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Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot: People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others

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People tend to believe that their own judgments are less prone to bias than those of others, in part because they tend to rely on introspection for evidence of bias in themselves but on their lay theories in assessing bias in others. Two empirical consequences of this asymmetry are explored. Studies 1 and 2 document that people are more inclined to think they are guilty of bias in the abstract than in any specific instance. Studies 3 and 4 demonstrate that people tend to believe that their own personal connection to a given issue is a source of accuracy and enlightenment but that such personal connections in the case of others who hold different views are a source of bias. The implications of this asymmetry in assessing objectivity and bias in the self versus others are discussed.
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10.1177/0146167204271570PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETINEhrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS
Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot:
People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others
Joyce Ehrlinger
Stanford University
Thomas Gilovich
Cornell University
Lee Ross
Stanford University
People tend to believe that their own judgments are less prone to
bias than those of others, in part because they tend to rely on
introspection for evidence of bias in themselves but on their lay
theories in assessing bias in others. Two empirical consequences
of this asymmetry are explored. Studies 1 and 2 document that
people are more inclined to think they are guilty of bias in the
abstract than in any specific instance. Studies 3 and 4 demon-
strate that people tend to believe that their own personal connec-
tion to a given issue is a source of accuracy and enlightenment
but that such personal connections in the case of others who hold
different views are a source of bias. The implications of this
asymmetry in assessing objectivity and bias in the self versus
others are discussed.
Keywords: bias; social judgment; self-perception; social perception
The controversial outcome of the 2000 U.S. presiden
-
tial election produced heated debate and accusations of
bias as the courts handed down their rulings and politi
-
cal commentators offered their opinions on the issues at
hand. Would hand counting of ballots in Florida pro
-
duce a fairer and/or more accurate count than machine
counting? Had a complicated ballot design robbed vot
-
ers of the opportunity to make their vote count? Did the
results suggest that it was time to abandon the Electoral
College in favor of a direct vote? More pointedly, were
the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Florida elec
-
toral officials fair, or an exercise in political partisanship?
Public opinion polls (Gallup, 2000) made it clear that
the views Americans expressed on these issues were
highly correlated with political affiliation. Ninety-four
percent of George W. Bush supporters thought the
Supreme Courts ruling on the Florida recount was fair
and justifiable, whereas only 17% of Al Gore supporters
thought so. By contrast, 66% of Al Gore supporters, but
only 31% of George Bush supporters, thought that mem-
bers of the Supreme Court had been influenced by their
“personal political views.” When it came to the crucial
actions of Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris,
79% of Bush supporters approved of the soundness of
her performance—a sentiment shared by only 22% of
Gore supporters. Ms. Harris herself expressed no doubts
about her objectivity, insisting “I administered Florida’s
election law fairly, consistently, and evenhandedly
throughout the controversial election” (Canedy, 2001).
In daily life, as in the aftermath of controversial elec
-
tions, individuals must often assess the objectivity of
opinions and judgments. They must determine whether
a promotion decision was based on the relative merits of
the rival candidates or the strength of their connections
to the boss; whether a news report offered a balanced
account of the issues at hand or reflected the news orga
-
680
Authors’ Note: Portions of this research were presented at the meet
-
ings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Savannah,
Georgia, 2002, and the American Psychological Society, Atlanta, Geor
-
gia, 2003. We thank Eric Hopson, Chris Minunni, and Rachel
Smallman for collecting data and Jennifer Butler for comments on
earlier drafts of this article. The research was supported by National
Science Foundation Grants SBR-9319558 and SES-0241638. Corre
-
spondence should be addressed to Joyce Ehrlinger, 271 Jordan Hall,
Building 420, Department of Psychology, Stanford University,
Stanford, CA 94305-2130; e-mail: joyce@psych.stanford.edu or tdg1@
cornell.edu or ross@psych.stanford.edu
PSPB, Vol. 31 No. 5, May 2005 680-692
DOI: 10.1177/0146167204271570
© 2005 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
nization’s ideological leanings; whether a rosy economic
forecast was based on steel-eyed analysis, wishful think
-
ing, or even the self-interests of the forecaster. Individu
-
als may be called upon to make assessments of objectivity
not only about the views of others, but about their own as
well. In deciding upon a future course of action, they
must determine whether their assessments of a co
-
worker’s efforts are tainted by envy, whether their reac
-
tions to a newscast are distorted by their own political
leanings, or whether their guesses about how the future
will unfold are biased by their hopes, fears, or formative
experiences. In the four studies reported here, we ex
-
pand upon previous research demonstrating that peo
-
ple are less likely to detect bias in themselves than in
their peers, and we document two previously unexam
-
ined manifestations of this self-other asymmetry.
The Bias Blind Spot
A wealth of evidence suggests that judgments are
often clouded by a number of cognitive and motiva
-
tional biases (Gilovich, 1991; Kunda, 1990; Nisbett &
Ross, 1980). Individuals consistently rate themselves
above average across a variety of domains (Alicke, Klotz,
Breitenbecher, Yurak, & Vredenburg, 1995; Dunning,
Meyerowitz, & Holzberg, 1989), take credit for their suc-
cesses but explain away their failures (Miller & Ross,
1975; Whitley & Frieze, 1985), assume they are more
likely than their peers to experience the good things in
life and avoid the bad (Weinstein, 1980), and tend to
detect more support for their favored beliefs than is
objectively warranted (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979).
Given the pervasiveness of such optimistic and self-
serving biases, it is hardly surprising that assessments of
bias in the self versus others are often biased as well. Peo
-
ple seem to suffer from a “bias blind spot,” or the convic
-
tion that ones own judgments are less susceptible to bias
than the judgments of others (Pronin, Gilovich, & Ross,
2004; Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002; see also Armor, 1999;
Friedrich, 1996). People also believe they are more
moral (Epley & Dunning, 2000) and less self-interested
(Miller & Ratner, 1998) than others. Indeed, there is evi
-
dence that people may be overly cynical in this regard,
predicting greater bias in other’s judgments, on average,
than proves to be the case (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999).
Some of the reasons why people might be more prone
to see bias in others than in themselves are obvious. First,
the desire to see oneself as above average on desirable
attributes is likely to lead people to believe they are less
subject than others to the influence of motives that
might taint their judgments. Second, individuals tend to
be naïve realists, believing their own understandings of
the world are direct, unmediated perceptions of the way
things are—and hence are inclined to view beliefs and
assessments that differ from their own as uninformed or
biased (Pronin et al., 2004; Ross & Ward, 1996).
Two Criteria for Detecting Bias in Oneself and Others
The present research derives from a third source of
the asymmetry in assessments of bias in oneself versus
others—namely, differences in the strategies people use
to determine whether a given judgment may have been
unduly influenced by various motivational factors. Previ
-
ous research has established the existence of two broad
strategies for assessing bias (Pronin et al., 2004). First,
individuals frequently consult their abstract theories of
bias. For example, understanding that individuals with a
vested interest in an issue are likely to view it through the
prism of self-interest, people are apt to insist on full dis
-
closure of such interests and to treat self-interested judg
-
ments with a healthy dose of skepticism. More generally,
people are aware that human beings are motivated to
seek pleasure and avoid pain, give heavy weight to their
own needs and preferences, and have an arsenal of psy
-
chological defense mechanisms at their disposal. Such
insights guide attributional analyses whenever contex-
tual or situational cues suggest the possibility of bias. A
claim that a contested electoral outcome was fair, a pro-
cedure for counting votes appropriate, or a judicial deci-
sion wise thus becomes subject to suspicions of bias when
the claim is made by someone who was well satisfied with
the outcome.
A second strategy for assessing whether a given judg-
ment has been tainted by bias is to rely on the phenom-
enology of the person making that judgment. This strat-
egy rests on the assumption that the various sources of
bias leave some detectable trace—that one would have
access to (and faithfully recognize and report) the tug of
wishful thinking or the taint of self-interest. Such an
assumption, even in the case of self-assessments, is shaky
at best. The processes that give rise to most biases may
leave no trace of their operation (Wilson, Centerbar, &
Brekke, 2002).
In fact, introspection is as likely as not to lead to the
conclusion that one acted in spite of one’s preferences,
not because of them. By contrast, protestations of objec
-
tivity by others are taken with a grain of salt. The lay psy
-
chologist knows that people are capable not only of try
-
ing to deceive others about their objectivity, but also of
deceiving themselves.
Two consequences follow from these two strategies
for assessing bias in the self versus others. First, intro
-
specting in search of evidence of bias in the self is un
-
likely to yield such evidence. Thus, people will tend to
believe that their assessments are relatively free of bias.
