on the topic of bias

Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs.

as if that’s not provocative enough, a recent article by smithsonian highlights research out of nc state university: students taking online courses rate their professors higher, regardless of their actual gender, if they think those instructors are male.


there are three types of people: those who can count, and those who can’t.

in daniel kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, we’re briefed on a study of ivy league students who were posed this question:

a bat and ball cost $1.10.
the bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
how much does the ball cost?

thousands of students, we’re told – more than 50% at harvard, mit, and princeton – answered incorrectly, they said 10¢. at schools less selective in their student bodies, the failure rate exceeded 80%.

why is this? jonah lehrer, of the new yorker, wrote, “[people’s] decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions [and] intelligence seems to make things worse.” it’s called bias and, like opinions and assholes, we all have one.

and we have several to choose from. wikipedia, useful for this purpose, cites 92 different cognitive biases. there are 27 social biases; memory bias clocks in at 48. i’m sure there are others but i’m predisposed to stop here.

are you confident in your beliefs and just dig-in further when someone cites a fact that refutes you? you fall into the back-fire effect. it’s cognitive dissonance, a type of cognitive bias. in 1997 it was cited as a contributor when 39 people executed their own demise; they drank a spiked cocktail and, wearing new nikes, died believing they would ascend in a spaceship that trailed the comet hale-bopp.

less on the morbid side, the cheerleader effect says you’re more attractive when in a group than when you’re flying solo. hence, the intent of a wingman i suppose. curse of knowledge says the better informed you are the less likely you are to consider the point of view from someone who’s less informed. the phrase, i suffer fools lightly, comes to mind.

my personal favorite, however, is the ikea effect: placing “a disproportionately high value” on furniture or other objects we partially create regardless of the final quality. jillian berman of huffpo wrote about this last fall. she says, “labor alone can be sufficient to induce [a] greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor [and it] can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creation.”

this seems commonsensical to me but computing scientists at mcgill and carnegie mellon universities recently studied social networking sites. their findings tell us that twitter and facebook cannot be trusted to sample behavior or trends. they caution that tweets and posts omit opinions of vast portions of the population; these people are either under-represented or simply don’t use social media. population bias is in play because pinterest and instagram, for example, are used by a very narrow slice of society.

as their user subscriber counts are frequently published (e.g. instagram @ 300m) i would have bypassed the research and gone directly to pro forma conclusion: 4% of the world’s population on instagram does not an accurate sample make. i’d tweet that out if i used twitter.

lehrer’s article, Why Smart People Are Stupid, is a compelling read and, while it concentrates on the correlation of intelligence and bias, the basis of bias in and of itself is germane to topics we’re all struggling with today. nyt letters, Racial Bias in America. cnn (citing Eduardo Bonilla-Silva), The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’.

stupid is as stupid does. perhaps also is bias though it wouldn’t have made a very good movie line. termed the bias blind spot, we don’t see biases in ourselves possibly because of a “mismatch” in our self-evaluation versus others we judge. our self-assessment, evaluating our own poor decisions, includes going into our heads for understanding…

The problem with this introspective approach is that the driving forces behind biases—the root causes of our irrationality—are largely unconscious, which means they remain invisible to self-analysis and impermeable to intelligence. […] The more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.

the oracle at delphi never told us — know thyself is not without its own bias.


the correct answer, by the way, is 5¢.





One thought on “on the topic of bias

wanna say something?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s