Friday, July 24, 2009

Eight biases - the first four

Emily Pronin's paper, "The Bias Blind Spot," describes three studies which attempt to identify the reason that people consistently view others as more biased than themselves. The first study began with having participants read a booklet describing eight specific biases. Some I recognized, some I didn't. So here are brief descriptions of four of the eight biases described in the booklet (I'll do the next four another time):

1. The self-serving bias - attributing one's successes to one's own personal attributes or effort, but one's failures to external forces beyond one's control. "I avoided the accident because I am a good driver and reacted quickly. I had the wreck because the rainy street was slick."

2. Choice-supportive bias - remembering mainly the positive qualities about a choice made and mainly the negative qualities about the choice not made. "I stayed home Friday night because I was really tired. It felt good to just relax for a change. I had a great weekend because I had a lot of energy. The party I chose not to go to was too far away. Several of the people who were going to be there are annoying and boring. I would have spent most of Saturday morning with a hangover if I'd gone." (Reduces the dissonance of the possibility that the choice not made would have actually been better. Coulda been a great party.)

3. The halo effect - the tendency to see additional positive qualities in a person or object after noticing one positive quality (or additional negative qualities after noticing one negative one). If someone strikes you as friendly or attractive on first meeting, you're more likely to judge them as intelligent, or talented, or industrious, etc. than if the first thing you noticed about them was that they are physically unappealing, or have a snobbish attitude. Even though an ugly or snobbish person may be as intelligent, talented, or industrious (or even more so) as the friendly, attractive person.

4. Pronin calls the fourth bias "biased assimilation of new information." I think she is referring to what is commonly called confirmation bias. (One of my favorites.) New information that confirms one's current opinions or understanding is considered to be very important, highly relevant, and is remembered for a long time. Information that contradicts one's beliefs is dismissed as unimportant or the rare exception - and often promptly forgotten. One particularly interesting effect of this bias is that when people are presented with (true) information that reveals that a deeply held belief is, in fact, false, more often than not they will not only not change their (false) opinion - they will embrace it more strongly.

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