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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Humans’ Bias Blind Spot and Its Societal Significance

Pronin, E., & Hazel, L. (2023).
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 0(0).


Human beings have a bias blind spot. We see bias all around us but sometimes not in ourselves. This asymmetry hinders self-knowledge and fuels interpersonal misunderstanding and conflict. It is rooted in cognitive mechanics differentiating self- and social perception as well as in self-esteem motives. It generalizes across social, cognitive, and behavioral biases; begins in childhood; and appears across cultures. People show a bias blind spot in high-stakes contexts, including investing, medicine, human resources, and law. Strategies for addressing the problem are described.


Bias-limiting procedures

When it comes to eliminating bias, attempts to overcome it via conscious effort and educational training are not ideal. A different strategy is worth considering, when possible: preventing people’s biases from having a chance to operate in the first place, by limiting their access to biasing information. Examples include conducting auditions behind a screen (discussed earlier) and blind review of journal submissions. If fully blocking access to potentially biasing information is not possible or carries more costs than benefits, another less stringent option is worth considering, that is, controlling when the information is presented so that potentially biasing information comes late, ideally after a tentative judgment is made (e.g., “sequential unmasking”; Dror, 2018; “temporary cloaking”; Kang, 2021).

Because of the BBS, people can be resistant to procedures like this that limit their access to biasing information (see Fig. 3). For example, forensics experts prefer consciously trying to avoid bias over being shielded from even irrelevant biasing information (Kukucka et al., 2017). When high school teachers and ensemble singers were asked to assess blinding procedures (in auditioning and grading), they opposed them more for their own group than for the other group and even more for themselves personally (Pronin et al., 2022). This opposition is consistent with experiments showing that people are unconcerned about the effects of biasing decision processes when it comes to their own decisions (Hansen et al., 2014). In those experiments, participants made judgments using a biasing decision procedure (e.g., judging the quality of paintings only after looking to see if someone famous painted them). They readily acknowledged that the procedure was biased, nonetheless made decisions that were biased by that procedure, and then insisted that their conclusions were objective. This unwarranted confidence is a barrier to the self-imposition of bias-reducing procedures. It suggests the need for adopting procedures like this at the policy level rather than counting on individuals or their organizations to do so.

A different bias-limiting procedure that may induce resistance for these same reasons, and that therefore may also benefit from institutional or policy-level implementation, involves precommitting to decision criteria (e.g., Norton et al., 2004; Uhlmann & Cohen, 2005). For example, the human resources officer who precommits to judging job applicants more on the basis of industry experience versus educational background cannot then change that emphasis after seeing that their favorite candidate has unusually impressive academic credentials. This logic is incorporated, for example, into the system of allocating donor organs in the United States, which has explicit and predetermined criteria for making those allocations in order to avoid the possibility of bias in this high-stakes arena. When decision makers are instructed to provide objective criteria for their decision not before making that decision but rather when providing it—that is, the more typical request made of them—this not only makes bias more likely but also, because of the BBS, may even leave decision makers more confident in their objectivity than if they had not been asked to provide those criteria at all.

Here's my brief summary:

The article discusses the concept of the bias blind spot, which refers to people's tendency to recognize bias in others more readily than in themselves. Studies have consistently shown that people rate themselves as less susceptible to various biases than the average person. The bias blind spot occurs even for well-known biases that people readily accept exist. This blind spot has important societal implications, as it impedes recognition of one's own biases. It also leads to assuming others are more biased than oneself, resulting in decreased trust. Overcoming the bias blind spot is challenging but important for issues from prejudice to politics. It requires actively considering one's own potential biases when making evaluations about oneself or others.