Second, because people cannot, by definition, intro
-
spect into the minds of others, and because they regard
Ehrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS 681
others’ introspection with skepticism, they will rely on
abstract theories to determine whether others are
biased. As a result, people will readily infer bias when
they see individuals make judgments that serve or coin
-
cide with those individuals’ self-interests.
The Present Research
This research was designed to investigate two impor
-
tant implications of the different strategies people
employ to detect bias in themselves and others. First,
because people are bound to rely more on introspective
evidence when assessing whether they have been biased
in a given instance than when assessing their more gen
-
eral susceptibility to bias, we predict that people will be
more apt to concede that their judgment in general is sub
-
ject to bias than they are to concede that any specific judg
-
ment has been tainted by bias. Studies 1 and 2 investigate
this hypothesis.
Second, because introspection typically yields little
evidence of bias in the self, we propose that such an
“inward search” will lead people to believe they have
acted independently of, or even in spite of, their self-
interest or other motives, and not because of them.
Thus, whereas others’ identities and identity-based expe-
riences will be seen as a source of bias, their own identi-
ties and experiences will be seen as a source of enlighten-
ment. Studies 3 and 4 investigate this hypothesis.
STUDY 1
Past research indicates that people consider positive
events more likely and negative events less likely to hap-
pen to them than to the average person (Weinstein,
1980). This unrealistic optimism is a robust phe
-
nomenon present across a broad range of content
domains such as health (Price, 2001), academics (Eiser,
Pahl, & Prins, 2001), relationship prospects (Murray &
Holmes, 1997), gambling outcomes (Brandstaetter &
Schwarzenberger, 2001), and the likelihood of complet
-
ing tasks on time (Buehler, Griffin, & Ross, 1994). In this
study, we investigate the extent to which people believe
such assessments are swayed by wishful thinking.
Using a 2 × 2 design, we asked participants to consider
either their own predictions or those of the average Cor
-
nell student and to consider either a specific set of pre
-
dictions that had been made or predictions of this sort
that are generally made. We predicted that the more par
-
ticipants were likely to rely on introspection, the less
likely they would be to conclude that the judgments in
question were biased. Because participants are most
likely to introspect when considering judgments they
just made, we expected these judgments to be seen as less
tainted by bias than either their own general judgments
or the judgments, of either sort, made by others.
A second, ancillary prediction follows directly from
the previously documented difference in the reliance on
introspection versus abstract theories of bias. One ab
-
stract procedure to determine whether a judgment is
biased involves considering the extent to which it strays
from the judgments others would make. Imagine, for
example, that Susan thinks her daughter is unusually
creative. One cue as to whether Susan is being objective
is to consider what others think of her daughter’s creativ
-
ity. If Susan’s judgment is similar to that made by others,
one can be more confident that she is being objective
than if her judgment is dramatically different from
everyone else’s. Because individuals tend to rely on
abstract theories when introspection is a less viable strat
-
egy, they should pay greatest attention to whether a judg
-
ment strays from expectations when assessing bias in the
judgments of others.
Method
Participants. Participants were 99 Cornell University
undergraduates who were recruited from lecture
courses in psychology and received extra credit for their
efforts.
Procedure. Participants were randomly assigned to one
of four conditions in a 2 × 2 design, being asked either to
assess bias in the self or in another student and with
respect to the sort of predictions that might be made or a
specific set of predictions that had been made. Partici-
pants in the self-specific group were first asked to rate the
likelihood that each of six events would happen to them
relative to other Cornell students—receiving an attrac-
tive job offer before graduation, not finding a job for 6
months, suffering from lung cancer, owning a home,
having an appealing job, and living past 80. All ratings
were made on a scale ranging from “100% less likely than
the average Cornell student” to “500% more likely than
the average Cornell student.” Participants in the other-
specific condition were each yoked to a student in the self-
specific condition and shown the predictions made by
that student. Those in the self-general and other-general
conditions considered the predictions that might be
made if they or if the average Cornell student were asked
to predict their future on these six dimensions.
Participants then read a description of how a person
might be influenced by competing factors when making
such predictions. It was explained that predictions of
one’s future might be influenced by a desire to make
accurate, honest assessments, but also by a desire to
think positive events likely and negative events unlikely
to happen. Participants were asked to rate the degree to
which the predictions they had just considered might be
influenced by these competing pressures by placing
an X on a 14.5-centimeter (cm) line anchored by “af
-
682 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Ehrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS 683
fected mainly by a desire to give an honest appraisal” and
“affected mainly by a desire to think positive events likely
and negative events unlikely to happen.”
To examine our ancillary prediction that assessments
of bias based largely on abstract theories should be influ-
enced by the extent to which a response is seen as norma-
tive, we collected data from an additional 18 participants
who indicated how they expected the average Cornell
student to rate the likelihood of the six future life events.
They did so using the same scale as the participants
themselves (i.e., from 100% less likely than the average
Cornell student to 500% more likely).
Results
Perceptions of bias. As Figure 1 illustrates, participants’
ratings of bias conformed largely to our predictions. Par
-
ticipants thought their own specific assessments were the
least biased and the hypothetical assessments of the aver
-
age Cornell student were the most biased. A 2 (self vs.
other) × 2 (abstract vs. specific) ANOVA of participants’
ratings of the degree to which the pertinent forecasts
were biased yielded two significant main effects. As
expected, participants thought their own forecasts were
(or would be) less tainted by wishful thinking than the
predictions made by the average Cornell student, F(1,
95) = 15.70, p < .0001.
1
Participants also thought that
forecasts in general are more tainted by bias than a spe
-
cific set of forecasts, F(1, 95) = 8.78, p < .005.
To test the significance of our predicted pattern of rat
-
ings, we subjected participants’ bias ratings to a planned
contrast with the self-specific condition assigned a
weight of –3 and the other conditions assigned weights
of +1. This contrast revealed that the lowest attributions
of bias were made when participants were most likely to
introspect—for specific predictions that the participants
themselves had just made, F(1, 95) = 14.29, p < .001.
As a test of whether the tendency to consult abstract
theories of bias predicts the extent to which forecasts are
seen as biased, we utilized the ratings made by our addi
-
tional group of participants. Recall that these partici
-
pants indicated how they expected the typical Cornell
student to respond when asked to rate the likelihood of
experiencing the six target events. We used these ratings
to compute a measure of how much each prediction in
the main sample (in the self-specific and other-specific
conditions) deviated from expectation by computing
the difference between that rating and the average
expected rating for that item. We then averaged the dif
-
ference scores across the six items to create a measure of
how much each person’s predictions deviated from what
might be expected. As hypothesized, perceptions of bias
in another’s predictions were highly correlated with the
degree to which those predictions deviated from the
expected norm, r = .45, z(25) = 2.27, p < .05. When deter
-
mining whether the predictions they had just made
themselves were influenced by bias, however, partici
-
pants paid no attention to how much their estimates
deviated from the norm, r = –.01, z(26) = –.03, p = ns.
Thus, people appear to consult abstract theories of bias
when assessing the extent to which others’ assessments
are biased but introspect when considering their own.
Discussion
Study 1 provided three noteworthy results. First, it
provided additional evidence of the previously docu-
mented tendency for people to see bias more in the judg-
ments of others than in their own judgments (Pronin
et al., 2002). Second, it provided additional support for
the contention that this self-other difference arises in
part from the different strategies people use to ascertain
whether a judgment is biased (Pronin et al., 2004). That
is, participants were shown to rely on information about
how much a set of predictions strays from what is ex
-
pected only when they cannot introspect—when assess
-
ing bias in the predictions made by another. Third, this
study provided evidence for an important implication of
the tendency for people to ascertain whether they have
been biased by looking inward to find evidence of bias.
Because one’s own particular judgments are the ones
most likely to prompt introspection, and because intro
-
spection is unlikely to turn up evidence of bias, one’s
own specific judgments are least likely to be thought of as
biased—precisely the pattern of results we observed in
this study.
Although we obtained results consistent with our pre
-
dictions, one might be concerned that we did not di
-
rectly demonstrate that individuals rely heavily on intro
-
spection to assess bias in their own judgments but rely
more on abstract theories to assess bias in others. Study 2
was designed to deal with this objection.
Figure 1 Perceived bias in predictions of one’s future, Study 1.
NOTE: Higher numbers represent greater perceived bias.
