The Echoes of the Mind (85) Social Bias

Social Bias

Evidence for the tendency for people to perceive events in a biased or inaccurate manner comes from a long line of research in social psychology. ~ Canadian social psychologist Janice Gray & American social psychologist Roxane Cohen Silver

Psychological bias to succor self-esteem in social settings is pervasive. The subconscious filters feedback, especially when the uptake would put a dent in self-regard.

Even when people are giving us signals about what they really think, we often have a hard time seeing them. ~ Timothy Wilson

The fundamental attribution error is the tendency to put undue emphasis on the internal dynamics of personality to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation rather than considering circumstance. The flip side of this is actor-observer bias, in which people overemphasize the influence of a situation in attributing their own behaviors while underemphasizing personality.

Sense of status between partners and amid peers is an especial stressor. A study of young married couples found each taking more credit for childcare and household chores than their spouses gave them credit for. Ask a husband or wife what percentage of time that they respectively take for individual domestic tasks, and their estimates of their own efforts usually sum to over 100%.

Self-serving bias about responsibility contributes to marital discord and dissatisfaction at the workplace. Most people in divorce blame their spouse. Most managers blame poor performance on worker incompetence or indolence. Workers tend to blame someone or something else: excessive workload, difficult colleagues, assignment ambiguity.

Students take credit for their good grades but fault the exam when they falter. Teachers accept credit for student achievements, but failures are shouldered by students.

Most people see themselves as better than average: more intelligent, better looking, less prejudiced, and more ethical.

The truest way to be deceived is to think oneself more knowing than others. ~ French author François de La Rochefoucauld

90% of workers and managers rate themselves as superior to their peers. People evaluate pay raises as fair when they get more than others.

Most drivers – even those hospitalized from accidents that were their fault – believe themselves safer and more skilled at the wheel than the average Joe on the road.

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People tend to believe that others feel, think, and act as they themselves do. ~ American social psychologist Joachim Krueger

People who are rude to others overestimate how common such behavior is. Their self-image is shored up by a sense of false consensus. Moral lapses are excused as being the norm.

In contrast, people who act virtuously feel a false uniqueness: underestimating how common such behavior is. This misconception also elevates self-regard.

How little we should enjoy life if we never flattered ourselves. ~ François de La Rochefoucauld

What people think others believe influences their own beliefs. This is the nature of being a gregarious creature: using information from others to shape what we think.

The effectiveness of this information channel is compromised by false consensus bias, which deflates the ability to accurately assess others. Freud called this a projection: thinking that others share the same attitudes and beliefs. Exaggerating the extent that others are like oneself makes people more resistant to change than they would be otherwise.

There are, of course, corrections: bizarre notions do not survive feedback. But the tendency of people to associate with those who are like-minded forms an insular bubble of implicit confirmation.

Further, people rarely challenge one another, even when they do conflict on tastes, mores, or assumed maxims. Adults are generally reluctant to argue about beliefs, or even point out social faux pas unless they are egregious. The potential for awkwardness is off-putting.

One cannot go around correcting others. ~ Miss Manners

Children, on the other hand, tend to be brutally honest with one another: social blunders are enthusiastically jeered. Thus, the formative years provide the most informative feedback about our worldview hypotheses, when they are most needed.