Introduction to the Matter of Bias

What is it, why do we care about it, and what can we do about it?

We've narrowed it down - This can be a big topic, so we've narrowed it down a little.  First off, we're talking about something pertaining to the individual which is usually referred to as "mental bias," a psychological phenomenon that occurs in the mind.  So we're NOT talking about angles, or electricity, or any of that kind of stuff.  And we're not talking about something that we only observe in others (though we often do), such as the media, or pundits, or whomever.

What and why we care: We're talking about a thing that happens to us individually that can lead to possible distortions and errors in how we see reality.   And that's why we care about it here. 

Okay, so here's a working definition:

A mental  bias is the human tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive and emotional factors rather than evidence, resulting in, or expressed as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, often in a way considered to be unfair. 

Psychologists, sociologists, political scientists and others have identified and studied a range of different biases that ultimately affect how we see reality.  And biases can play a big role in logical fallacies.

Frame Analysis: In 1974 Irving Goffman, a sociologist and social psychologist, published Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. In a sense, this is how people recognize patterns, both spatial and temporal. It looks at various things, such as stereotypes and labels, as well as images, metaphors, actors, messages.  Stereotypyes and labels are further discussed  as categories of pattern recognition on the page about the neuropsychological basis for bias.

As it happens, there is a neuropsychological basis for biases, one that actually benefits us a great deal, and one that we can NOT avoid.  What we can do is understand it and take it into account when we seek to perceive and understand reality.

Bias vs. Preference:

As noted above a bias can be in favor, or against. In that regard, it can involve a preference.  In other words, preferences can be considered to be biases. As a result, what one person might see as a bias in another person, that person may mostly experience it as a preference

Preferring vanilla ice cream over chocolate, or preferring not to see movies containing violence, or preferring to associate with those who share the same ethnic background.

Negative Biases:

Given that a bias, while it may include preference, is based on a degree of preconception and evaluation, often absent accurate evidence, it can have a negative consequence, especially when it is in a negative direction.

 

People on welfare are lazy, or women are too emotional.

 
Eliminate Biases:

Can't be done.  At the core of all "biases" is the human brain's capacity to recognize patterns, both physical and temporal.  This can and does lead to biases and stereotypes, both of which can accurate OR can be erroneous.   Pattern recognition is a good thing.  It helps us in dealing with the world around us.  So we don't want to eliminate it, just limit the ways in which it can lead to counter-productive biases (those that are erroneous).

Use Critical Thinking Skills

So...given we can't and probably shouldn't eliminate our ability/propensity to have biases, what do we do?  Well, one idea is not to stop them from occurring but stop them from leading us to incorrect perceptions of reality.  In other words, constantly question what we think is true.  This is often called Critical Thinking.  It is the backbone of the Scientific Method, a way of accepting the presence of biases but minimizing their power to distort.

 To read about the neuropsychological basis for biases

 To read about the different types of biases

 To read about bias detection

 To read about news media bias

 To read about Critical Thinking

 To view our Logical Fallacies Page 

 To view our Science Page

 

 To go to the brief introduction to unintentional obstacles to seeing reality

 To go to the Articles Page

To read more about Frame Analysis

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