Bias Blind Spot

The bias blind spot is the cognitive bias of failing to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases. The term was created by Emily Pronin, a social psychologist from Princeton University’s Department of Psychology, with colleagues Daniel Lin and Lee Ross. Pronin and her co-authors explained to subjects the better-than-average effect (illusory superiority), the halo effect, self-serving bias, and many other cognitive biases.

According to the better-than-average bias, specifically, people are likely to see themselves as inaccurately ‘better than average’ for possible positive traits and ‘less than average’ for negative traits. When subsequently asked how biased they themselves were, subjects rated themselves as being much less vulnerable to those biases than the average person.

Emily Pronin and Matthew Kugler have argued that this phenomenon is due to the introspection illusion (people wrongly think they have direct insight into the origins of their mental states, while treating others’ introspections as unreliable). In their experiments, subjects had to make judgments about themselves and about other subjects. They displayed standard biases, for example rating themselves above the others on desirable qualities (demonstrating illusory superiority). The experimenters explained cognitive bias, and asked the subjects how it might have affected their judgment. The subjects rated themselves as less susceptible to bias than others in the experiment (confirming the bias blind spot). When they had to explain their judgments, they used different strategies for assessing their own and others’ bias.

Pronin and Kugler’s interpretation is that when people decide whether someone else is biased, they use overt behavior. On the other hand, when assessing whether or not they themselves are biased, people look inward, searching their own thoughts and feelings for biased motives. Since biases operate unconsciously, these introspections are not informative, but people wrongly treat them as reliable indication that they themselves, unlike other people, are immune to bias.

Pronin and Kugler tried to give their subjects access to others’ introspections. To do this, they made audio recordings of subjects who had been told to say whatever came into their heads as they decided whether their answer to a previous question might have been affected by bias. Although subjects persuaded themselves they were unlikely to be biased, their introspective reports did not sway the assessments of observers.

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