The Ultimate Human Bias

By Ross Pomeroy - RCP Staff
June 24, 2020
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Humans suffer from all sorts of biases. There's the default effect, "when given a choice between several options, the tendency to favor the default one." There's stereotyping, "expecting a member of a group to have certain characteristics without having actual information about that individual." There's confirmation bias, "the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on, and remember information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions." This is a mere sampling of biases; there are hundreds more.

But there's a strong case to be made that the ultimate human bias may be what's called the "bias blind spot". Simply put, it's the bias that you are unbiased, or at least not as biased as everyone else.

Stanford University researchers Emily Pronin, Daniel Y. Lin, Lee Ross coined the term back in 2002, but the bias first went by a different name, "the illusion of objectivity", in psychologist David Alain Armor's 1999 dissertation, in which he conducted five experiments on more than 800 individuals.

"Across these studies, approximately 85% of participants indicated that they were more objective than the average member of the group from which they were drawn, a state of affairs that cannot be true," he wrote.

Plainly, most of us seem to suffer from this cognitive error in thinking. In 2015, researchers sampled 661 residents of the United States. Again, more than 85% of respondents believed they were less biased than the average American. One participant admitted that they are more biased than average. Just one.

While it seems counterintuitive to label that individual enlightened, according to the study's lead author, Dr. Irene Scopelliti, a Professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the City University of London, this self-aware person could stand out from their peers in some important respects.

"People more prone to think they are less biased than others are less accurate at evaluating their abilities relative to the abilities of others, they listen less to others’ advice, and are less likely to learn from training that would help them make less biased judgments," she said.

Distilled down, it seems that people suffering from the bias blind spot are less likely to listen and learn, two actions that are sorely needed in societies around the world.

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