Under the Hood

Blind Spot Bias: We Are All Affected By It, Whether We Believe It Or Not

not listening
You are no less biased than your peers, says a new study. Peter, CC BY-SA 2.0.

How biased are you? Chances are you think not very much. Despite your subjective experience, your unique surroundings, and the people close to you, you may still believe there is an objectivity to your opinion that you see far less of in your peers. But how could that be the case when we are a product of all these factors? Why do we believe our truth is the absolute truth?

A new study published in Management Science says this tendency to believe we are less biased than those around us is called “the bias blind spot,” and we all have it. “The bias blind spot” also suggests we are less likely to detect our own bias, but can readily and easily detect others. Even though being influenced by the outside may not be end of the world, when we deny it’s happening, it could have some serious social repercussions. When we cannot see our own bias, our judgments and behaviors are negatively impacted, making us less likely to take the advice we should be taking.

Luckily, researchers have developed a tool to allow us to identify our bias, and even train us to be less stuck in our ways.

“When physicians receive gifts from pharmaceutical companies, they may claim that the gifts do not affect their decisions about what medicine to prescribe because they have no memory of the gifts biasing their prescriptions,” said Erin McCormick, Ph.D. student of CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, in a recent press release. “However, if you ask them whether a gift might unconsciously bias the decisions of other physicians, most will agree that other physicians are unconsciously biased by the gifts, while continuing to believe their own decisions are not. This disparity is the blind spot bias, and occurs for everyone, for many different types of judgments and decisions.”

The researchers conducted five experiments for their study; the first two experiments created and tested the tool to detect bias blind spot differences, and the bias’ association with IQ, ability to make decisions and self-esteem. The other three experiments put the tool to use, examining how differences in blind spot bias affected how individuals made social comparisons, how they viewed advice from others, and whether they benefited from training against biases.

From these five experiments, researchers found that only one adult out of 661 participants admitted to being more biased than the average person, suggesting mostly everyone possesses blind spot bias. On the contrary, researchers also found the degree of blindness within participants biases varied among different individuals. The results held true if the participants were biased or unbiased within their decision-making. Interestingly enough, the degree of susceptibility to bias blindness was not effected by IQ, self-esteem, cognitive ability, self-presentation, the ability to make decisions or any other general personality trait.

“People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers,” said Carey Morewedge, associate professor of marketing at Boston University. “This susceptibility to the bias blind spot appears to be pervasive, and is unrelated to people’s intelligence, self-esteem, and actual ability to make unbiased judgements and decisions.”

Researchers also discovered that those with the highest blind spot bias were also the most resistant to de-bias training, as well as the most resistant to taking the advice of others.

“Our research found that the extent to which one is blind to her own bias has more important consequences for the quality of decision-making,” said Irene Scopelliti of City University London. “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.”

We’re all biased, and in some ways, that seems obvious. As we all live different lives latent with different events that leave varying impressions, it’s hard to say that won’t leave a mark. So the next time you think you’re right, just remember: there are billions of other people out there with billions of other opinions, and they’re all thinking the same thing.

Source: Scopelliti I, Morewedge C, McCormick E, et al. Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences. Management Science. 2015.

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