STUDY 2
By definition, one can introspect to try to find evi
-
dence of bias only when it comes to judgments made by
the self. What is less certain is whether introspection is
the preferred strategy even in such cases. Thus, in Study
2 we examined more directly the degree to which indi
-
viduals rely on introspection versus abstract theories of
bias when deciding whether a judgment has been
unduly influenced by goals or motives. We asked partici
-
pants to report the degree to which they introspected
and consulted abstract theories to determine whether
particular assessments might be overly influenced by a
desire to see oneself in a favorable light. We predicted
that participants would rely more on introspection and
less on abstract theories when assessing bias in the self
than in others and when assessing bias in specific assess
-
ments than assessments in general, particularly for one’s
own judgments. As a result, we also predicted that as in
Study 1, participants would most disavow the possibility
of bias when considering their own specific judgments
they recently rendered, seeing more bias in the judg
-
ments of others and their own judgments broadly and
abstractly construed.
Participants were asked to assess the likelihood of bias
in various trait ratings (either their own or the average
Cornell student’s). Peoples assessments of their own
traits and abilities are often unrealistically favorable: On
average, individuals tend to rate themselves above aver-
age on positive traits (Alicke et al., 1995). The mecha-
nisms underlying this above-average effect tend to work
outside of awareness and thus are unlikely to leave a
trace that would be detected through introspection
(Gilovich, Epley, & Hanko, in press). For example, to the
extent that a trait can be defined in multiple ways, peo
-
ple tend to construe it in a self-serving fashion—namely,
in terms of characteristics they possess when it comes to
positive traits and characteristics they lack when it comes
to negative traits (Dunning et al., 1989). People also
appear to selectively recall their past in ways that sustain
positive views about themselves (Sanitioso, Kunda, &
Fong, 1990). Both of these tendencies make it more
likely that individuals will rate themselves as above aver
-
age, but they do so without it being obvious that these
self-assessments might not be justified.
Method
Participants. One hundred twenty-seven Cornell un
-
dergraduates were recruited from psychology courses
and given extra credit for their participation.
Procedure. Participants estimated the degree to which
one of four sets of judgments might be influenced by
bias. Those in the self-specific condition first rated the
degree to which they were more or less intelligent, ethi
-
cal, realistic, and likable than the average Cornell
student on a 9-point scale. Participants in the other-spe
-
cific condition were each yoked to a participant in the
self-specific condition and shown that student’s trait rat
-
ings. Those in the self-general and other-general condi
-
tions did not make these trait ratings nor were they
exposed to trait ratings made by anyone else. Rather,
they were simply asked to consider the trait ratings that
generally might be made by themselves (self-general
condition) or by another student (other-general
condition).
Next, all participants read a passage explaining that
individuals might be affected by competing desires when
rating themselves on various traits—people generally
want to be accurate and honest but are also influenced
by a desire to feel good about themselves. Participants
were asked to indicate the degree to which the ratings
they considered might be influenced by these compet
-
ing motives by placing an X on a 14.5-cm line anchored
by “affected primarily by a desire to give an honest ap
-
praisal” and “affected primarily by a desire to see oneself
in a favorable light.”
Finally, all participants were asked to rate the degree
to which they had used different strategies to determine
whether the trait ratings under consideration might be
influenced by bias. All ratings were made on a 9-point
scale ranging from 1 (not at all)to9(quite a bit). Two
questions assessed the degree to which the participants
consulted abstract theories to assess possible bias. Partic-
ipants rated the degree to which they (a) considered
how well the tendency to make inflated ratings fits the
way people tend to behave and (b) considered the ex
-
tent to which the context of rating the self would tempt
individuals to be biased by what they want to believe. An
additional question assessed the extent to which partici
-
pants relied on introspection. Specifically, participants
rated the degree to which they tried to “get inside their
[the average Cornell student’s] head” to find evidence of
self-serving motives.
2
The wording of each question was
altered slightly to make it appropriate for considering
bias in the self or another.
Results
Perceptions of bias. We expected a persons own trait rat
-
ings to be seen as less biased than the trait ratings made
by another, and we expected specific trait ratings to be
seen as less biased than trait ratings considered in gen
-
eral. The results of a 2 (self vs. other) × 2 (abstract vs. spe
-
cific ratings) ANOVA on participants’ assessments of bias
supported these predictions (see Figure 2). There was a
significant main effect of the source of the trait ratings
such that participants thought their own trait ratings
684 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
were less influenced by wishful thinking than were the
trait ratings of others, F(1, 120) = 34.45, p < .0001.
3
There
was also a significant main effect of the nature of the trait
ratings such that participants thought that a specific set
of trait ratings that had actually been made were less
likely to be tainted by bias than trait ratings that might be
made, F(1, 120) = 7.58, p < .001.
As in Study 1, we subjected participants’ bias ratings
to a planned contrast with the self-specific condition
assigned a weight of –3 and the other conditions
assigned weights of +1. This contrast revealed that the
lowest attributions of bias were made when participants
were most likely to introspect—for specific predictions
that participants themselves had just made, F(1, 120) =
14.01, p < .001.
Reported strategy use. We predicted that participants
would more often report consulting theories of bias and
less often report a strategy of introspection when assess
-
ing bias in the judgments of another. To test these pre
-
dictions, we examined participants’ responses to the
question tapping the degree to which they reported
searching within the person (self or other) for evidence
of having been biased and their average responses to the
two questions representing the degree to which they
reported consulting theories of bias (r = .50). A 2 (self vs.
other) × 2 (abstract vs. specific predictions) ANOVA was
conducted on each measure, and each yielded a signifi
-
cant self-other main effect. Participants asked about the
possibility of being biased themselves reported using a
strategy of introspection more (M = 5.38) than those
asked about the possibility of bias in someone else (M =
4.39), F(1, 123) = 8.15, p = .005. The opposite result was
obtained on the measure of how much participants con
-
sulted abstract theories of bias. Participants asked about
the possibility of being biased themselves reported con
-
sulting abstract theories less (M = 4.60) than those asked
about the possibility of bias in someone else (M = 5.74),
F(1, 123) = 12.70, p < .0005.
4
We also expected participants to rely on introspection
more often to assess bias in specific judgments than
when considering judgments in the abstract. This pre
-
diction was largely disconfirmed, as we did not obtain a
significant main effect of specific versus abstract judg
-
ments on either the use of introspection measure, F(1,
123) = 2.36, p > .10, or the use of abstract theories mea
-
sure, F < 1.0. Note, however, that this prediction applies
most readily to one’s own judgments rather than judg
-
ments made by another. One can no better introspect
about a specific judgment made by another than about
the sort of judgments others generally make. Indeed, the
prediction fared a bit better when confined to the
responses of participants who assessed bias in their own
judgments. A planned comparison revealed a significant
tendency for participants to rely more on introspection
when considering a specific set of their own trait-ratings
(M = 5.90) than when considering the sort of ratings they
might make in the abstract (M = 4.88), t(62) = 2.20, p <
.05. A similar planned comparison on the measure of
the extent to which participants relied on abstract theo-
ries, however, did not yield even a marginally significant
effect, F < 1.0.
To parallel our analyses of the bias ratings in both this
study and Study 1, we performed two planned contrasts
in which the self-specific condition was assigned a weight
of –3 and the other conditions were assigned weights of
+1. These contrasts revealed that participants relied on
introspection most, F(1, 125) = 4.09, p < .01, and abstract
theories least, F(1, 125) = 4.60, p < .005, when assessing
bias in their own specific judgments.
Finally, the degree to which participants indicated
that they consulted theories of bias more than introspec
-
tion (as represented by a difference score between the
two self-report indices) predicted greater attributions of
bias (r = .22, z = 1.68, p < .10).
Indirect evidence of strategy use. As in Study 1, we con
-
ducted an additional test of the extent to which partici
-
pants relied on introspection versus abstract theories by
examining the correspondence between their ratings of
bias and the degree to which the judgment in question
strayed from what might be expected. Our measure of
the trait ratings participants were likely to have expected
were taken directly from the responses of participants in
the other-general condition who were asked this very
question. A measure of the extent to which a given set of
trait ratings deviated from expectations was computed
by subtracting from each trait rating the mean expecta
-
tion rating for that trait and then averaging across all
trait ratings made by a given individual. As predicted,
participants appeared to pay attention to the extent to
Ehrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS 685
Figure 2 Perceived bias in self trait ratings, Study 2.
NOTE: Higher numbers represent greater perceived bias.
which trait ratings strayed from what was expected only
when estimating the degree to which another’s trait rat
-
ings might be biased, r = .39, z(31) = 2.20, p < .05. In con
-
trast, participants paid no attention to the degree to
which their own ratings deviated from expectations, r =
.09, z < 1.0.
