Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Social Biases: The Brain's Social Autopilot

This list (primarily based on scientific research) is for anyone who has ever left an interaction with another human being confused, befuddled, or bewildered:

* Actor-observer bias – the tendency for explanations of other individuals' behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation (see also fundamental attribution error). However, this is coupled with the opposite tendency for the self in that explanations for our own behaviors overemphasize the influence of our situation and underemphasize the influence of our own personality.

* Egocentric bias – occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would.

* Forer effect (aka Barnum Effect) – the tendency to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. For example, horoscopes.

* False consensus effect – the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

* Fundamental attribution error – the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior (see also actor-observer bias, group attribution error, positivity effect, and negativity effect).

* Halo effect – the tendency for a person's positive or negative traits to "spill over" from one area of their personality to another in others' perceptions of them (see also physical attractiveness stereotype).

* Herd instinct – Common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority to feel safer and to avoid conflict.

* Illusion of asymmetric insight – people perceive their knowledge of their peers to surpass their peers' knowledge of them.

* Illusion of transparency – people overestimate others' ability to know them, and they also overestimate their ability to know others.

* Illusory superiority – overestimating one's desirable qualities, and underestimating undesirable qualities, relative to other people. Also known as Superiority bias (also known as "Lake Wobegon effect", "better-than-average effect", "superiority bias", or Dunning-Kruger effect).

* Ingroup bias – the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

* Just-world phenomenon – the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people "get what they deserve."

* Notational bias – a form of cultural bias in which the notational conventions of recording data biases the appearance of that data toward (or away from) the system upon which the notational schema is based.

* Outgroup homogeneity bias – individuals see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups.

* Projection bias – the tendency to unconsciously assume that others share the same or similar thoughts, beliefs, values, or positions.

* Self-serving bias (also called "behavioral confirmation effect") – the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests (see also group-serving bias).

* Self-fulfilling prophecy – the tendency to engage in behaviors that elicit results which will (consciously or not) confirm existing attitudes.[11]

* System justification – the tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest. (See also status quo bias.)

* Trait ascription bias – the tendency for people to view themselves as relatively variable in terms of personality, behavior and mood while viewing others as much more predictable.

* Ultimate attribution error – Similar to the fundamental attribution error, in this error a person is likely to make an internal attribution to an entire group instead of the individuals within the group.

Source: wikipedia.org

The Impact Bias: Future Happiness and Despair Never Live Up to Expectations

"Here's two different futures that I invite you to contemplate, and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic. So, just give it a moment of thought. You probably don't feel like you need a moment of thought.

However, interestingly, there are data on these two groups of people, data on how happy they are. The fact is, that a year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives [graphs of these data are shown in the video embedded below].

Now, don't feel too bad about failing the first pop quiz, because everybody fails all of the pop quizzes all of the time. The research that my laboratory has been doing, that economists and psychologists around the country have been doing, have revealed something really quite startling to us. Something we call the impact bias, which is the tendency for your mental simulator to work badly. For the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are.

From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have. In fact, a recent study -- this almost floors me -- a recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness" (Dan Gilbert, TED talk 2006).

For more of Dan Gilbert's research on cognitive biases and happiness: