1 Apr 2010

The nature of bias..inside and out.

I work regularly in an environment where we need to make decisions that affect peoples lives, health and the money they receive. No apologies for lack of details on this because the nature of my role is not for public disclosure. However, I can speak on the nature of things I observe so long as it points to no individual or organisation.

‘Bias’ is a phenomenon I’ve been looking at over the last 3 years. And I look at it from the perspective of someone with a lot of qualified knowledge of things psychological and legal. I’m kind of like the ‘fly on the wall’ – but in the ‘human mind’ – because most of the people around me don’t have a clue as to the extent of the abilities I might have, to see into them.  If they knew, it would be like discovering that someone could actually see under your clothes! That (by analogy only) is a matter of fact, and is so stated (nothing more, nothing less).

It’s true to say that we have a pretty difficult time seeing our own personal biases, which may be much more observable to others than we care to believe.

I’ve seen decisions made by others, and I’d say about 70% of the time I can – due to something said innocently before the decision – know which way they’re going to cast their vote, when the crunch comes. The core issues that lead to a swaying of decision-making process – not the decision itself – are usually related to:

  1. The experience of some close and trusted friend or professional colleague.
  2. The suffering of some relative of close friend with the similar situation being dealt with.
  3. Expectations based on experience from other similar situations.

Interestingly the facts and evidence of the situations before us seam to bear less weight, whenever what is known of situations they recollect about their ‘trusted others’, comes into the equation (an that shouldn’t be the case).

Hold on – I’m not saying that the three points should not inform to some degree. What I’m saying is that it is often difficult for people to draw a line between what ‘informs’ and what ‘directs’ their decision-making processes – the two can be so closely interwoven.

The above also comes into the way we assess personal situations – I mean those related to family and friend. My family and ‘so-called friend’ doh like my head – ah go tell yuh now – for the simple reason dat I is totally blunt wid dem – when it come to assessing dee facts of a situation. Yuh see (notice my slipping out of Queen’s English for effect) – I doh cyare whedda you is famaly or fr’en’, I goin’ tell you as I think it is, based on an assessment of all known perspectives of a situation. What I say may not support dey point of view – leading to the usual name calling such, as ‘neemakharaam’ . Buh as many of allyuh know of me by now, I don’t give a flying banana (aka F*) – I speak my mind. LOL.

Why am I writing this? Today? I guess it’s been weighing on my mind for sometime. And every time it happens it builds up and up. So today my fingers just ‘exploded’ onto the keyboard. It’s hard trying to be fair and balanced. Why? Because you ain’t gonna be popular, and you can expect to be ostracised and marginalised. Remember – that the herd expects conformity, support, loyalty and allegiance. Herd instincts being very ancient survival constructs (notwithstanding their necessity), don’t rely on or mix well with the more recently acquired cognitive processes we’ve come to develop – the latter due to a new 6mm of neocortex not shared with lower forms of life (a fact). I’ve touched on this elsewhere in: Confused and primitive to the core

But notice how two of the three issues I numerated above, cut back to the ‘herd’ – their trusted others. Unconsciously something very powerful from the instinct, steers (imperceptibly to them) or orchestrates what ought to be a deductive and logical decision-making process. An affiliation to their ‘herd’ is spread into the wider ‘herd’ unknowingly treated as ‘their own’. Well I say unknowingly only to indicate the unconscious side of bias. Surely at a cognitive level they know that the people before us are not their immediate herd.

Those – like me - who dare to adhere more to rational cognitive processes, take a harder more lonely course – outside or on the periphery of the ‘herd’. Strange though – because that personal sacrifice is ultimately for the benefit of the ‘herd’. The herd and it’s ‘direction’ will remain long after I have withered away. But feelings of gratitude and acceptance are personal matters - I do it selflessly and stubbornly – the lowly shepherd’s dog is not often popular with the sheep who benefit in the end.