Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Toward Parsimony in Bias Research: A Proposed Common Framework of Belief-Consistent Information Processing for a Set of Biases

Oeberst, A., & Imhoff, R. (2023).
Perspectives on Psychological Science, 0(0).


One of the essential insights from psychological research is that people’s information processing is often biased. By now, a number of different biases have been identified and empirically demonstrated. Unfortunately, however, these biases have often been examined in separate lines of research, thereby precluding the recognition of shared principles. Here we argue that several—so far mostly unrelated—biases (e.g., bias blind spot, hostile media bias, egocentric/ethnocentric bias, outcome bias) can be traced back to the combination of a fundamental prior belief and humans’ tendency toward belief-consistent information processing. What varies between different biases is essentially the specific belief that guides information processing. More importantly, we propose that different biases even share the same underlying belief and differ only in the specific outcome of information processing that is assessed (i.e., the dependent variable), thus tapping into different manifestations of the same latent information processing. In other words, we propose for discussion a model that suffices to explain several different biases. We thereby suggest a more parsimonious approach compared with current theoretical explanations of these biases. We also generate novel hypotheses that follow directly from the integrative nature of our perspective.


There have been many prior attempts of synthesizing and integrating research on (parts of) biased information processing (e.g., Birch & Bloom, 2004; Evans, 1989; Fiedler, 1996, 2000; Gawronski & Strack, 2012; Gilovich, 1991; Griffin & Ross, 1991; Hilbert, 2012; Klayman & Ha, 1987; Kruglanski et al., 2012; Kunda, 1990; Lord & Taylor, 2009; Pronin et al., 2004; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Sanbonmatsu et al., 1998; Shermer, 1997; Skov & Sherman, 1986; Trope & Liberman, 1996). Some of them have made similar or overlapping arguments or implicitly made similar assumptions to the ones outlined here and thus resonate with our reasoning. In none of them, however, have we found the same line of thought and its consequences explicated.

To put it briefly, theoretical advancements necessitate integration and parsimony (the integrative potential), as well as novel ideas and hypotheses (the generative potential). We believe that the proposed framework for understanding bias as presented in this article has merits in both of these aspects. We hope to instigate discussion as well as empirical scrutiny with the ultimate goal of identifying common principles across several disparate research strands that have heretofore sought to understand human biases.

This article proposes a common framework for studying biases in information processing, aiming for parsimony in bias research. The framework suggests that biases can be understood as a result of belief-consistent information processing, and highlights the importance of considering both cognitive and motivational factors.