Discussion
Study 2 provides further evidence that individuals see
greater bias in others’ judgments than in their own, and
acknowledge more bias in their own judgments in gen
-
eral than in specific judgments they have just made. We
also replicated the finding that others’ judgments, but
not their own, are seen as biased to the extent that those
judgments deviate from the perceived norm. The new
findings in this study involve the apparent weight given
to lay theories versus introspections and the tendency for
people to treat their own introspections—but not oth
-
er’s introspections—as probative. These tendencies, we
argue, account for the asymmetries in assessments of
bias that we have documented. That is, people deny bias
in their own judgments because introspection provides
little evidence of bias. They acknowledge the possibility
of bias in their past judgments and their judgments in
general because they have no introspective evidence to
rely on and therefore rely on their general theories
about bias. And they infer bias in others because they do
not have direct access to the introspection of others and
doubt the candor or insightfulness of the self-reported
introspections that others offer.
It is noteworthy that participants did not claim to be
completely unbiased, even in their immediate judgments.
The mean bias ratings for the self were simply low in
absolute terms, and participants thought their own judg
-
ments were less influenced by bias than the judgments
made by others. This finding reflects both that people
give theory (e.g., theory about motivation influences) at
least some weight, even in their self-assessments, and
that there are some occasions in which introspection
does yield evidence of bias, or at least evidence of the
motives that prompt bias. (A Little League umpire is apt
both to realize and recollect how hard it was to utter
“Strike three!” when it was his or her own child in the bat
-
ter’s box.)
Our contention is simply that introspection will more
often than not yield a verdict of not guilty. Indeed, intro
-
spection is apt to yield the impression that one acted in
spite of one’s preferences, not because of them. One’s
conscious efforts to have avoided bias, in fact to have
“bent over backwards” to do so, are likely to be highly
salient. An interesting test case is provided by instances
in which one has a group identity or some other personal
connection to an issue that constitutes a potential source
of bias. To what extent do we recognize the biasing influ
-
ence of such connections on our own judgments? We
propose that people may not only fail to acknowledge
the biasing influence in question, they may be led by
their introspections to claim that their connections con
-
stituted a source of enlightenment.
Anecdotal evidence for this proposition abounds. In
advocating funding for stem cell research, Congressman
Dick Gephardt spoke of his experience caring for his
elderly mother and insisted that “unless you’ve gone
through something, you really don’t understand it”
(Solomon, 2001). Similarly, Senator Strom Thurmond
claimed that “as a father of a daughter with juvenile dia
-
betes, I know first-hand the devastating nature of this
disease”—and thus justified his long-time support of
medical research (Pear, 2001). Both politicians not only
denied bias, they claimed unique enlightenment.
Undeniably, experiences of this sort do provide useful
information—and appreciation of the significance of
that information—that those unconnected to the issue
are unlikely to share. But at the same time, such connec
-
tions give rise to vested interests and policy preferences
that can distort the individual’s evaluation of relevant
evidence and arguments (Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Lord
et al., 1979). We contend that when individuals with a
vested interest introspect, they will find lots of evidence
of enlightening experiences and little evidence of con-
scious bias in assessing information. By contrast, when
an observer considers these same individuals, the con-
gruence between their positions and their self-interest
will be taken as evidence of bias in accord with the ob-
server’s theories about the potent effects of self-interest
in distorting judgment. Studies 3 and 4 were designed
to explore this asymmetry in perceived bias versus
enlightenment.
STUDY 3
In October 2000, an Israeli-Palestinian truce col
-
lapsed, leading to an eruption of violence that killed
more than 100 people in the first few weeks and that con
-
tinues to this day. The events became one of the most
talked-about issues on campus and across the nation.
Not surprisingly, Israeli and Jewish individuals held dif
-
ferent views of the conflict than Arab and Muslim indi
-
viduals. In the aftermath of this eruption of violence, we
approached Arab, Muslim, and Jewish students at rallies
and debates on campus and asked them to consider the
degree to which a personal connection to the Middle
East might have influenced either their own views re
-
garding the crisis or the views of someone on the “other
side.” We expected participants to think that such a con
-
nection would serve as a source of bias in the views of the
other side but as a source of enlightenment in their own
views.
686 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Method
Participants. We approached individuals attending
campus events designed to foster discussion of the Mid
-
dle East peace crisis and asked them to complete a ques
-
tionnaire on the subject. Sixty-eight agreed.
Procedure. Participants provided demographic infor
-
mation and then read a passage stating that by virtue of
their ethnic or religious background, Jews, Arabs, and
Muslims tend to feel personally connected to the events
in the Middle East. Participants who reported that they
were Jewish, Muslim, or Arabic were randomly assigned
to consider either their own viewpoint or that of some
-
one with the opposite personal connection. They then
read the following:
Your status as member of a group with a lot at stake in this
issue might influence how you view the history of this
conflict, how you view the events going on right now, and
what you think is the best course for the future. A per
-
son’s stake in a given issue might give them a perspec
-
tive...that is particularly illuminating (i.e., that gives
them an understanding of the issues that someone with-
out such a stake simply cannot have). Alternatively, a per-
son’s stake in a given issue might give them a biased per-
spective on the issue (i.e., that makes it hard for them to
see the issues fairly).
For those considering the viewpoint of someone on
the opposite side of the issue, “you” was replaced by “this
person.” Participants were then asked to indicate the
extent to which they thought the view in question (their
own or that of someone on the opposite side) might be
influenced in one of these ways versus the other. Specifi
-
cally, participants circled a number on a 9-point scale
anchored by “is likely to give me [this student] an illumi
-
nating perspective” and “is likely to give me [this stu
-
dent] a biased perspective.”
Results and Discussion
We expected participants to think that their own views
were less biased and more enlightened by personal con
-
nections to the Middle East than the views of those on
the opposite side. A 2 (Jewish vs. Arab/Muslim partici
-
pant) × 2 (Jewish vs. Arab/Muslim target) ANOVA
yielded the predicted significant interaction between
participant and target background, F(1, 64) = 26.42, p <
.0001. As Figure 3 indicates, Jewish participants were
more likely than Arab/Muslim participants to think
Arab/Muslim targets were unduly biased by their back
-
ground, t(64) = –3.96, p < .0005, and less likely to think
that Jewish participants were biased by theirs, t(64) =
3.31, p < .005. A one-sample t test indicated that Arabic/
Muslim participants rated their own views as more illu
-
minated than biased by their personal connection to the
issue, t(23) = 2.17, p < .05. A similar test on the responses
of Jewish participants indicated that although they did
not think their personal connections to the Middle East
biased their views of the pertinent issues, they also did
not think that their personal connections were a signifi-
cant source of enlightenment, t < 1.
Thus, participants with ethnic or religious connec-
tions to the conflict in the Middle East viewed their own
personal connection as more enlightening and less bias-
ing than the personal connections of those on the oppos-
ing side. Arab and Muslim participants, furthermore,
viewed their connections to the issue as a significant
source of enlightenment. Jewish participants (most of
whom were born in the United States and were thus per
-
haps less personally involved in the crisis than our Arab/
Muslim participants) did not consider their own connec
-
tion to the issue to be particularly enlightening, but they
also did not see it as a source of bias. We have no way of
knowing whether this difference between Jewish and
Arab/Muslim students was due to the amount of passion
they brought to the issue, the amount of knowledge they
brought, or both.
In this study, we demonstrated that individuals’
identity-based connections to a controversial issue are
seen as less biasing—indeed, as enlightening to some—
than the personal, identity-based connections of others.
Someone elses connection to a given issue is necessarily
rather abstract, bereft of the personal experiences and
detailed knowledge that come with one’s own connec
-
tion. This raises the question of whether the effects
observed here would still be obtained when the pro
-
nounced difference in the abstract versus concrete qual
-
ity of the personal connection was reduced. Would the
same effects be observed when considering a personal
connection on the part not of oneself and a member of
Ehrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS 687
Figure 3 Perceptions of the degree to which one’s ethnic or religious
status offers an enlightened as opposed to a biased
perspective on issues related to the conflict in the Middle
East, Study 3.
NOTE: Zero represents the midpoint of the scale, with positive num
-
bers representing a belief that the target individual’s view is likely to be
more enlightened than biased by a personal connection and negative
numbers representing a belief that the target individual’s view is likely
to be more biased than enlightened.
the other side but someone else on one’s own side and
an opponent? One cannot introspect about the influ
-
ence of a personal connection on someone else’s think
-
ing, even when that someone else is from one’s own
group and shares one’s own values and ideological lean
-
ings. Nevertheless, it is certainly possible to introspect
and use one’s own internal experience as a proxy for the
experience of someone with the same connection to the
issue at hand. Participants in Study 2, for example,
reported that they tried to “get into the head” of another
student to decide if he or she may have been guilty of
bias—but not nearly as much as they tried to get into
their own heads to decide if they themselves had been
biased. The possibility of introspection by proxy implies
that a personal connection to a controversial issue will be
seen as less biasing and more enlightening when it
applies to someone on ones own side of the issue than
when it applies to someone on the other side.
