We Are ALL Bias - Yes Even You

Friday, August 01, 2008 1 comments

We all feel the need to be in control, or at least have the sense of control, in order to feel safe and secure in the world, and with our relationships with the people that surround us, and we go about this in many different ways.

We also have the need to explain to ourselves and others, the things that are happening around us, and we want to know the reasons for not only our actions, but also the actions of others. I think we all have secretly wished we could be a mind reader, at one time or another. We want to be able to know or predict how to act and relate.

We are all responsible for our own behavior and the choices and decisions that we make, no matter how hard we would like to blame others and circumstances, for the not so good ones. We are ruled by our own perceptions, beliefs, values and behaviors, not those of others, just our perception of them.

However, under the surface of our conscious decisions and actions of all of us, lays this mysterious world undetected by most of us, busy at work causing us to behave in unpredictable ways, and we are not even aware of it, most of the time let alone understand. It’s called our subconscious mind and our genes, and it has its grip on you at all times. Some of the things it is busy doing, is pretty much consistent with all human beings, because part of its job is to take care of upholding our primal needs, but due to upbringing, environmental factors, genetics, our conscious influence, etc., it goes about accomplishing the same thing, in slightly different ways.

So what does this have to do with all us being bias, you are probably asking yourself

Just take a look at some of these human behaviors, and you will start to see it all around, and may even be able to be objective enough to see these tendencies in you.

When someone else has made a mistake, or done something that we perceive as unacceptable, or distasteful, we will attribute their actions as being a part of their personality, which is called internal attribution. On the other hand, however, if we are the ones who have made a mistake, failed, etc., we will attribute our own actions as being caused by external factors, which is called external attribution, rather than blaming ourselves for our blunder. We also apply the same principle to the people that we like, as we do to ourselves.

To make it more interesting, when we are successful, we attribute our success to our own abilities, or good and sound decisions (internal attribution), but when someone else is successful, we attribute their success to sheer luck (external attribution). It all sounds quite self-centered, now doesn’t it? But we are all guilty of it, at one point or another.

Also on a similar note, we will take responsibility for our successes, which is called self-serving bias, and deny any responsibility for the things that we failed at, called self-protecting bias. It helps to protect and boost our fragile egos.

We will also take responsibility for the success of a team we support, for example, stating at the end of the game. We won. However, if the team loses, we will state, they lost. Watch what you do the next time your child does something good or bad. If they have done something good or succeeded, we will say, “our son”, but if they are mis-behaving, all of a sudden it becomes, “your son”. I personally did this all the time when my son was growing up, although, I knew I was doing it, and would sometimes chuckle to myself about it.

We also tend to think that we are more multi-faceted and unpredictable than others, probably due to the fact that we see within ourselves (or at least we think we do), knowing that there can be several ways that we may act and behave in certain and different circumstances, whereas with others, we can only guess.

We will look for and acknowledge the things that confirm our own beliefs, and ignore and filter out the things that don’t and are contradictory to those beliefs. This is referred to as confirmation bias.

"Enough research will tend to support your theory." Murphy’s Law of Research.

When things don’t go as planned and we are surprised by the outcome, to escape and cover up our embarrassment, we use hindsight bias, which is the knew-it-all-along effect. We will even change our memories slightly to fill in the gaps, at times.

"Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe." Demosthenes

Shelley Taylor notes that the topic of “self-deception has always presented hilosophers with a logical paradox: How can a person know and not know information at the same time?” Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions: Creative Self-Deception and The Healthy Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1989).

An individual’s memory and the recollection of one’s personal history is also fertile ground for self-deception. Goleman discusses John Dean’s testimony in the Watergate hearings to illustrate how we skew the facts or “engage in wishful memory in order to portray ourselves in a better light”. While the case of John Dean presents a salient example, Goleman is of the opinion that such self-deception is quite common and is in fact facilitated by the mind’s design. Goleman remarks: “The ease with which we deny and dissemble—and deny and dissemble to ourselves that we have denied or dissembled—is remarkable” Daniel Goleman’s Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception

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