Get used to it: all of us are bi­ased

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

In any given sit­u­a­tion we as­sume that peo­ple, in­clud­ing our­selves, will act sen­si­bly. But that is not an as­sump­tion on which we can rely. We live our lives and make our de­ci­sions on much shakier foun­da­tions than rea­son and good sense. It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that peo­ple sel­dom think log­i­cally and there­fore very of­ten do not act ra­tion­ally.

The long tes­ti­mony of his­tory, and all the re­searches of be­havioural sci­en­tists, clearly in­di­cate that the cool ex­er­cise of logic is only one in­flu­ence in how peo­ple think and there­fore act. There are other in­flu­ences at work which are all too of­ten more pow­er­ful.

● There is fear of feel­ing re­gret. Too fre­quently we pass up ben­e­fits well within reach to avoid even a small risk of feel­ing we have failed.

● We are prone to cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance: hold­ing a be­lief at odds with the ev­i­dence, usu­ally be­cause the be­lief has been cher­ished for a long time. You should not won­der, there­fore, why the world was led head­long into dis­as­trous fi­nan­cial melt­down by sup­pos­edly supremely well-qual­i­fied bankers and Trea­sury ex­perts who in­sisted in the face of more and more glar­ing facts that un­bri­dled mar­ket forces would pro­duce end­less growth and pros­per­ity.

● There is what is termed an­chor­ing. We are overly in­flu­enced by out­side sug­ges­tion even when we should be quite aware that the sug­ges­tion is be­ing made by some­one who is cer­tainly not bet­ter in­formed than we are. Con­sul­tants from abroad de­pend on an­chor­ing for the pros­per­ous liv­ing they make.

● We all suf­fer, some badly so, from sta­tus quo bias. Peo­ple are will­ing to take big­ger gam­bles to main­tain the sta­tus quo than they would be to es­tab­lish it in the first place. Give the same crys­tal glass at ran­dom to some peo­ple in a group, then ask those who have the glass their sell­ing price and those who don’t have the glass their buy­ing price: the av­er­age sell­ing price will be con­sid­er­ably higher than the av­er­age price of­fered.

We com­part­men­tal­ize, we do not look at the big pic­ture. We make de­ci­sions in one par­tic­u­lar men­tal com­part­ment with­out tak­ing ac­count of the im­pli­ca­tions in other com­part­ments. The West Indies Cricket Board is hor­ri­bly guilty of this blink­ered think­ing.

● We are per­sis­tently over-con­fi­dent. Asked to an­swer a fac­tual ques­tion and then asked to es­ti­mate the prob­a­bil­ity of the an­swer be­ing cor­rect, peo­ple typ­i­cally over­es­ti­mate this prob­a­bil­ity.

● A very hu­man habit is mag­i­cal think­ing. We vain­glo­ri­ously as­sume we have greater in­flu­ence over events than is the case. You cover-drive an ex­cel­lent out-swinger from Ben Stokes to the bound­ary one time and be­come con­vinced that you are a highly skilled bats­man rather than just a for­tu­nate one – with dire con­se­quences.

● We are very vul­ner­a­ble to hind­sight bias. Once some­thing has hap­pened we over-es­ti­mate the ex­tent to which we could have pre­dicted it. Closely re­lated to this is mem­ory bias. When some­thing hap­pens we eas­ily per­suade our­selves that we ac­tu­ally pre­dicted it, even when we cer­tainly did not.

A● Fi­nally, of course, we are emo­tional. Above all, mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion have hard-wired the brain’s fear cir­cuitry so strongly in place that it quite over­whelms the more re­cently evolved rea­son­ing fac­ulty. This is why the fear of ter­ror­ism af­ter 9/11 has par­a­lyzed good sense in so much that is de­cided in para­noid Amer­ica.

Other emo­tions also pre­vail over pure logic. A fa­mous ex­per­i­ment demon­strates emo­tion in play. It is called the ‘ul­ti­ma­tum game’ in which one player, the pro­poser, is given a sum of money, say $50, and of­fers some por­tion of it to the other player, the re­spon­der. The re­spon­der can ei­ther ac­cept the of­fer, in which case he gets the sum of­fered and the pro­poser gets the rest, or re­ject the of­fer in which case both play­ers get noth­ing. In ex­per­i­ments, very low of­fers (less than 20% of the to­tal sum) are of­ten re­jected, even though it is ra­tio­nal for the re­spon­der to ac­cept any of­fer which the pro­poser makes. And yet re­spon­ders seem to re­ject of­fers out of sheer in­dig­na­tion at be­ing made to ac­cept such a small pro­por­tion of the whole sum, and they seem to get more sat­is­fac­tion from tak­ing re­venge on the pro­poser than in max­i­miz­ing their own fi­nan­cial gain. ny­one think­ing that politi­cians, busi­ness­men, hus­bands, wives, in­vestors or bankers, po­ets or pas­tors, sci­en­tists, beg­gar­men or pres­i­dents, No­bel Prize win­ners, tin­kers, tai­lors, sol­diers, you, me or any­one else will think straight and act ac­cord­ingly please think again and act ac­cord­ingly – if you fol­low me.

Even God was bi­ased. Faced with the choice of leav­ing the Void as is and cre­at­ing some­thing, He chose Cre­ation. Why?

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