Thursday, 25 April 2019

Kantian Fairness Tendency

Kantian Fairness Tendency

Time for Reflection

Don't we all go about living our life with this one basic expectation that life be fair to us always and haven't we all followed the "law of reciprocity" so diligently, just to ensure that we get a fair treatment as always.

The "Law of Reciprocity" principle may be understood by the popular quote "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This means if we want to get goodness, we need to give it to others first. 

Now, let me ask you a few pertinent questions  - 

  • Do you think life has always been fair to you ?
  • Recall few key instances from your life when you felt that life played unfair with you?
  • From among the few instances that you recalled, did you feel that somewhere when life was being unfair to you, it was still being fair to someone else -some people other than you ?

Sincere thought to the above would reveal that inspite of our best efforts and attempts, life does not always play fair with us and therefore, to expect it to be fair to us always is to let the bias of "Kantian Fairness Tendency" play in our life ! 

Definition and Background

The "Kantian Fairness Tendency" refers to the expectation that life is fair and is based on the philosophical framework created by the 18th century German philosopher called Immanuel Kant. His "categorical imperative" or golden rule required humans to follow those behavior patterns that, if followed by all others, would make the surrounding human system work best for everybody. 

Charlie Munger is credited with popularising the concept of "Kantian Fairness Tendency" in his book titled "Poor Charlie's Almanack", where he talks about 25 tendencies that lead humans to make bad decisions.

"The craving for perfect fairness causes a lot of problems in system function. Some systems should be made deliberately unfair to individuals because they'll be fairer on average to all of us" - Charlie Munger 

Why/ How Does Kantian Fairness Tendency occur ?

The key reason for its occurence is our held belief that life is fair and our reliance on "law of reciprocity" to live. When the law of reciprocity doesn't give us the desired results, it leads to a conflict with our existing belief system.

Indicators/ Symptoms of Kantian Fairness Tendency

When our actions follow the law of reciprocity, expecting a fair treatment in return for rendering the same to others. 

Impact of Kantian Fairness Tendency

Life is not always fair and to expect it to be so is to give space to frustration and many other negative emotions. Once these emotions creep inside us, it adversely affects our personality, impacting our emotional and mental health aspects.  

Real-Life Examples of Kantian Fairness Tendency

There will be plenty of these from our lives, where we showed human goodness, in the hope that the same will be reciprocated in some way, by someone. 

Overcoming/Addressing Kantian Fairness Tendency

Few of the ways in which we can mitigate the effects of this bias are 

  • Firstly address our existing belief about life being fair. Exposing ourself, through news and social media, to the cases and examples highlighting the other aspect would bring in the desired change in our belief system
  • Be open to take decisions that are best for the majority, even at our own cost, sometimes
  • Get away with reliance on the principle of "law of reciprocity" to live life. Perhaps, start living life on a more rational principle
  • Draw a line between empathy and being "emotional/ sentimental" so the we don't get carried away by human emotions when more a more rational decision making/ behaviour is expected from us to set a precedent for others. 
  • Practising gratitude would greatly help develop an attitude of doing things for satisfaction rather than for expectation 

At times, life may play a bit unfair to us but still we can be a pathbreaker !

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Just World Bias

Just World Bias

Time for Reflection

Has this ever crossed your mind - Why do "bad things" happen to good people ? 

How do you justify an act of misfortune befalling on you or, for that matter, on someone else ?

What do the words, "lucky" and "unlucky" connotes to you ?

How do you respond to stories/ news capturing "fall from grace" or "rags to riches" ?

Most of us, in all probability, would view the above happenings through a lens of "destiny", wherein instead of providing any logical explanation we tend to believe and propose that everything that's  happening is bound to happen that way only. Making use of phrases like "Life takes a full circle", "you reap what you sow", "what goes around comes around", and similar, to describe our response to the above questions reiterates our belief in the concept of "destiny".

So, if you happen to be like most, where you tend to respond to any fortune/ misfortune as an act of destiny, then you suffer from what is known as "Just World Bias". Let's explore the bias a bit more

Definition and Background

"Just World Bias" refers to the assumption that a person's actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, to the end of all noble actions being eventually rewarded and all evil actions eventually punished. 

