (PLOS-CB), neuroscientists sought to find out if people would hold unto their beliefs at hand even when they explicitly know it would go against their self-interest.
To test such a hypothesis, the researchers conducted two-phases of the same experiment. In the first phase, 20 participants were presented with a series of made-up symbols, which each one having an unknown price attached to it. They won the price on whichever items they chose. Let’s say the first choice is between playing a PlayStation and an Xbox. You choose PS, and you win $10. Next, you’re to choose between an Xbox and Personal Computer games. You choose Xbox, and you win $5.
Finally, you’re to choose between the PS and the PC games, and you choose PS again and win another $10 again. Then comes the second phase. Here, the participants were presented with the same sort of choices, but there’s a small catch: after choosing what they want, they were told what they didn’t choose.
Gambling Against Your Bias
Let’s now walk through the series again. You have to choose between playing a PS and an Xbox, you choose PS. You win $10, now plus the information (that playing an Xbox is worth $5). Now you have to choose between playing an Xbox and a PC game, you choose Xbox. You win $5. Now the catch: playing a PC game is actually worth $15. So your last chance is to choose between a PS and a PC game. It seems that choice is obvious. But wait a minute, you just chose a PS again. Why didn’t you go for that extra $5?
That’s right; even when the participants knew explicitly what the options were, they had developed a bias for the items they chose over what they could have won, if they had chosen otherwise. Truth is, if you ever get the sense that someone is acting against their own self-interest, there’s a no-vert-good reason why; and trying to convince them to do otherwise might be last thing they’d think about.
“In the end, people will have the impression that they are performing better than they actually are,” neuroscientist Stefano Palminteri, of the University of …, and study’s led author, told New Scientist. “That could increase self-confidence, and provide a motivational boost.”
So, its very difficult to break your own biases, especially if you can’t even see that they are harming you. But its not impossible to move beyond that self-perpetuating cycle.
Identifying You’re Bias
In a 2012 study, researchers sought to address racial biases by gradually by discouraging it. First, the researchers had to simply identify participants’ biases; and over the course of 12 weeks, they went through a multi-part intervention that began with simply making them aware of the ways in which their biases expressed themselves. Next, they were shown how implicit and explicit biases can impact the people around them negatively.
Finally, they were introduced to a series of strategies to reduce racial bias like: stereotype replacement (taking stereotypical views and replacing them with non-stereotypes); and individuation (combatting stereotypes by focusing on personal, rather than perceived group characteristics).
Like we said earlier, we all have biases. Its a good thing to admit that you are bias, but its no good identifying your biases if you’re not going to address them. So go ahead and identify your bias before they take advantage of you.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Aug 31, 2019.