Bias, Yours and Mine

Most of us think we are free of bias. We’re pretty convinced we reach conclusions, make decisions, rank priorities, and do related acts of judgment based on evidence, not bias or prejudice.

We’re also pretty convinced that everybody else—especially those who disagree with us—does let pre-existing bias influence their decision making. Psychologists call this the “bias blind spot” where people report that bias is more common in others than themselves.

New research asks whether people of high “cognitive sophistication”, i.e., smart people, are better able to overcome the bias blind spot. Perhaps surprisingly, the results show just the opposite—the bias blind spot is slightly more apparent in those with high cognitive sophistication (as measured by four different standard scales).

The participants in this study were undergraduates at an American university. College students are an easily surveyed assembly but may not be representative of the population as a whole. Thus, one wonders whether the inability to be open-minded correlates inversely with intelligence in other groups—scientists, for instance, whom one expects to be both highly intelligent and supremely capable of letting results, not bias, dictate their conclusions. This would be a worthy follow-up study, and would surely provoke a high degree of advance curiosity about whether our biases about scientists are, well, unbiased.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Science, Evidence, Belief [Periodic Tabloid]
Why Smart People Are Stupid [The New Yorker]

Posted In: Education

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