In other words, this bias implies the existence of a force/ power, cosmic justice, destiny, divine providence that's entrusted to ensure stability or moral order in the world. As per this bias, any misfortune befalling on a person, or for that matter, any fortune happening to a person, is rationalized by attributing it to the ground that the person "deserves it". 

The bias revolves around the belief that the world is just(fair) and people only get what they deserve. And when people's actions prove to be their undoing that misfortune happens. So, the victim is responsible for everything bad that happens (and also the credit for everything good that happens) to him/ her.

Melvin Lerner coined the term "belief in a just world" and the seminal experiment illustrating this bias was conducted by Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons in 1960s. The experiments used shock paradigms to record observer responses to victimization. In one of the experiments, a group of volunteers were made to watch a woman (an actor for the experiment) receiving electric shocks. 

As the experiment proceeded with the woman receiving shocks on failing to give correct answers to a test, one group from the larger group of volunteers selected for the experiment, was allowed to intervene and choose a different mode for the woman. This group perceived the woman as innocent  and wanted to end her suffering. On the other hand, the other group was not allowed to intervene in any way as they continued to watch the woman suffer. This group found the woman guilty.

Lerner concluded that people who had no way of helping a person who was suffering found the person deserving of the pain or suffering due to her own actions and behavior. Many others have also researched the bias since Lerner and one of the notable research is the one by Zick Rubin and Letitia Anne Peplau. The two mentioned above developed a Just World Scale, to study how people who believe in a Just World, think and behave  

The victim is victimised more by being blamed as the cause of all that happens to him/ her.

Why Does Just World Bias occur ?

Since people want to believe that the world is fair, so they look at ways/ reasons to rationalize away injustice, very often resulting in blaming the victim itself for all its suffering, pain and misfortune. This strong belief is also triggered by an urge to perceive a balanced world and to justify our own inability to end the victim's suffering.

Another reason is the need to live in a comfortable, safe and secure environment which is characterized by a destiny-driven world.

So, in a nutshell, when a person's belief in a "Just World" is threatened does he/ she resort to derogating the victim, which happens to be a key tendency of a person suffering from this bias.

Indicators/ Symptoms of Just World Bias

Some of the indicators could be as mentioned below:

  • When we overemphasize "destiny" as the rule of life
  • When we ascribe someone's misfortune to his/ her intrinsic characteristics 
  • When we completely ignore external factors/ circumstances as the reason for someone's fortune/ misfortune
  • When we cover up our inability to end someone's suffering by resorting to the victim blaming tendency 
  • When we engage in character assassination, mud-slinging, extrapolating someone's suffering/ misfortune, victim blaming attitude 

Impact of Just World Bias

Some of the benefits of believing in a "Just World" are 

  • Helps us feel better about ourselves by protecting our self-esteem
  • Makes us feel less anxious and fearful 
  • Helps us feel less vulnerable as we tend to differentiate ourselves from the victims of ill fortune
  • Always keeps us optimistic about life due to our belief that people get what they deserve
  • Safeguards us from committing any wrongdoing and from potential guilt and shame

Some of the disadvantages of hanging onto the belief of a "Just World" are

  • Fail to see the big picture in terms of how other variables (external factors) may also have contributed to the person's misfortune
  • Build antipathy in us instead of empathy resulting in adversely impacting our inter-personal relationships
  • Makes us delusion resulting in us being completely unprepared to deal with the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world around us
  • Living in illusionary utopia which is far away from the actual reality
  • No/ Limited development of essential skills like creativity, lateral thinking, innovation, and similar ones  

Real-Life Examples of Just World Bias

  • One of the real incident about the bias is as mentioned below 

"When the British marched a group of German civilians around the Belsen concentration camp at the end of World War II to show them what their soldiers had done, one civilian said, “What terrible criminals these prisoners must have been to receive such treatment” (Hewstone, 1990) 

- Social Psychology and Human Nature, Roy F. Baumeister, Brad J. Bushman, 2007(Brief Edition)/ 2016 (Comprehensive Edition)

  • This bias is so clearly evident when we mention about criminals, criminals facing capital punishment, victims of terminal illness, victims of sexual assault, war victims, victims of mental illness or any other serious ailment, the discriminated lot.

