Blind spot bias

“Other people are more biased than I. "

Definition

While it may seem easy to identify bias in others, it is different when it comes to assessing one’s own abilities to think impartially. Indeed, it is difficult for individuals to notice and identify the biases that mark their own decisions, judgments, beliefs or perceptions: this is the blind spot bias [1]. In other words, we believe ourselves to be better able than our peers to perceive reality as it is and to reason in a neutral and objective manner [2,3]. This belief persists even when we know of the existence of cognitive biases [4].

Example

Paul is the head of a department at a reputable university. He must recommend a professor to a nomination committee for the “Teacher of the Year” competition. One of the two professors who applied for the competition is a longtime friend of Paul's. The director knows full well that this puts him in a conflict of interest. If a colleague was in his position and asked him for advice, Paul would suggest that they ask someone else to make the nomination, so that the decision rendered would be neutral. Yet in his case, he is confident that he will be able to impartially assess both candidacies. He therefore recommends his friend, believing his decision was based on objective facts, without realizing that it was most likely influenced by his emotional preferences.

Explanation

There are three well-documented mechanisms that explain the occurrence and maintenance of blind spot bias [1]. The first is the tendency to want to see ourselves in a positive light: since biases are generally viewed as negative, we tend to underestimate the degree to which our actions and thoughts are biased. This helps maintain a positive image of ourselves. Second, most biases operate at an unconscious level and we generally underestimate the influence that unconscious processes have on our thoughts and behaviours. Finally, we believe that our view of the world is objective, so that when someone does not share our view, it is easy to attribute this to the other person being biased. These explanatory mechanisms also make it possible to shed light on contexts in which the blind spot bias is most likely to operate, such as situations where one’s self-esteem is threatened, situations where unconscious motivations are likely to surface, or situations where one faces a dissenting opinion [1]. For these reasons, conflictual situations are particularly conducive to the manifestation of the blind spot bias [2,3].

Consequences

The blind spot bias has a detrimental effect on the understanding of others when in a conflict because it makes us sure of ourselves, and makes us doubt the judgement skills of others who do not agree with us. [2]. At the political level, the effect of this bias can take on significant dimensions, precipitating conflicts, and even forms of violence [3]. Indeed, what is the point of negotiating or using diplomacy if we believe that the other is irrational and biased [1]? Finally, learning about cognitive biases does not necessarily make us better at avoiding them within ourselves [2]. On the contrary, it can have the opposite effect, because we falsely believe ourselves to be immune from their influence [3].

Thoughts on how to act in light of this bias

  • Keep a humble attitude towards cognitive biases. Knowing them is not enough to protect us from them.

  • Remember that our view of the world is rarely true to reality, that our reasoning is often distorted and that our judgement is not often truly fair and unbiased.

  • Practice mindfulness meditation. This practice seems to increase our capacity for introspection and would help us to detect our own biases [5].

How is this bias measured?

There are several experimental methods for measuring this bias, but the basic principle is based on three steps: 1) Induce a bias in the participants. Typically, the participants have to make a decision, but the environment is manipulated so that the decision is biased. 2) Explain to the participants the bias they were given and ask them to assess the degree to which their decision was affected by the bias. 3) Ask participants to rate how biased a peer (real or imagined) would have been in the same situation. The difference between the degree of perceived bias in oneself and in a peer represents the effect of blind spot bias [1,3].

This bias is discussed in the scientific literature:

This bias has social or individual repercussions:

This bias is empirically demonstrated:

References

[1] Pronin, Emily (2007). Perception and misperception of bias in human judgment. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(1), 37–43.


[2] Frantz, Cynthia MecPherson (2006). I AM Being Fair: The Bias Blind Spot as a Stumbling Block to Seeing Both Sides. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 28(2), 157–167. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15324834basp2802_5


[3] Pronin, Emily (2008). How We See Ourselves and How We See Others. Science, 320(5880), 1177–1180. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1154199 (Theorical review).


[4] Pronin, Emily, Daniel Y. Lin & Lee Ross (2002). The bias blind spot: Perceptions of bias in self versus others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(3), 369-381. (First mention of the bias).


[5] Gill, Louis-Nascan, Robin Renault, Emma Campbell, Pierre Rainville & Bassam Khoury (2020). Mindfulness induction and cognition: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Consciousness and Cognition, 84, 102991

Tags

Availability heuristic, Need for self-esteem, Interpersonal level

Related biases

Author

Louis-Nascan Gill, PhD candidate in psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal.

Translated from French to English by Susan D. Renaud.

How to cite this entry

Gill, L-N. (2020). Blind spot bias, trans S. D. Renaud. In E. Gagnon-St-Pierre, C. Gratton & E. Muszynski (Eds). Shortcuts: A handy guide to cognitive biases Vol. 2. Online: www.shortcogs.com

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