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The Bias Blind Spot

It’s been well documented that we see the world through biased glasses. And yet even as we acknowledge that bias exists and can see it in others, we are slow to acknowledge how bias shapes our own views.

Research shows, in fact, that people rate themselves less subject to bias than the average American. Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin, along with psychologists Daniel Lin and Lee Ross of Stanford University, present their findings in “The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions in Bias in Self Versus Others,” published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, in March, 2002 (Vol. 23, No. 3).

In two studies using surveys of students and airport travelers, participants consistently rated either the average American or their peers as having substantial more bias than themselves.

Even after reading a paragraph that noted how “70-80% of individuals consistently rate themselves…as having ‘less than average’ amounts of characteristics they believe are negative,” participants still rated themselves as less biased.

A third study involved using a bogus test of social intelligence to determine whether participants viewed the test as valid or invalid, based on their performance. Following testing, researchers gave participants false feedback indicating that they had scored either high or low on the test.

As anticipated, participants who were assigned high scores saw the test as more valid than the participants who were assigned low scores. When asked to consider their partner’s evaluation of the test, participants were much more likely to see bias in their partner than in themselves.

“Our contention is that in most cases people do indeed expect that others will share their views,” the researchers conclude. “But, when these others fail to do so, people are likely to see those with whom they disagree as unreasonable and as unable to view things in an objective manner.”

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