STUDY 4
This study featured two issues for which respondents
personal connections might be seen as either biasing or
enlightening. Specifically, we examined assessments of
minority and majority students’ input on university affir-
mative action policies and assessments of varsity and
intramural athletes’ input on access to the most desir-
able weight-training facility on campus.
Method
Participants. Seventy-nine Cornell University students
participated in the affirmative-action version of the
experiment and received extra credit in upper level psy
-
chology courses for their efforts. The sample included
41 Caucasian participants and 38 from various ethnic or
racial groups (15 African American, 9 Hispanic, 6 bira
-
cial, and 8 international students, 4 of whom hailed from
African countries, 2 from India, and 1 each from Indone
-
sia and Jamaica).
5
Thirty-eight varsity athletes and 37
intramural athletes participated (on a purely voluntary
basis) in the athletic-facilities version of the experiment.
Procedure. Participants in the affirmative-action ver
-
sion of the experiment arrived at the laboratory and
were run in individual cubicles. They were given a ques
-
tionnaire that asked them to imagine that Cornell was
considering changing its admissions policy. Under cur
-
rent policy, students read, the admissions committee
takes into account a student’s ethnic background in
addition to such factors as high school grades and stan
-
dardized test scores when rendering admissions deci
-
sions. Under the new policy being considered, a stu
-
dent’s ethnic background would not be considered.
Participants were asked to imagine that the administra
-
tion had assembled a student panel to provide input on
the proposed change. Participants were randomly
assigned to consider how the opinion of either a minor
-
ity or a Caucasian student on the panel might be influ
-
enced by his or her ethnicity. Participants indicated how
they thought this student would be influenced by his or
her ethnicity by placing an X on a 16-cm line anchored
by “likely to detract from his or her ability to see the
issues clearly” and “likely to enhance his or her ability to
see the issues clearly.”
Participants in the athletic-facilities version of the
study were approached at locations around campus and
asked to fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire de
-
scribed the weight-training equipment housed in a
newly built facility on campus and reminded partici
-
pants that use of this facility was limited to varsity ath
-
letes. The questionnaire asked participants to imagine
that in response to student criticism the administration
had formed a student committee to consider whether
the university should open the varsity weight room to
intramural athletes. Participants who were themselves
varsity or intramural athletes were asked to imagine
either a varsity or intramural athlete on this committee.
They indicated the degree to which they thought this
athlete’s status either as a varsity or as an intramural ath-
lete would influence his or her ability to see the issue
clearly by placing an X on a 16-cm line anchored by
“likely to detract from his or her ability to see the issues
clearly” and “likely to enhance his or her ability to see the
issues clearly.”
Results and Discussion
Affirmative action. We predicted that each group
would see the other’s ethnicity as a source of bias but
their own ethnicity as a source of insight. Confirm
-
ing this prediction, a 2 (Caucasian vs. minority partici
-
pant) × 2 (Caucasian vs. minority target) ANOVA yielded
the predicted interaction (see Figure 4a), F(1, 75) =
19.20, p < .0001. Caucasian students thought that a panel
member’s ethnicity would serve as more of a biasing
influence when that student was a member of an ethnic
or racial minority (M = –1.89) than when that student
was a fellow Caucasian (M = .53), t(75) = 1.99, p = .05. The
opposite was true of minority students, who thought a
student’s ethnicity would constitute more of a source of
bias when that student was Caucasian (M = –2.40) than
when the student was a fellow minority (M = 2.86),
t(75) = –4.17, p < .0005. Indeed, ethnic minority students
asked about a fellow ethnic minority student on the uni
-
versity panel thought that such a student’s ethnicity
would serve as a significant source of enlightenment
rather than bias, one-sample t(17) = 2.69, p < .05. A com
-
plementary effect emerged for Caucasian students, who
688 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
thought the ethnicity of a fellow Caucasian would serve
as more of a source of enlightenment than bias,
although this effect was not statistically significant, one
sample t < 1.
Athletic facilities. Here, too, we predicted that each
group would see the other’s connection to the issue at
hand as a source of bias but their own connection as a
source of insight. Confirming this prediction, a 2 (varsity
vs. intramural participant) × 2 (varsity vs. intramural tar
-
get) ANOVA yielded the predicted significant interac
-
tion, F(1, 71) = 31.53, p < .0001 (see Figure 4b). Varsity
athletes thought that a panel member’s athletic status
would serve as more of a biasing influence when that stu
-
dent was an intramural athlete (M = –4.22) than when
that student was a fellow varsity athlete (M = 2.41), t(71) =
–5.47 , p < .0001. The opposite was true of intramural ath
-
letes, who thought a student’s athletic status would con
-
stitute more of a source of bias when the student was a
varsity athlete (M = –2.14) than when the student was a
fellow intramural athlete (M = .90), t(71) = 2.48, p < .05.
Indeed, each group asked about a fellow athlete of their
own kind thought that such a student’s athletic status
would serve as a source of enlightenment rather than
bias, t(17) = 2.14, p < .05 for varsity athletes and t(18) =
1.74, p < .10 for intramural athletes.
These data demonstrate that individuals more readily
see a personal connection to a controversial issue as a
source of bias among those holding an opposing view
-
point than among those who share their own connection
to the issue. Furthermore, participants often viewed
their own side’s personal connection as more of a source
of enlightenment than bias.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Determining whether a given judgment has been
tainted by bias is not easy. Past research has shown that
people are more apt to detect bias in the judgments
of others than in their own judgments (Pronin et al.,
2002,), an asymmetry that appears to result from the dif
-
ferent strategies people use to detect bias in their own
judgments versus the judgments of others (Pronin et al.,
2004). People tend to introspect to determine whether
their own judgments are tainted by bias but to consult
abstract theories to determine whether others’ judg-
ments are biased. Because many biases work below the
surface and leave no trace of their operation, an intro-
spective search for evidence of bias often turns up empty.
Having conducted an internal search that produced lit-
tle evidence of bias, people feel justified in believing
their own judgments to be untainted by bias. One can-
not conduct the same internal search to determine the
causes of others’ judgments, and so observers rely on
their abstract theories about the types of judgments that
are likely to be biased. Those theories in turn lead ob
-
servers to infer bias whenever the actor’s judgments
seem self-serving.
Consistent with this analysis, our first two studies indi
-
cate that people believe judgments to be least biased
when they are most likely to introspect to find evidence
of bias. That is, people suspect the judgments of others
to be more biased than their own, and they view their
own judgments in the abstract as more prone to bias
than specific judgments they have recently rendered.
Furthermore, the degree to which a given judgment
departs from the norm has a significant influence on
perceived bias in others’ judgments but not on one’s
own. Finally, participants in Study 2 directly reported
using different strategies to assess the presence of bias in
ways that mirrored the degree to which those judgments
were thought to be tainted by wishful thinking. Partici
-
pants reported looking inward to detect traces of bias
more for their own judgments than for the judgments of
Ehrlinger et al. / ASSESSMENTS OF BIAS 689
Figure 4 (a) Perceptions of the degree to which one’s ethnicity offers
an enlightened as opposed to biased perspective on
attitudes about affirmative action, Study 4. (b) Perceptions
of the degree to which one’s athletic status offers an
enlightened as opposed to biased perspective on allocation
of athletic space, Study 4.
NOTE: Zero represents the midpoint of the scale, with positive num-
bers representing a belief that the target individual’s view is likely to be
more enlightened than biased by a personal connection and negative
numbers representing a belief that the target individual’s view is likely
to be more biased than enlightened.
others. They also reported looking inward to assess bias
in judgments they had just made more than when con
-
sidering whether they are generally prone to a particular
type of bias. Thus, people are least likely to think a judg
-
ment is biased when they are most likely to introspect—
when assessing whether their own specific judgments
they just rendered are likely to be biased.
This does not imply that people never acknowledge
that their own judgments are biased. People are often
willing to concede, for example, that they are guilty of
bias in their assessments of their friends or children. In
such cases, the motivation to be seen as unbiased is not as
great—or is balanced by a countervailing motive to be a
stand-up friend or a protective parent—so it is easier to
admit to the possibility of bias. Note that even here, how
-
ever, one is more likely to confess to being biased in gen
-
eral than in any specific instance.
