5 common biases that hurt PERFORMANCE
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.
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