Overcoming/ Addressing Just World Bias

  • Accepting that deeds and destiny may not always have a connection
  • Building a Belief System encompassing the yin-yang principle will provide a holistic view of the world
  • Becoming aware about the VUCA nature of the world that we live in would open us to the realities of the dynamic and fluid nature of the world 
  • Performing SWOT analysis will help identify the environmental factors impacting the event
  • Building a more enlarged view/ perception of the world and not limit to viewing life through a lense of "destiny"
  • Understanding the importance of inter-personal relationships and focus on improving empathy skills
  • Stop labeling the victim and instead view the event from all possible perspectives to bring a more rational explanation for the event. Six Thinking Hats is a good tool to start with 
  • Stop assuming that we can/ have control over other people's life 

Let's learn to ADJUST because life is not always JUST (fair) !

Monday, 22 April 2019

Implicit Bias

cognitive bias
Implicit Bias

Time for Reflection

Don't we all, at times, fail to identify a logic to our many affinities in life - be it a political party, a sports team, an online network/ community/ group, a group of colleagues at workplace, a specific set of friends in personal life, a specific group of people from a particular religion/ caste/ country/ ethnicity, etc. ? Well, the list is endless and can go on and on !

The moot point here relates to the existence of our unexplainable affinity (as mentioned in the above paragraph) beyond the factors of right or wrong, success or failure, good or bad !

The above "prejudice" highlights the presence of a bias, known as "Implicit Bias".

Definition and Background

Implicit Bias refers to the attitudes, stereotypes or beliefs that impact our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Explaining the definition further, Implicit Bias is when we, without our knowledge and awareness, start behaving in a pre-disposed manner towards a certain set/ group of people. Somewhere, our judgement gets impacted under the influence of Implicit Bias.

Implicit Bias is an involuntary process and may be based on any number of characteristics and more than 150 types of implicit biases exist.

The term "Implicit Bias" was coined by Mahzarin Banaji and Tony Greenwald in the 1990s. In 1995, they published their theory of implicit social cognition which asserted that individuals' social behaviour and biases are largely related to unconscious, or implicit, judgements.

Why Does Implicit Bias Occur ?

Whether we believe it or not, like it or not, each one of us is susceptible to implicit bias and that's because of the basic nature of our brain. The brain takes in information and starts forming associations and making generalizations. So, its these "mental connections (associations and generalizations)" that are responsible for "Implicit Bias" in us. Implicit Bias is found throughout the brain, whether amygdala, temporal lobes or frontal cortex.

Lets understand how these "mental connections" lead us into imbibing implicit bias
  • Brain seeks patterns and association which impacts our disposition towards people in social situations
  • Brain seeks shortcuts - Faced with huge volume of information/ data, the brain tries to simplify the information by creating shortcuts to sort the information/ data
  • Our Beliefs and Value System, which is an outcome of our experiences(direct and indirect) and our social conditioning 

Indicators/ Symptoms of Implicit Bias

The biggest indicator is when we unconsciously start attributing a set of characteristics to a certain set/ group of  people.

When we become too judgmental about a person/ set of people based solely on one interaction and we let this first impression influence our disposition.

Impact of Implicit Bias

"Implicit Bias" has a tendency to trigger dominos effect, where any existing implicit bias at a micro level could create a cascading effect and reach a macro dimension, which could impact the global order and render it disorderly. The "social media" world that we live in today has the potential to magnify the impact of implicit bias manifold and create an unprecedented damage.  

At a personal and self level, the bias dents the personality severely and blocks the opportunities of growth. A restricted perception and disposition halts the growth of the individual.

Implicit Bias is not just confined to personal self but affects a whole range of setups like educational/ learning institutions, workplace, social gathering and legal systems. Within educational institutions, implicit bias primarily exist around skin type and gender type, with the key issues being behavioral and subject choices/ preferences.  