People will sometimes own up to being biased even in
specific instances if and when their introspections yield
some trace of their judgments being pulled in a favored
direction. This can occur when one experiences conflict
between an outcome and one’s wish for a better result. In
a relevant experiment by Ditto and Lopez (1992), for
example, participants were led to believe that they could
be assured that they were not predisposed to a troubling
medical condition if a piece of litmus paper turned color
when placed in a test medium. When for some of the par-
ticipants the paper did not change color, they kept put-
ting it back in the medium in an apparent effort to
prompt the desired change. Most participants—and this
was the main thrust of the Ditto and Lopez paper—
surely saw no bias in what they did, interpreting their
actions as simply being sufficiently thorough to allow the
test to work properly. But we suspect a small number of
participants may have been aware of their aversion to the
initial result (“This can’t be!”) and how it led them to
do something—test further—that they would not have
done otherwise. A more familiar instance of such aware
-
ness of bias occurs when the loser of a coin flip proposes
“two out of three,” fully recognizing they would not pro
-
pose such a change in criterion if the initial outcome had
been in their favor.
The coin-flip example notwithstanding, we suspect
that such instances of recognizing one’s own biases in
specific instances are rare, a contention reinforced by
the results of Studies 3 and 4. In those studies, even a
highly salient potential source of bias—a vested interest
in a controversial issue—was not seen as having a distort
-
ing influence on participants’ own views of the issue in
question. In contexts ranging from the trivial (e.g., cam
-
pus athletic privileges) to the geopolitically significant
(e.g., the second intifada), participants reported that a
personal connection to the issue in question did not bias
either their own judgments (Study 3) or the judgments
of those who share their connection (Study 4). In fact, in
both studies participants claimed that such a personal
connection served as an important source of enlighten
-
ment. No such charitable interpretation was granted to
those holding an opposing viewpoint.
Failing to detect bias in one’s own judgment can
sometimes be perfectly harmless and sometimes conse
-
quential. Dismissing a supervisor’s unflattering perfor
-
mance appraisal as inaccurate without questioning
whether it is one’s own view that is in error can prevent a
person from learning valuable information that can fos
-
ter more rewarding future employment. Deciding that a
division of common resources beneficial to the self is fair
can lead to bitterness on the part of those who believe
another division to be more equitable (Ross & Sicoly,
1979).
The latter example highlights the fact that asym
-
metric assessments of bias are likely to have the great
-
est implications in situations of conflict. Conflict is
exacerbated—and resolution harder to achieve—when
the two sides differ not only in what they deem fair and
reasonable but when each takes the other’s position as
the product of unintentional bias or willful distortion of
the relevant facts and entitlements. The tendency to
believe that one’s own experiences afford a particularly
enlightened perspective on the conflict, and that one
thereby sees the relevant issues more clearly than anyone
else, can lead individuals to reject proposed solutions
not only when offered by members of the opposing side
but also when suggested by neutral third parties.
The role of the bias blind spot in interpersonal and
intergroup conflict calls attention to how its untoward
effects might most readily be overcome or dampened.
On one hand, the task is formidable. The mental opera
-
tions that give rise to the blind spot—looking inward to
detect bias in oneself but consulting abstract theories to
assess bias in others—are perfectly natural and perhaps
even automatic processes that can seem beyond
reproach. The impact of these mental operations is hard
to overcome, and there is little in everyday experience
that is likely to call them into question. On the other
hand, here, as in so many other instances of research
inspired by the cognitive revolution in psychology,
knowledge itself is surely liberating. Recognizing that
the divergent views expressed by others are apt to be sin
-
cerely held rather than a motivated strategy to seek
advantage can help to defuse the spiral of conflict. Rec
-
ognizing also that the biases that influence others result
from normal psychological processes—processes to
which we too are susceptible—rather than some essen
-
690 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
tial characteristic of the other group, should further be
helpful. We hope that the present research will serve to
foster such insight.
NOTES
1. Because participants in the other-specific condition rendered
their judgments about ratings provided by a specific participant in the
self-specific condition, the ratings of these two groups are not inde
-
pendent, potentially contaminating the reported self-other difference.
To overcome this problem, we computed separate t tests for the self-
other comparisons in both the specific and general conditions. A
paired t test revealed that the self-other difference in the specific condi
-
tions was significant, t(24) = 2.59, p < .01, and an independent-samples t
test revealed that the corresponding difference in the general condi
-
tions was also significant, t(46) = 3.42, p < .005. One extra participant
was run in the self-specific condition (i.e., one participant in this condi
-
tion was not yoked to a participant in the self-general condition), which
explains why the degrees of freedom in these two t tests do not match
what would be expected from the ANOVAs reported in the main text.
2. Participants also answered two other questions that we originally
designed as measures of the extent to which participants utilized a
strategy of introspection: (a) whether they (the average Cornell stu
-
dent) felt (would feel) a temptation to give themselves the benefit of
the doubt and (b) the extent to which they bent over backwards (would
bend over backwards) not to give in to temptation. As was pointed out
to us, however, it is not clear whether these questions really do tap into
the use of introspection rather than abstract theories (indeed, the aver
-
age correlation between responses to these three questions was only
.32), and so they were dropped from the analysis. Note that when they
are included in the analysis, the results are the same as with the single-
item measure reported in the text.
3. There are 120 degrees of freedom because 3 participants did not
complete this measure. Because, as in Study 1, participants in the
other-specific condition rendered their judgments about ratings pro-
vided by a specific participant in the self-specific condition, the ratings
of these two groups are not independent, potentially contaminating
the reported self-other difference. To overcome this problem, we com-
puted separate t tests for the self-other comparisons in both the specific
and general conditions. A paired t test revealed that the self-other dif
-
ference in the specific conditions was significant, t(30) = 4.02, p < .0001,
and an independent-samples t test revealed that the corresponding dif
-
ference in the general conditions was also significant, t(60) = 4.12, p <
.0001.
4. Once again, to deal with the nonindependence of the self-
specific and other-specific conditions, we conducted separate t tests for
the self-other comparisons in both the specific and general conditions.
For the introspection measure, a paired t test revealed that the self-
other difference in the specific conditions was significant, t(30) = 2.28,
p < .05, but an independent-samples t test revealed that the correspond
-
ing difference in the general conditions was not significant, t(63) =
1.37, p < .20. For the abstract-theories measure, a paired t test revealed
that the self-other difference in the specific conditions was significant,
t(30) = 3.90, p < .001, and an independent-samples t test revealed that
the corresponding difference in the general conditions was marginally
significant, t(63) = 1.78, p < .10.
5. Asian students were not included because although their daily
experience on campus is in many ways that of a racial minority, their
relationship to issues of affirmative action is not.
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692 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
... An alternative explanation for the BBS focuses on the metacognitive strategies that participants use when making bias susceptibility judgments (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin et al., 2004;Pronin & Kugler, 2007). In one experiment, Pronin and Kugler (2007) presented participants with descriptions of social/motivational biases and asked them to judge themselves or others' susceptibility to bias. ...
... While the evidence in Pronin and Kugler (2007) and elsewhere (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin et al., 2004 supports the introspection bias hypothesis, to the best of our knowledge, this result has not yet been replicated. Moreover, the biases used in that work were exclusively within the social/motivational realm. ...
... It is debatable whether one could literally introspect for another individual. Indeed, Ehrlinger et al. (2005) make the point that "people cannot, by definition, introspect into the minds of others" (p. 681). ...
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Individuals often assess themselves as being less susceptible to common biases compared to others. This bias blind spot (BBS) is thought to represent a metacognitive error. In this research, we tested three explanations for the effect: The cognitive sophistication hypothesis posits that individuals who display the BBS more strongly are actually less biased than others. The introspection bias hypothesis posits that the BBS occurs because people rely on introspection more when assessing themselves compared to others. The conversational processes hypothesis posits that the effect is largely a consequence of the pragmatic aspects of the experimental situation rather than true metacognitive error. In two experiments (N = 1057) examining 18 social/motivational and cognitive biases, there was strong evidence of the BBS. Among the three hypotheses examined, the conversational processes hypothesis attracted the greatest support, thus raising questions about the extent to which the BBB is a metacognitive effect.
... This is further complicated when a project is spread over both time and space, and involves multiple personnel performing various roles -as is commonly the set-up for many geoscientific ventures. Furthermore, the identification of the presence of a certain, or set of, cognitive biases may not be sufficient, as awareness of bias does not always reduce its influence (Pronin et al., 2002;Ehrlinger et al., 2005). Thus, quantification of the influence of various cognitive biases is also highly sought after, as this may then be backpropagated through the system to aid the estimation of true uncertainty in a judgement. ...
... Cognitive biases stem from the subconscious, rendering self-awareness of their presence and influence infeasible (e.g., Duval & Silvia, 2002;Winne & Azevedo, 2014). Even with external prompts (e.g., from the elicitor or another expert), awareness and acceptance of individual cognitive biases within their own judgements is low amongst experts (e.g., Pronin et al., 2002;Ehrlinger et al., 2005). ...
