Check your bias at the door
Key resources, research and biases you can apply to your work
- The Decoy Effect — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33aaQdtD20k
- Buster Benson Bias Cheat Sheet — https://medium.com/thinking-is-hard/4-conundrums-of-intelligence-2ab78d90740f
- Framing Effect Research — Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior, 13(5), 585–589.
- Confirmation Bias, Explorable — https://explorable.com/confirmation-bias
- Watson’s Rule Discovery Test — A test that demonstrates that people are flawed in testing their hypothesis. Given the sequence of 2.4.6 people form a hypothesis about the rule then people try to confirm their hypothesis. Not prove it wrong.
- We want to help, should we?— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa9DLxDtPtc
- Anchoring Bias Research — Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of personality and social psychology, 71(2), 230.
- Morris, M. W., & Peng, K. (1994). Culture and cause: American and Chinese attributions for social and physical events. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 67(6), 949.
- Reo, S. (2015, June 8). Researchers find everyone has a bias blind spot. Carnegie Mellon University News. Retrieved from https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/june/bias-blind-spot.html
(1) Attribution Error
- People assume it’s you, not the situation
- People have a tendency to give personality-based explanations for other people’s behaviour more weight than situational factors
- This shows up when interpreting or analysing information about why people do what they do (e.g. user interviews)
Here is a passage to help explain this bias
A women is walking down a busy city street on her way to work and she sees what looks like a college student drop a folder of papers. The papers fall all over the the ground and the women glances over, but keeps on walking.
What do you think? Why didn’t the women stop to help with the papers?
If you answered, something like “She is self absorbed and doesn’t usually stop to help people out on the street” then the chances are likely that you made a fundamental attribution error
This is because people have the tendency to give personality-based explanations for other people’s behaviour more weight than situational factors
On the other hand instead of saying she is self-absorbed you may ascribe her behaviour to the situation e.g. She is late for a critical meeting with the bank and doesn’t have time to stop today. In other circumstances she would have stopped
In reality we don’t apply the situational motivation to her. We assume it’s not the situation but her personality that’s causing the behaviour
What about in other cultures?
In cultures that value individualism (Australia), it’s common to ascribe other people’s behaviour to personality. The attribution error is common in these cultures. In cultures that values collectivism (China), people make the same fundamental attribution error, but not as often as in individualist cultures
- Interpret or analyze the interviews: Always remember when interviewing you’ll have a tendency to think about “what people are going to do” based on personality and miss situational factors.
- Interviewing experts about what people do or will do: think carefully about what you’re hearing — chances are they will miss situational factors and put too much value on people’s personality
- Build in ways to cross check your biases: If your work requires you to make decisions about why people do what they do, stop and ask — “Am I making a fundamental attribution error?”
(2) The Bias Blind Spot
- People tend to have a bias blind spot
- This means you are more likely to rate yourself as being less susceptible to cognitive biases compared to others
- We are also more able to detect biases in others compared to in ourselves
- Bargh (1996) had people unscramble sets of words to make sentences
- For example, he would ask people to choose four out of five words and make sentences out of them — “he florida today lives in” would become “he lives in Florida”.
- Some people got sets of words that had a theme of “old” such as: Florida, Retired, Old, Elderly
- Other people got sets of words that had a “young” theme such as”: Youth Energy, Lively
- A third group got neutral words that were neither old nor young
- After unscrambling the words and making sentence Bargh would have the people walk down the hall to find him and measure how long it took each person to walk down the hall
What did Bargh find?
People who had been using the old words took much longer to walk down the hall. They had been unconsciously affected by the words. But when asked, if they thought the words had influenced them they said no. When I talk about this research, people believe that others would walk slowly, but that they wouldn’t be affected by words in this way.
- Awareness — by studying cognitive biases and understanding them we can reduce their impact.
- Collaboration — It is important to conduct research in teams. Diverse teams with different skills and views is also important
- Preparation — prepare the questions you ask and the order you will ask them to reduce biases
- Curiosity — be curious and reflect on your experiences. Journaling, meditation and self inquiry are important for this