Talking about the impact of the bias at Workplace, the bias is chiefly evident in areas like 
  • Core HR tasks which include Recruitment, Hiring and Retention. The presence of Implicit Bias could render the claims of being an Equal Opportunity Employer and providing a diverse and inclusive workplace/ environment as totally baseless, resulting in severly damaging the  reputation of the organisation  
  • Interpersonal relationships in the organisation, both at inter-team and intra-team level. This ultimately impacts the teamwork and collaboration, which happen to be the backbone of any flourishing organisation.  
It is also worth noting that a lot of modern day problems (terrorism, apartheid) that pose a great threat to world peace and order are in some way a manifestation of implicit bias. 

Real-Life Examples of Implicit Bias

There are plenty of real-life examples of implicit bias occurring in setups like classrooms, workplace, legal system, etc. but one of the most popular (rather viral) is about an incident that occurred on April 12, 2018 at a Starbucks outlet in Philadelphia, where two black men got arrested after refusing to leave, on being told to do so by a Starbucks employee. This incident, highlighting implicit bias, reached such proportions that Starbucks had to issue an apology for its' treatment to these two black men. 

The details of the incident may be read at the following links 

Overcoming/ Addressing Implicit Bias

2 important things about Implicit Bias
  • Even the aware, educated or socially conscious have biases
  • Implicit Bias exist/ operates at an unconscious level and so difficult to access
Now, let's look at the possible ways to mitigate the impact/ risks of Implicit Bias
  • First and foremost, becoming aware of the Implicit Bias is the starting point to deal with it. One of the best way to become aware of Implicit Bias is through the IAT (Implicit Association Test), a test developed by Banaji and Greenwald in 1998, to confirm their hypothesis regarding their theory of implicit social cognition. IAT was designed to assess the strength of unconscious biases through a computer program. The test is available online at

It may be noted that like with every test, even this test has limitations but is still a good bet for the purpose.
  • For addressing the bias at an individual level, the following could help
    • by reducing our reliance on generalizations and stereotypes
    • Avoid being judgemental by relying less on "gut feeling" and/ or "intuition" and more on "facts" 
    • Seeing/ Understanding people as individuals rather than as part of an identified group by seeking personal information about the person in terms of interests, skills, and other personality traits
    • Counter Stereotypical Imaging which refers to going against the mental picture that we hold in our mind for a particular group/ set of people
    • Giving time for the interaction to unfold organically by attempting a positive interaction  
  • For addressing the bias at an institutional/ organisational level, the following could help
    • Building Anonymity in the recruitment and hiring process
    • Walking the Talk when it is about Inclusivity, Diversity and Equal Opportunity. Seeking Commitment from every employee on the seamless integration of the above 3 in their routine would build more trust among them (employees) 
    • Building an organisational culture comprising of values and mission that capture the essence of mitigating the existence of implicit bias could turn out to be very effective if every employee could align to them by heart
    • Ensuring that every essential gathering comprises of as many diverse participants as possible 
Living in a technology driven VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, where information/ data rules the roost, the best defense we can build up against Implicit Bias is not to over-react towards any "emotion evoking" piece of data/ information. Rather, if we just let the dust settle first, and then provide our reaction, it is bound to be a more balanced and rational reaction.

When "First Impression" starts creating a "lasting impression", it's time so start looking beyond for more !

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Hindsight Bias

Time for Reflection

those "I told you so" and "I knew it all along" moments when you played Nostradamus (A famous French astrologer and physician of the 16th century who became very popular for his various prophecies) but only after the event had already occurred

(the times) when you thought that the predictor in you knew the outcome of a particular event all along but you disclosed it only after the occurrence of the event

watching that thrilling movie or reading that book where after the climax got disclosed, you believed you already knew the end / finish of the movie/ book 

What the above highlights is the presence of overestimation and overconfidence in self and that is quite indicative of  a bias referred to as "Hindsight Bias".