... It cannot be assumed that the provision of feedback is sufficient for an expert to self-or groupcorrect any biases (e.g., Pronin et al., 2002;Ehrlinger et al., 2005). Thus, a set of action modules are the core of this modular design and are split here into training and tool modules that may facilitate the de-biasing of experts during a task. ...
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Expert knowledge is required to interpret data across a range of fields. Experts bridge gaps that often exists in our knowledge about relationships between data and the parameters of interest. This is especially true in geoscientific applications, where knowledge of the Earth is derived from interpretations of observable features and relies on predominantly unproven but widely accepted theories. Thus, experts facilitate solutions to otherwise unsolvable problems. However, experts are inherently subjective, and susceptible to cognitive biases and adverse external effects. This work examines this problem within geoscience. Three compelling examples are provided of the prevalence of cognitive biases from previous work. The problem is then formally defined, and a set of design principles which ensure that any solution is sufficiently flexible to be readily applied to the range of geoscientific problems. No solutions exist that reliably capture and reduce cognitive bias in experts. However, formal expert elicitation methods can be used to assess expert variation, and a variety of approaches exist that may help to illuminate uncertainties, avoid misunderstandings, and reduce herding behaviours or single-expert over-dominance. This work combines existing and future approaches to reduce expert suboptimality through a flexible modular design where each module provides a specific function. The design centres around action modules that force a stop-and-perform step into interpretation tasks. A starter-pack of modules is provided as an example of the conceptual design. This simple bias-reduction system may readily be applied in organisations and during everyday interpretations through to tasks for major commercial ventures.
... It is currently unclear whether HR employees are fully aware of these potential risks in their decision-making, and, therefore, whether they can recognize their potential susceptibility to a bias blind spot. Research on the bias blind spot (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin and Kugler, 2007;Pronin et al., 2004;Scopelliti et al., 2015;West et al., 2012) remains scarce and mainly focuses on investigating the phenomenon in everyday situations involving, for example, college students or airport passengers. However, an existence of the bias blind spot in a business setting, such as choosing the best candidate for a managerial role, could have many, longer-lasting consequences. ...
... They also showed that the bias blind spot is caused by a lack of self-awareness due to asymmetric consideration of evidence when assessing oneself and other people. For introspection illusion (i.e., the erroneous assumption that people can observe their mental processes) and naïve realism (i.e., the inner attitude of an individual who assumes that his or her subjective perception is, essentially, identical to objective reality) research (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin and Kugler, 2007;Pronin et al., 2004) suggests that the bias blind spot is connected to both. ...
... So far, research on the bias blind spot is limited and has only been conducted in the field of psychology. Studies have usually compared groups such as students versus the average American, students versus fellow students, or airline passengers versus other travelers (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin et al., 2002Pronin et al., , 2004Scopelliti et al., 2015;West et al., 2012). Most studies found significant differences among these groups. ...
Article
Research on human resources (HR) indicates that many biases (e.g., halo effect, confirmation bias, stereotyping bias) affect decisions taken by HR employees. However, it remains unclear whether HR employees are aware of their susceptibility to bias. To improve understanding, this study examines the "bias blind spot" phenomenon, the tendency of individuals to believe they are less likely to be biased than their peers. This quantitative survey among 234 HR employees in Switzerland measured the bias blind spot on seven interview biases in recruitment decision-making. The study shows that participants rated the average HR colleague as more susceptible to bias than themselves. Furthermore, male HR employees partly showed a greater bias blind spot than female HR employees. These findings contribute to behavioral research in HR and offer practical insights.
... Our findings were consistent with the metacognitive literature that has demonstrates that people have difficulty monitoring their cognitive processes (e.g., Benjamin & Bjork, 1996;Ehrlinger, Gilovich, & Ross, 2005). Participants rated themselves as fairly objective and fairly confident that their hypothesis would be proven correct; their ratings were unrelated to their cause allocations. ...
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Introduction: This study explored the magnitude of professional industrial investigators’ bias to attribute cause to a person more readily than to situational factors (i.e., human error bias). Such biased opinions may relieve companies from responsibilities and liability, as well as compromise efficacy of suggested preventative measures. Method: Professional investigators and undergraduate participants were given a summary of a workplace event and asked to allocate cause to the factors they found causal for the event. The summary was crafted to be objectively balanced in its implication of cause equally between two factors: a worker and a tire. Participants then rated their confidence and the objectivity of their judgment. We then conducted an effect size analysis, which supplemented the findings from our experiment with two previously published research studies that used the same event summary. Results: Professionals exhibited a human error bias, but nevertheless believed that they were objective and confident in their conclusions. The lay control group also showed this human error bias. These data, along with previous research data, revealed that, given the equivalent investigative circumstances, this bias was significantly larger with the professional investigators, with an effect size of dunb = 0.97, than the control group with an effect size of only dunb = 0.32. Conclusions: The direction and strength of the human error bias can be quantified, and is shown to be larger in professional investigators compared to lay people. Practical Applications: Understanding the strength and direction of bias is a crucial step in mitigating the effects of the bias. The results of the current research demonstrate that mitigation strategies such as proper investigator training, a strong investigation culture, and standardized techniques, are potentially promising interventions to mitigate human error bias.
... People often underestimate their vulnerability to bias (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002). So, it's likely that at baseline, people who are internally and externally motivated to control prejudice believe they are successfully avoiding discriminatory behavior (Pronin et al., 2002;Plant & Devine, 1998;Ehrlinger, Gilovich, & Ross, 2005). Learning that they've fallen short of these goals may lead them to engage in compensatory behavior, seeking opportunities to support racial minorities to make up for past bias (Mullen & Monin, 2016;Locke & Latham, 1990;Eskreis-Winkler & Fishbach, 2020). ...
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Prior research overwhelmingly shows that when information about an individual’s marginalized identity is communicated inadvertently (via a name that signals gender or race, for example), that information tends to trigger prejudiced behavior. As a result, both conventional wisdom and extant research suggest that women and racial minorities should obscure or de-emphasize their minority status to reduce their likelihood of experiencing discrimination. In this work, I propose that women and racial minorities might instead benefit from strategically emphasizing their demographic identity. This approach has two potential benefits: when a person’s marginalized identity is made more salient, (1) the potential for discrimination on the basis of that identity is also more salient, so decision-makers may be more likely to avoid prejudiced behavior and (2) it highlights an opportunity to support marginalized people, which may appeal to those who want to engage in pro-diversity behaviors. I also investigate whether and why marginalized people strategically choose teams to emphasize their identity, and how organizations might leverage these insights to motivate pro-diversity behavior in their employees. In Chapter 1, I share evidence from two audit experiments—one with politicians and another with students—as well as an online experiment showing that women and racial minorities benefit from explicitly mentioning their demographic identity in requests for help (e.g., by including statements like “As a Black woman...”). Politicians and students responded 24.4% and 79.6% more often, respectively, when help-seeking emails included an explicit mention of the sender’s marginalized identity. In Chapter 2, I find that when women and racial minorities expect to compete for a job or promotion, they’re more willing to be tokens because they think standing out based on their demographic identity will be strategically beneficial, suggesting that they intuit the benefits of highlighting identity that I establish in Chapter 1. In Chapter 3, I build on these insights in an audit experiment exploring how feedback about either discriminatory or pro-diversity behaviors in one’s professional ingroup influences subsequent prejudice. Returning to the population of city councilors in Study 1, I first deliver PSAs with negative feedback (evidence that city councilors discriminate against Black constituents) or positive feedback (evidence that city councilors support Black constituents who emphasize their identity) then measure subsequent response rates to Black vs. White male help-seekers. Receiving negative feedback does not influence responsiveness to Black men relative to receiving no feedback, but positive feedback induces a regression-estimated 36.3% increase in city councilors’ response rates to Black men. Positive feedback seems to create new descriptive norms for pro-diversity behavior that councilors are motivated to maintain. Together, my dissertation illuminates the previously unexplored benefits of strategically highlighting marginalized identity, diversity, and bias, suggesting that women and racial minorities don’t always need to obscure or hide their identity to succeed.
