Last week, I was on the subway on my way to work when a couple of people got on. Immediately, the woman next to me moved to a seat farther away from them and looked at them suspiciously. The reason was probably something to do with their appearance. It was obvious that they weren’t in a good economic condition. The train was full of people, and at the next stop a couple of young ladies got on. They stood near the first couple. The suspicious lady warned the girls to be careful with their bags, pointing at the couple. Her reaction made me think about how our bias condition our behavior without more data than our assumptions.
Common Sense and the Illusion of Objectivity
Experience and education, among other factors, shape our assumptions and beliefs that determine our common sense. According to this common sense, which is anything but common, we make decisions and behave. Just like the lady on the subway.
Aside from the ethical considerations, the incident on my way to work didn’t have any other consequences. Still, it’s worth being aware of our biases and how our common sense works to avoid making mistakes.
In addition to common sense, we all rely on our ability to be objective when making decisions. In other words, we trust ourselves to analyze reality, gather the right information, and use our experience and knowledge to make a good judgment. The truth is that we regularly fall for the illusion of objectivity.
We tend to see ourselves as more objective, more insightful, and less biased than we really are.
To understand why, we need to know something about the most common biases.
Types of bias
A bias is a strong and usually unconscious idea about someone or something based on the information we have, perceive we have, or lack. It’s a subjective way of thinking based on our perceptions.
There are many known types of bias, but not all of them have the same effect when you have to make decisions about people. It’s worth considering cultural bias, in-group bias, and fundamental attribution error.
Cultural bias affects those who perceive other cultures as abnormal or exotic in comparison to their own. This bias attributes the characteristics or behaviors of an individual to a larger group of people. It creates stereotypes and attitudes that influence decisions.
The in-group bias refers to how people are more likely to support someone within their social group than an outsider. This bias tends to remove objectivity from any kind of selection process.
Finally, fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency to attribute someone’s behavior to unfounded stereotypes while attributing one’s own similar behavior to external factors.
When it comes to evaluating people, it is essential to be aware of the influence of these biases. In the need to embrace diversity to meet multiple challenges, we should recognize and avoid what prevents us from finding the talent we need.