I ‘Like’ Bias

Like #2

In our modern world, we are quick to demonise instances of prejudice, bias and judgements based on stereotypical assumptions.  However, as humans, we are programmed to stereotype and, in the main, our decisions are remarkably accurate.  Rather than necessarily being a bad thing, making decisions based on a stereotypical assumptions is a key survival and evolutionary trait.  We subliminally run the ‘duck test’ all the time and we are very good at it.

 ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck’

Using game simulation and evolutionary studies, cognitive scientists have shown that evolution favours those who can process their sensory inputs, experiences and perceptions to help manage the complex underlying or hidden reality that surrounds them.  This intuitive ability allows us to bundle large amounts of data into chunks that we recognise and process in an instant and prevent a dreaded ‘stack overflow error’.

A good example of this is our vision.  Around 1/3 of our cortex is taken up with vision related tasks and we are able to process an astounding volume of sensory perceptions, inputs and experiences to interpret what we ‘see’.   We are also exceptional at discerning patterns and making grand cognitive leaps and teh afct htat yuo acn atcaully rdea tihs si a gdoo emaxple.

Our intuitive ability also means that we get things wrong plenty of times.  There are plenty of popular sayings that effectively describe this failing – ‘blinded by colour’, ‘blinded by love’ or ‘blinded by faith’.  When we support our favourite team, our bias is inevitable as we interpret referee or umpire decisions and see the game unfold from this perspective.

When we talk about prejudices and biases, there is also very much an in-group/out-group mentality.  Research has proven that we are more likely to display prejudice and bias towards those who we perceive are from groups outside our own.  There have been famous experiments of race and sex, however, my favourite shows that even babies exhibit strong in-group/out-group characteristics.  Otherwise described as herd mentality, this has been an important trait in our evolution and survival that generates an inherent tendency for bias.

In today’s increasingly faster and virtualised society, the perils of misperception become greater.  When confirming someone’s biases is as quick and easy as pressing the ‘Like’ button, one can see how misconceptions can rapidly spread within like-minded groups and quickly polarise opinion, isolated from balanced views and counter opinions.  The climate change debate, where polarised views reign amidst general confusion is a case in point.

Fuelled by passion and emotion, incubated within strong groups, topics such as politics, activism and sport are three that are prone to hyperbole.  However, when it comes to sports, the issue that inexorably springs to mind is the 2015 Adam Goodes saga.  Whatever your views might be, you must concede that everyone with a barrow to push jumped on this issue, and opinions, spurious associations, misconceptions and half-truths spread like wild-fire over social and traditional media.  Personally, it became almost impossible for me to know what was real or not anymore as the sheer volume of divided opinion made it logistically impossible to follow.

So, what do we do in this situation? We rely on someone whose opinion we trust and who is generally like-minded.  If we fail to question our group mentality, intuition and inherent tendency for bias, we can unwittingly fuel further polarisation and move further from the underlying reality and truth.

I think that all of us need to take care to constantly verify our intuition and make sure that we are awakened to being caught in a ‘Like’ vacuum.  Bombarded by rapid-fire information, and passions and opinions that are inherently trending towards greater and greater bias, when it comes to key issues and topics it is probably wise to filter our intuition with this famous quote by Mark Twain:-

‘Never let the truth spoil a good story’

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as ‘Jack of all trades – master of none’. Having safely made it to my mid 50’s, I am still yet to have a real job – but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.

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