Definition and Background

Hindsight Bias refers to the "tendency people have to overestimate their ability to have predicted an outcome correctly that could not have been possible predicted". Once an outcome of an unforeseen event has come, people tend to believe the event as predictable, despite having no objective basis for

The phenomenon was first described and studied in 1970s by psychologists while investigating the errors in human decision making. The research on Hindsight Bias started with Fischhoff (1975). During the late 70s, Paul Slovic and Baruch Fischhoff began studying how scientific results and historical events seemed so predictable to people when, in fact, they had no idea about them.   

Why Does Hindsight Bias Occur ?

According to one theory, Hindsight Bias is a natural coping mechanism that prevents us from facing embarrassment and disappointment. 

Another theory says that the bias is hardwired in out system

Also, the actual outcomes are easier to comprehend and remember than the many which did not materialise.

 Indicators/ Symptoms of  Hindsight Bias 

  • Memory Distortion which refers to various memory errors about remembering an earlier opinion, judgement or prediction  
  • Distorting information by fixating on the final outcome
  • Holding strong belief in the inevitability of the event ("It had to happen")
  • Applying Ego-boosting strategies at having predicting the outcome correctlty
  • Building False assumption/ belief about having great intuitive abilities   
  • Overestimating the accuracy of our own prediction

Impact of Hindsight Bias

The bias impacts us negatively in many ways. Some of them are as below

  • Makes us less accountable for our decisions 
  • Builds over-confidence in us which affects our ability to make decisions
  • Prevents us from learning through our experience 
  • Builds a tendency of criticising the decision-making ability of others
  • Inculcates high risk-taking ability

Real-Life examples of Hindsight Bias

Research in Hindsight Bias provides ample of empirical evidence about the bias's existence in many areas of our life such as Sports, Politics, Education, Military, Workplace and Healthcare.  

Overcoming/ Addressing Hindsight Bias

  • Reminding ourself that past may not always determine future and we are not fully equipped to predict an outcome accurately all the time 
  • Keeping a journal to record our prediction so as to help us do a comparison of our prediction once an event has occurred. This will aid in reflection and help with gaining insight to refine decision-making skill 
  • Base decision/ predication on data analysis and not solely on intuition or gut feeling
  • Consider alternative outcomes to dig deep into your approach to making decisions/ predictions
  • Analyse the outcome with your previous prediction (before event occurrence) and this will help develop a framework/ strategy for future predictions. 

Things may soon "crumble and fall" if your live with the attitude of "i know it all" !

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Groupthink Bias

Time For Reflection

Remember those moments of internal disagreement with your friends, family, colleagues, boss during some important discussion/ brainstorming/ team meeting/ project presentation, when you begged to differ but still chose to remain silent, simply to appear aligned with the rest of them ?

Well, such a behaviour is quite common, where inspite of being a (rational) contrarian and fully  aware of the negative consequences/ repercussions of an irrational choice or decision, we still tend to approve of that choice or decision (by conforming to it) when taken in a group setting.

This type of behaviour is indicative of the existence of a bias known as "Groupthink".

Definition and Background

The word "Groupthink" was coined by William H. Whyte in 1952 in an article in Fortune Magazine.

Irving Janis, a social psychologist from Yale University is credited with studying the bias. He addressed it in his book in 1972.  As per Janis, Groupthink is defined as "a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group, and when the members' striving for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action".

Decoding the definition further, Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon in which our need to conform with the group outdoes our need to act rationally and we tend to go with the groups' decision.

Why Does Groupthink Bias occur ?

There are many reasons for Groupthink to occur. Few of the reasons are

At group level, the reasons could be
  • presence of an overbearing group leader
  • internal/ external pressures on the group to take good and faster decision
At an individual's level, the reasons could be 
  • strong desire to maintain the cohesiveness of the group
  • intent to ensure harmony within the group
  • to avoid playing the odd one out and being an outcast
  • strong belief in the rules and morality of the group
  • save time in decision making by avoiding voicing opinion, suggestion, idea, etc.
  • not fully knowledgeable about the topic of discussion and therefore unsure about the rationality of one's own choice/ decision 

Indicators of Groupthink Bias
At the outset, the unanimity in decision making is the best indicator of Groupthink.

