Breaking Bias

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At my work we had a seminar about Breaking bias by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson.  And if there is one thing all Exmormons know about it’s coping with bias.  We have it.  Our loved ones have it.  And we are aware that most the time we aren’t aware of what our biases are.

I can’t share the actual lecture but I can post some of her work that states the same or similar things:

An interesting bits from the lecture:

  1. Diversity improves teams performance.  Again, science shows that the LDS hierarchy model is sub-optimal (But homogeneous teams think the do better).  One can see this in how all the temples in the world got herbal tea after the 12 added Uchtdorf.  It wasn’t forbidden by the word of wisdom before, but it wasn’t served onsite either (even though a lot of people in Europe and around the world would prefer it).  A little diversity improved the church generally.
  2. Brains are all biased.  Having a brain means you have bias.
  3. The upshot is that one needs to classify bias
  4. The public at large is become more and more aware of bias. But this can backfire.  Knowing everyone is biased tends to push people to “Give permission” to themselves to be biased.
  5. Identical Resumes sent out; with only names altered (Stereotypically white/black names); what they found was white names got 50% more follow-up calls.

How to deal with Bias:

The problem with unconscious bias is that just like your pancreas unconsciously makes insulin and that no matter how much you learn about a pancreas, you cannot increase your insulin production simply by thinking about because it is unconscious.

So the answer is to find strategies to break bias without consciously needing to notice the bias.

First for all bias you must:

  1. Accept that your brain is biased
  2. Label the bias
  3. Mitigate the bias

4 types of bias (COST model)  – Each type of bias has methods that work, but the same method will not work for the others.

  • Corner cutting – Mental shortcuts and rules of thumb Replace systematic, reflective thinking (In the church, for example “I know the church is true” replaces thinking about what PARTS of the church are true.  Knowing Joseph Smith is a prophet let’s one know that Thomas S. Monson is also a prophet shortcuts the entire succession crisis)

Real world example:  A bat and a ball together cost $1.10.  IF the bat costs $1 more than the ball, how much is the ball? The quick answer is $0.10.  It’s very available.. but after thinking you have to think more to get to the right answer is $0.05.  More than 50% of Harvard and Princeton students get this problem wrong.

Mitigate this bias –  Slow down.  Get all the information.  Review the whole picture

  • Objectivity – The bias that we believe what we see is all there is.  That one has all the information about what is involved on a topic or subject.  This is not true for anyone.  These come up the most during resource decisions (Spending)

ExampleEven if you know the shades are the same, you’ll still see different shades of grey.

Mitigation Strategy – Slowing it down doesn’t help here.  Solicit different opinions from other perspectives.  Lincoln’s team of rivals.  If you cannot find another perspective; imagine someone who would have a different perspective and try to see how they would see the situation.

  • Self projection – Innate tendency to protect self and in-group and be wary of outsiders

Example – When viewing individuals experience pain; we only have activity in our empathy portion of the brain of people who are similar to us (white participants viewing white individuals in pain, Asian viewing Asians.  Even though they all reported consciouly thinking the pain was the same.  The problem is that this “Empathy portion of the brain” is very correlated with whether we will help others who are in trouble.

Mitigation strategy – Find similarities.  Once one finds ways these people are similar to them the empathy is connected.  This is one reason “N7” badges work.  One knows the other person had played Mass Effect, and instantly there is empathy created.  They are part of the “in” group.  People in IT can group together against other areas in the organization because they have this kind of empathy for each other.  Helping them find similarities with marketing or finance can help break down this bias (and vice versa for other groups)

  • Time/money – We misread time and money issues because of negativity and proximity issues.

Detecting threat is easier than detecting reward.  It causes us to be more cautious and risk-averse.

Proximity means that we care more about what is going on right around us, but in a global economy that might not be the biggest issue.

Example: This money today or triple the amount tomorrow, most people will take the larger amount of money tomorrow.  But if it’s next month; they don’t take it.

Mitigation Strategy – Take yourself out of the equation.  “What would the new guy do replacing me?”  Might shut down the less effective projects because they haven’t sunk time and effort into them.  Would someone who had never heard of the church start by paying a full tithe, or might they test by paying 0, paying a small amount, paying the full amount and evaluate whether there was a noticeable impact?

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Last edited by Mithryn on March 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm

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