5 com­mon bi­ases that hurt PER­FOR­MANCE

EQUUS - - Front Page - By Janet L. Jones, PhD

Have you ever re­mem­bered the lyrics of a song from 20 years ago but lost the sun­glasses perched on your head? Forgotten praise but re­called ev­ery word of an in­sult? Pre­dicted the out­come of yes­ter­day’s event with con­fi­dence---“I knew it all along”---but had no idea how to­mor­row’s event would play out? Th­ese are all nor­mal bi­ases cre­ated by the in­ner work­ings of our brains.

Cog­ni­tive il­lu­sions oc­cur in all spheres of life---from busi­ness to friend­ship, fam­ily in­ter­ac­tion to pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions, med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis to weed pulling. Horse sports are not im­mune. In fact, sev­eral com­mon il­lu­sions can al­ter your abil­ity to im­prove your eques­trian skills.

SELF-SERV­ING BIAS

The term “self-serv­ing” is apt to be in­ter­preted as a neg­a­tive per­son­al­ity trait pos­sessed by those who are self­cen­tered and ego­tis­tic. But in cog­ni­tive science the term refers to the hu­man propen­sity to pro­tect one­self---a sur­vival bias that’s im­por­tant to phys­i­cal life and men­tal well-be­ing. Peo­ple with­out it are of­ten clin­i­cally de­pressed or even psy­chotic. Self-serv­ing bias is an illusion of the nor­mal brain in which we con­sider our­selves re­spon­si­ble for our suc­cesses but not for our fail­ures.

Sup­pose you won a rid­ing class last month. Self-serv­ing bias causes your brain to as­sume that your own ef­fort or skill caused the victory. And in­deed, it prob­a­bly did. But the same hu­man mind at­tributes fail­ure to bad luck or sit­u­a­tional dif­fi­culty. I won the class be­cause I’m such a great rider. But I fell off in the next class be­cause some tod­dler waved a bal­loon in the stands and spooked my horse. Um, yeah.

Blam­ing a judge or trainer also shifts re­spon­si­bil­ity away from our­selves. Let’s say a horse show judge asks you to go from a walk straight to a hand-gal­lop in the first 30 sec­onds of an un­der-sad­dle class. You and your horse don’t do well. Many of us would com­plain that our fail­ure oc­curred be­cause the judge asked for the hand-gal­lop too soon. Although the tim­ing is un­usual, horses and rid­ers who can gal­lop at any time prob­a­bly de­serve higher place­ment.

Self-serv­ing bias is pow­er­ful. Its size varies depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, but some stud­ies show that our will­ing­ness to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for suc­cess is 300 per­cent greater than the facts of the event dic­tate. We ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for fail­ures at a rate that’s about 50 per­cent lower than it should be. Add it up from both di­rec­tions, and that’s a hefty dol­lop of illusion. We usu­ally

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