Further, Janis has identified eight different symptoms (indicators) of  Groupthink and they are as mentioned below:
  • Illusion of invulnerability - complacency kicks in within the group leading to an attitude of over optimism and risk-taking. As a result of their earlier successes and great bonding within the group, the group starts to feel insulated from any dire consequence irrespective of the choice they make or the decision they take.
  • Belief in inherent morality of the group - Because of the presence of extreme cohesiveness within the group, a false sense of belief about being morally correct always, creeps in which further leads to an illusion of rational decision-making.  
  • Collective Rationalization - the false sense of self-belief prompts the group to overlook any warning signals whatsoever and this leads the group to never questions their existing assumptions or beliefs.
  • Out-Group Stereotypes - The group members who do not share the same beliefs, ideas and opinions of the "in-group" are stereotyped as "out-group", considered to be outside the group
  • Self-Censorship - Members who have any sort of fear or phobia withhold sharing their views, ideas or counter-arguments
  • Illusion of Unanimity - Even when members prefer to remain silent instead of sharing their POV (point of view), this silence is construed as their acceptance of the group's decision
  • Direct Pressure on Dissenters - The member who don't agree with the group's views are coerced and ultimately compelled to agree to the group's views.
  • Self-Appointed "Mindguards" - There are members of the group who take up the task of filtering information so that no contradictory views and opinions reach the group 

Impact of Grouthink Bias

The key negative impacts of the bias are 

  • Irrational decision-making in the absence of multiple perspective 
  • Compromise on freedom of Individual thinking and expression 
  • Operating in comfort zone
  • No new perspective or POV (Point of View) encouraged 
  • Adversely affects the morale and confidence of members who hold contrary views which further leads to dissatisfaction, frustration and stress
  • Create internal friction as the members who hold a differing view may come together and create a mini-group within
  • The group becomes overly obsessive and protective about their views and opinion which leads to insulation from others outside the group. This further impacts the group's intent and ability to collaborate 
  • Absence of creative thought process
The key positive impacts 

  • Decisions tend to get taken faster 
  • The group never falters on the deadlines
  • Strong cohesiveness which leads to lot of trust among group members

Real-life Examples of Groupthink

Human history is replete with many incidents that highlight the presence of Groupthink. Some of the popular ones are as mentioned below
  • Pearl Harbour attack, 1941 - Inspite of intercepting warning messages related to Japan planning to attack, the U.S. army did not pay any heed to the signs and signals. The U.S. soldiers and the authority at Pearl Harbour engaged in groupthink. This resulted in faulty decision making by ignoring the evidence of imminent danger under the assumption that Japan won't attack because ultimately they would get defeated by U.S. army 
  • Bay of Pig Invasion - In 1961, about 1500 exiled Cubans, trained and financed by CIA attempted an invasion of Cuba from sea in the Bay of Pigs to overthrow Fidel Castro. The attempt was a complete fiasco. It is believed that U.S. President Kennedy gave a go-ahead to the mission as a result of groupthink 
  • Collapse of Swissair, 2001 - The collapse of Swissair a.k.a The Flying Bank, as it was fondly called, is attributed to 2 key symptoms - 1. Illusion of  invulnerability and 2. Belief in inherent morality of the group
  • Collapse of Nokia and Blackberry as phone giants - Both Nokia and Blackberry were phone giants in their own segment but presence of symptoms like illusion of invulnerability, belief in inherent morality of the group and collective rationalization led to their fall.

Overcoming/ Addressing Groupthink Bias

Exploring objectives, alternatives and encouraging ideas hold the key to addressing the Groupthink Bias. Some of the ways it could be achieved are as mentioned below:

  • Encourage discussion and debating within the group 
  • Implement multi-perspective approach to decision-making/ problem solving through tools like "Devil's Advocate" and "Six Thinking Hats". These tools can bring about critical evaluation aspect in decision making
  • Conformity could be outdone by inviting members first to share their views and opinions prior to the sharing of views/ opinions by the leader 
  • To invite an impartial opinion, every group member should discuss the group's ideas with someone trustworthy outside the group 
  • Leader should be absent from many meetings to avoid influencing the decision-making by group members
  • Experts from outside be invited to ensure an impartial assessment of the discussion during meetings.
  • Encourage creative and critical thinking in the group
  • Creating mini-groups during decision making helps capture all the relevant viewpoints

Inclusivity always pays rich dividends !

