The bias against your biases

Recently I have am addicted to social psychology and behavioral economics. I started reading lots of books and so many articles on the topic, and I fell in love with understanding how irrational we are, and how we make decisions and try to justify them with rational reasons. And since I started learning about data analysis and saw how data — most of the times — contradict our basic instinct and prediction, I became a strong believer in behavioral economics as a science and the researches done by social psychologists. Yet this drove me to a new problem, in which I became biased against my own biases!

What is a bias?

One of the most used words in all the social psychology/behavioral economics books is biases.

Bias is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, often accompanied by a refusal to even consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. People may be biased toward or against an individual, a race, a religion, a social class, or a political party. Biased means one-sided, lacking a neutral viewpoint, not having an open mind. — Wikipedia

In simple words, a bias is a shortcut your brain takes to decide and judge on things. The brain process 11 million bits of information every moment and if it has to process every bit of them to make a rational decision you would be paralyzed doing nothing.

When you try to find the information that supports your opinion instead of finding the right information about a specific topic, that’s a “confirmation bias”. When you see so many Nokia Lumias owned by the people around you and you think Nokia has the market share of smartphones, that’s a “availability heuristic”, another kind of bias. And when you see past events as predictable, that’s a “hindsight bias”, and the list goes on.

While biases are good for our brain to survive, they are mostly seen by psychologists — at least the ones I read their writings — as a way to blind us to not see the right track, or at most of the times, take the wrong decision.

I agree. Biases drive us towards certain directions regardless of others, and most of the time, they stop us from doing the right things. Advertisers use them to make you buy products, companies battle them internally to guarantee continuous survival and success. We always seek and ask for unbiased media that only transfer the picture to us, and we are far from being there.

Mapping Biases in Others

I thought that understanding biases would make life easier, in some part it is, when you can see the biases in people around you eventually understand them, and become more tolerant to their actions.

When you see the biases in other people, you don’t only look at the action or the opinion, you look at the action, the environment, and the background of the person who took that decision which eventually makes you understand why she did so.

But there is a catch, we are so good at finding other people’s mistakes/biases — if we know about them — more than finding our own (That’s in itself is a kind of bias).

Fighting my own biases

Recently, biases have been taking a big part of my thinking, every time someone takes an action I don’t like, I immediately start to map the biases that drove this person to do this. And if you live in the Egyptian society, this task becomes much easier as rational thinking went to hell long ago.

All of this is good, but I didn't stop there, I started thinking about my own decisions, ideas and the reasons I took them. I even sometimes started answering the question “Why you did so?” by saying “Because I have this bias”.

Of course I don’t do this all the time, it mostly happens when I have the time to think about the reasons and whenever I am deciding for a big change in my life.

Yet, another problem emerged. Because of understanding that biases blind us, and seeing how biases can drive me to the wrong direction. I started being “biased against my own biases”. Which is a case in which I take specific decisions and do certain actions just because they are the opposite of my biases! For example if there is an article that’s going viral through my network, my brain starts saying “maybe it is not that good, you are just seeing it a lot because people in your network are sharing it.”. Which in itself, a bias against my own biases.

I am not sure if this is something good or bad, and where it is driving me in the future, but what I am sure about is that biases are natural, they come from our instincts, & desires, and fighting them might be a fight against one’s self in some cases. I am not sure how fighting my own biases can take me, and I am not sure how good or bad it is. If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments ☺.