... Our findings were consistent with the metacognitive literature that has demonstrates that people have difficulty monitoring their cognitive processes (e.g., Benjamin & Bjork, 1996;Ehrlinger et al., 2005). Participants rated themselves as fairly objective and fairly confident that their hypothesis would be proven correct; their ratings were unrelated to their cause allocations. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Introduction: The current research explored the magnitude of professional industrial investigators' bias to attribute cause to a person more readily than to situational factors, i.e., human error bias. Such biased opinions may relieve companies from responsibilities and liability, as well as, compromise efficacy of suggested preventative measures. Method: Professional investigators and undergraduate participants were given a summary of a workplace event and asked to allocated cause to the factors they found causal for the event. The summary was crafted to be objectively balanced in its implication of cause equally between two factors: a worker and a tire. Participants then rated their confidence and the objectivity of their judgment. We then conducted an effect size analysis which supplemented the findings from our experiment with two previously published research studies that used the same event summary. Results: Professionals exhibited a human error bias, but nevertheless believed that they were objective and confident in their conclusions. The lay control group also showed this human error bias. These data, along with previous research data, revealed that given the equivalent investigative circumstances, this bias was significantly larger with the professional investigators, with an effect size of dunb = .97, than the control group with an effect size of only dunb = .32. Conclusions: The direction and strength of the human error bias can be quantified, and is shown to be larger in professional investigators compared to the lay people. Practical Applications: Understanding the strength and direction of bias is a crucial step in mitigating the effects of the bias. The results of the current research demonstrate that mitigation strategies such as proper investigator training, a strong investigation culture and standardized techniques, are potentially promising interventions to mitigate human error bias.
... A meta-analysis of motivated reasoning studies found that the average effect size was moderate but almost identical across ideological groups (liberals, r = 0.235; conservatives, r = 0.255; see Figure 7.2). In a startling extension of bias blind spot -rating oneself as less biased than everyone else (Ehrlinger et al., 2005) -Ditto and colleagues also asked people to rate how biased they considered members of their own political party and members of the opposing party. Results were again symmetrical: each group thought the other was more biased than their own. ...
... A meta-analysis of motivated reasoning studies (Ditto et al., 2019) found that the average effect size was moderate but almost identical across ideological groups (liberals, r = 0.235; conservatives, r = 0.255; see Figure 7.2). In a startling extension of bias blind spot -rating oneself as less biased than everyone else (Ehrlinger et al., 2005) -Ditto and colleagues also asked people to rate how biased they considered members of their own political party and members of the opposing party. Results were again symmetrical: each group thought the other was more biased than their own. ...
... This asymmetric reliance on introspection versus extrospection when assessing bias is not accidental: People readily report relying on introspection more when evaluating bias in the self and relying on extrospection more when evaluating bias in others (Ehrlinger et al., 2005;Pronin & Kugler, 2007). Moreover, people believe that introspection is more valuable than extrospection during self-evaluation, whereas they believe the opposite when making evaluations of others (Pronin & Kugler, 2007). ...
Chapter
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This chapter concerns the divergent processes by which people come to know themselves and other people and the resulting consequences. People come to know themselves (or come to gain intrapersonal knowledge ) primarily by looking inward to internal thoughts, feelings, and motives (i.e., by introspecting ). They come to know others (or come to gain interpersonal knowledge ) primarily by looking outward to observable behaviors (i.e., by extrospecting ). These different processes for gaining knowledge lead to important differences in what people believe about themselves versus others. Importantly, the divergent routes of introspection and extrospection lead people to see others as biased and themselves as “right”—especially when the self and other disagree in their perceptions and beliefs. This bias blind spot gives rise to intellectual arrogance and escalates interpersonal conflict. The differing epistemological routes of introspection and extrospection do not always lead people to feel better about themselves than others, however. For example, people may view themselves as uniquely prone to worry, uniquely motivated by fear of embarrassment, and uniquely subject to deviant thoughts—all as a result of their reliance on introspection for assessing themselves but extrospection for assessing others.
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Research in which people compare themselves with an average peer has consistently shown that people evaluate themselves more favorably than they evaluate others. Seven studies were conducted to demonstrate that the magnitude of this better-than-average effect depends on the level of abstraction in the comparison. These studies showed that people were less biased when they compared themselves with an individuated target than when they compared themselves with a nonindividuated target, namely, the average college student. The better-than-average effect was reduced more when the observer had personal contact with the comparison target than when no personal contact was established. Differences in the magnitude of the better-than-average effect could not be attributed to the contemporaneous nature of the target's presentation, communication from the target, perceptual vividness, implied evaluation, or perceptions of similarity. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Tested 3 hypotheses concerning people's predictions of task completion times: (1) people underestimate their own but not others' completion times, (2) people focus on plan-based scenarios rather than on relevant past experiences while generating their predictions, and (3) people's attributions diminish the relevance of past experiences. Five studies were conducted with a total of 465 undergraduates. Results support each hypothesis. Ss' predictions of their completion times were too optimistic for a variety of academic and nonacademic tasks. Think-aloud procedures revealed that Ss focused primarily on future scenarios when predicting their completion times. The optimistic bias was eliminated for Ss instructed to connect relevant past experiences with their predictions. Ss attributed their past prediction failures to external, transient, and specific factors. Observer Ss overestimated others' completion times and made greater use of relevant past experiences. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. They are apt to accept "confirming" evidence at face value while subjecting "disconfirming" evidence to critical evaluation, and, as a result, draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings. Thus, the result of exposing contending factions in a social dispute to an identical body of relevant empirical evidence may be not a narrowing of disagreement but rather an increase in polarization. To test these assumptions, 48 undergraduates supporting and opposing capital punishment were exposed to 2 purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the deterrent efficacy of the death penalty. As predicted, both proponents and opponents of capital punishment rated those results and procedures that confirmed their own beliefs to be the more convincing and probative ones, and they reported corresponding shifts in their beliefs as the various results and procedures were presented. The net effect of such evaluations and opinion shifts was the postulated increase in attitude polarization. (28 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
It is proposed that satisfying, stable relationships reflect intimates' ability to see imperfect relationships in somewhat idealized ways-to make a leap of faith. Both members of dating and married couples completed a measure of relationship illusions, tapping idealized perceptions of the partners' attributes, exaggerated perceptions of control, and unrealistic optimism. Results of concurrent analyses revealed that relationship illusions predicted greater satisfaction, love, and trust, and less conflict and ambivalence in both dating and marital relationships. A longitudinal follow-up of the dating sample revealed that relationships were more likely to persist the stronger individuals' initial illusions. Relationship illusions also predicted increases in later satisfaction but not vice versa. These results suggest that positive illusions capture a prospective sense of conviction or security that is not simply isomorphic with satisfaction.
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Three studies suggest that individuals see the existence and operation of cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in themselves. Study 1 provides evidence from three surveys that people rate themselves as less subject to various biases than the “average American,” classmates in a seminar, and fellow airport travelers. Data from the third survey further suggest that such claims arise from the interplay among availability biases and self-enhancement motives. Participants in one follow-up study who showed the better-than-average bias insisted that their self-assessments were accurate and objective even after reading a description of how they could have been affected by the relevant bias. Participants in a final study reported their peer’s self-serving attributions regarding test performance to be biased but their own similarly self-serving attributions to be free of bias. The relevance of these phenomena to naïve realism and to conflict, misunderstanding, and dispute resolution is discussed.
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In Study 1, over 200 college students estimated how much their own chance of experiencing 42 events differed from the chances of their classmates. Overall, Ss rated their own chances to be significantly above average for positive events and below average for negative events. Cognitive and motivational considerations led to predictions that degree of desirability, perceived probability, personal experience, perceived controllability, and stereotype salience would influence the amount of optimistic bias evoked by different events. All predictions were supported, although the pattern of effects differed for positive and negative events. Study 2 with 120 female undergraduates from Study 1 tested the idea that people are unrealistically optimistic because they focus on factors that improve their own chances of achieving desirable outcomes and fail to realize that others may have just as many factors in their favor. Ss listed the factors that they thought influenced their own chances of experiencing 8 future events. When such lists were read by a 2nd group of Ss, the amount of unrealistic optimism shown by this 2nd group for the same 8 events decreased significantly, although it was not eliminated. (22 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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It is not our intent to coin a new term, but any review of the pertinent social psychological literature leads to the conclusion that people are prone to an illusion of personal strength. That is, people's assessments of their own abilities to meet various challenges exceed the best dispassionate analyses of those abilities. People read about Milgram's obedience experiments and come away convinced that they, unlike the majority of actual participants in those studies, would be strong enough to stand their ground and disobey the experimenter (Bierbrauer, 1979). People read about the various bystander (non)intervention studies and likewise remain convinced that they would have sufficient strength to overcome the fear of embarrassment and come to the rescue. And people's assessments of their own traits and abilities have been shown, time and time again, to be overly optimistic (see Alicke & Govorun, this volume). Our aim in this chapter is to shed light on why people are prone to such an illusion of personal strength. This aim is likely to make some readers wonder whether we are prone to the illusion of personal strength ourselves. After all, there are already perfectly satisfactory explanations of the various manifestations of this illusion. Do we really have anything useful to add? Is another perspective likely to advance our discipline's understanding of these phenomena? Does the discipline really need yet another explanation of the above average effect? We believe there is still much to be learned about the processes that give rise to the various manifestations of the illusion of personal strength. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)