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Fading Affect Bias

Fading Affect Bias

cognitive bias


Let's ponder a bit on the below :

Between the "pleasant" and "unpleasant" significant events from your life, which one are you able to feel more of whenever remembered/ recalled ? 

From a "not-so-pleasant" significant event that occured in your life which could be something like a long-awaited vacation, a job/ business opportunity missed, an argument/ interaction that had life impacting implications, or any other significant event from life, again, what are you able to feel more/ most whenever remembered/ recalled ? 

Well, if you have never given the above a thought, then most likely your first guess would be that you would recall/ remember more of the "unhappy memories" rather than the "happy memories" but to your surprise, the results from the various studies and research in the area proves out to be contrary, which means it's the "happy memories" that we remember/ recall more of !

Well, the above discussion is an indication of a bias known as "Fading Affect". Let's explore it further 

Definition and Background

The definition of the Fading Affect Bias goes like this - "The intensity of affect (feelings) associated with negative memories fades faster than the affect (feelings) associated with positive memories." Elaborating it further - the affect prompted by autobiographical event recall typically decreases in intensity as time from the original event increases. But, the extent to which the intensity fades is different for positive events and negative events. The intensity of the emotions felt during event recall as compared to event occurence, tends to fade faster for negative events than for the positive events. This differential fading of affect over time between negative and positive event is referred to as the "Fading Affect Bias" (FAB).  

So, between the time of the actual happening of the event and its recall, the memories start fading for both the negative and positive event but when it comes to feelings associated with these events/ memories, then we see a difference in fading. The feelings associated with negative memories tend to fade faster than the feelings associated with positive memories. 

(Autobiographical Event/ Memory - Simply defining, any significant event that makes our personal history or timeline is an autobiographical event and any memory related to that is termed as autobiographical memory). 

The earliest reference to this bias (Fading Affect Bias) is of Cason (1932) whose data suggested that emotions prompted by positive event maintained more of their intensity across time compared to emotions prompted by negative event.

The "modern era" of FAB research is attributed to Walker et al. (1997) whose key findings were that humans may become selective in their memory of the event and certain memory may fade off but the emotions related to the event remains intact.

Further research on FAB is attributed to Ritchie et al. (2009) whose study identified four possible trends pertaining to memory - Fixed Affect, Fading Affect, Flourishing Affect and Flexible Affect. The study revealed that Fading Affect was more prominent (51%) as compared with the other three when it came to negative occurences, which means that Fading Affect came into play during memories related to negative events.  

Why Does Fading Affect Bias (FAB) occur ?
  • Humans are always motivated to view their lives in a positive light 
  • Recalling of positive events is generally stronger than that of negative events and emotional response prompted by positive memories often tend to be stronger than the emotional response prompted by negative memories. 
  • Evidence also highlight that over time, we may tend to start perceiving even the negative events in a more positive way.
  • Humans are always seeking happiness 

Benefits of Fading Affect Bias (FAB)

FAB impacts us positively in many ways such as 

  • Maintaining a positive outlook towards life 
  • Building a healthy self-awareness and self-esteem 
  • Exhibiting good Coping Skills to deal with new experiences
  • Developing attitude of seeing the best in any situation. 

More About Fading Affect Bias(FAB)

  • Not every person may exhibit FAB. People suffering from dysphoria (mild depression) may perceive their lives to be more negative than the lives of others. In the case of people having dysphoria, the memory is less detailed.
  • emotions prompted by event memories are not always the same as the emotions prompted by the actual event 
  • memories of the event are forgotten whereas the accompanying emotions persist

Seeking the silver lining in every cloud !

Friday, 12 April 2019

Egocentric Bias

Egocentric Bias

egocentric bias

Reflection Time

Well, Aren't we all fond of listening about "self (me, myself)" and don't we all enjoy being the center of attraction or attention always?

I am sure the answer to the above is an emphatic "YES". 

Each one of us, to some extent, is a bit of narcissist, whether we accept it or not, whether we like it or not and it's not going to take much time and effort to recall an instance/ few instances 
  • when you felt your contribution in the collaborative activity was much more than anyone's else
  • when you thought that your POV (Point of View) could withstand the test of time and was the only fool proof approach/ method
  • when you felt that your feelings and behaviour was as apparent to everyone else as to you.
  • when you felt obsessed with your opinion/ advice and couldn't fathom existence of any contrary opinion and advice.
plus numerous other instances when you felt/ thought that you were the cynosure of all eyes and that every discussion happening around was about "you".

The above pointers are a clear testimony of our inherent desire to feel "special" and this is exactly what makes up the bias known as "Egocentric Bias".

Definition and Background

Simply put, "Egocentric Bias" is the tendency to rely too heavily on one'e own perspective/ POV (point of view) when examining or remembering events in our life. In this bias, we tend to develop an inflated sense about ourself and suffer from a constant need to satisfy our own ego.

The term "Egocentric Bias" was coined in 1980 by Anthony Greenwald, a psychologist at Ohio State University. He described it as a "phenomenon in which people skew their beliefs so that what they recall from their memory or what they initially understood is different than what actually occured".

Indicators of  Egocentric Bias

Few of the key indicators are 

    egocentric bias
  • when we start experiencing life through a "self-centered" filter and start assuming that every discussion happening around is about me and that people are paying as much attention to "me" as i am paying to "myself"
  • when we start projecting our beliefs, desires, thoughts and emotions onto other people, especially those who are close to us
  • when we start developing a "attention grabbing" or "credit grabbing" tendency where we don't leave any opportunity to exaggerate our contribution to something and start putting ourself in the front as the most "deserving" person
  • when we start seeing ourself as target of other's action, which is not the reality though

Why/ How does Egocentric Bias occurs ?

Studies show that it's far easier for people to remember information is it has reference to them and that's precisely why we tend to recall information that has reference of  "me" or "myself". A case in point is "episodic memory" which we are able to recall with ease because of its autobiographical characteristic. 

Egocentric Bias occurs as a result of the reality that every individual has sole access to a vast amount of information about themselves which others are not aware of even and it is this vastness that impacts our perception and perspective (views and opinions) on various issues, situations and experiences. 

So, "EGO" sits pretty much at the center of the egocentric bias and plays a guiding role during memory access and recall.

Impact of Egocentric Bias

Egocentric bias influences the way we process and remember information and adversely impacts our personality in many ways, both personally and professionally. Whether its about demonstrating good leadership, collaboration or  coaching/ mentoring others, egocentric bias has a real impact on these. 

Some of the ways it impacts us are mentioned below:

  • leads to "memory distortion", a neurological phenomenon of making events larger than life in our mind, in our bid to feed our ego.
  • blurs the gap between reality and illusion
  • creates "illusion of control" over events in our life
  • hinders our ability to empathise 
  • develops in us a tendency to undermine others' POV (point of view) or their contribution to the task 
  • becomes difficult for them to develop a multi-perspective view to the situation which leads to poor decision making 
  • mental health issues that may result from exaggeration or undermining

Overcoming/ Addressing Egocentric Bias

  • More self-awareness - Regular SWOT analysis to help us gain insight into our weaknesses also, thereby establishing the fact that there's always a scope for improvement in some areas of our personality  
  • Developing "Perspective-Taking", maybe using the tools like Six Thinking Hats, Devil's Advocate, which throw open multiple POVs to choose from through a more rational approach
  • Emotional Intelligence - Another way to build more self-awareness and also awareness about others. This could help with becoming a better leader and a collaborator too
  • Being able to identify the "blind spots"
  • Focus on networking with others and getting involved in projects involving groups/ teams, with diverse expertise/ experience. This  may generate a tendency to work collaboratively in diversity and also generate memories involving others, and not just self.
  • Practicing gratitude helps become grateful to things and people outside "me/ myself". Keeping a journal could be the easiest way to do so.

Well, the timing is always right to break this illusion of  (you/ me) being the center of the Universe and come to terms with reality !