The blind spot bias refers to when people are unaware of their own biases. In fact, most people believe they are actually more objective and less biased than they really are.
Even though a person may be confronted with information that points to their own bias, there is still a tendency todeny the possibility.
Pronin et al. (2002) were among the first to identify the blind spot bias specifically and described it aptly:
“…individuals are likely to conclude that they are somehow less subject to biases than the people whom they observe and interact with in their everyday lives” (p. 369-370).
Blind Spot BiasExamples
- Stan says he is a better driver than most… right after getting into his third accident of the year
- Criticizinga colleague for not accepting responsibility for a mistake, while at the same time blaming external factors for your failed proposal
- Mike believes that he is much more objective than other people and then a few minutes later makes several self-serving biases.
- Judging a baking contest and rating your best friend’s pie as the best, even though most people thought it didn’t taste very good at all
- John sees hischild’s artwork as best in the class when it actually received the lowest marks in creativity and artistic skill
- Claiming you would be a fair ref, but disagreeing with calls that go against your team while agreeing with those that go against the opponents
- Mrs. Williams rates her attractive employees higher than others but denies she is biased when the actual performance numbers were lower for those workers
- Pointing the finger at others as not being objective when it is actually your judgement that shows bias
- A teacher grading the essays of students in his same ethnic group higher than others, but claiming to grade all essays objectively
- A CEO saying her company is gender-neutral while the composition of top management is 90% female
1. Jury Decisions and Bias
Justice is supposed to be blind. That’s why many statues depict Lady Justice as wearing a blindfold. Other items in the statue symbolize fair treatment and the power of authority.
Although being objective is the goal, jurors are people and people are prone to all kinds of biases.
The legal system (in the U.S. for example) exerts a great deal of effort to minimize juror bias. This starts with the jury selection process, attempting to balance the racial and ethnic make-up of the jury, sequestering, and proceeding to the very end with the judge’s instructions.
However, because of the blind spot bias, even jurors that try to be fair and impartial may still show bias. For example, jurors may exhibit an affinity bias and unconsciously see evidence favorably for defendants that are similar to themselves on various political or demographic variables.
By its very definition, the blind spot bias means that people are not aware it is happening.
For a dramatic portrayal of the blind spot bias, the 1957 courtroom drama 12 Angry Men is still a classic.
2. Cross-Cultural Congregating
Living and working in a foreign country has never been easier. With remote working, it’s possible to have a job with a company on one continent while living on another.
That may make work easier, but there can be other issues with working in a foreign country. One of those is encountering an underlying vibe of not being completely welcome in that new homeland.
It’s just natural to prefer others that look and talk like themselves. This plays out in social gatherings all the time. The locals will have a tendency to sit near each other and converse, while at the same time, the foreigners at a party will have all congregated near each other as well.
Both groups will say that they welcome others and want to be inclusive, but the power of the blind spot bias makes it difficult for them to see reality.
3. The Job Interview
Having a great resume will get you in the door for an interview, but after that, it’s all up to the applicant. Or at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Unfortunately, interviews are conducted by people, and people aren’t perfect. If the interviewer is in an unpleasant mood for some reason, this can color their perceptions. An applicant’s responses to questions can be spot-on, but they aren’t processed that way.
That might be okay if the interviewer was aware of how their mood can affect their judgement. However, the blind spot bias tells us that is usually not the case.
The interviewer makes their decision regarding the applicant and decides to reject them for the job. It doesn’t matter how much other people point out the applicant’s stellar resume and references, the interviewer will never believe they let a bad day influence their objectivity.
4. Grading Essays
Grading the essays of an entire class can be exhausting. It only stands to reason that after a while, teachers might get a little less precise in their evaluations – but they’ll likely be reticent to admit it because they suffer from blind spot bias.
Less precision opens the door to bias. Once a teacher’s cognitive capacity starts to decline, be it for overuse or otherwise, their objectivity may start to wane. That’s only natural.
It’s also quite likely that the teacher is unaware that their grading criteria have drifted. Instead of being completely, 100% neutral and objective, other variables come into play. One of those variables might be how the student’s parents act towards the teacher, or if the student is outgoing or friendly, or shy and withdrawn.
None of those biases are going to be intentional, it’s just the way it is. People are not nearly as objective as they think. The blind spot bias means that people are also unaware of that failing.
5. Bank Loans and AI
Some biases are more consequential than others. Rating your best friend’s pie as great even though it tastes horrible may be bad judgement, but it’s not a really big deal.
In other situations, however, a bias can have quite severe ramifications. Take the case of bank loans. Most bank loan officers are confident that they judge each loan application based solely on objective factors. The research says otherwise.
Loan officers favor those that fit certain demographic profiles. Even if they fail to recognize their bias, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
This is one reason many experts in FinTech are pushing for AI to take over this decision-making process. How can a computer algorithm be biased against someone’s ethnicity?
As stated by Bartlett et al. (2019)“Algorithmic decision-making can reduce face-to-face discrimination in markets prone to implicit and explicit biases” (p. 2).
In fact, “…FinTech algorithms discriminate 40% less than face-to-face lenders” (Bartlett et al., 2019, p. 6).
The blind spot bias makes us blind to our own biases. It doesn’t matter how firmly we think of ourselves as objective processors of data, the fact remains that we are full of bias.
We point the fingers at others and then commit the same error. We say we like foreigners but still hang-around our local friends.
Bank loan officers will claim to be neutral, but still end up rejecting far too many applicants that don’t fit a certain demographic profile. The scales of justice may be equal and lady justice blindfolded, but the jurors still have eyes.
We can all strive to be fair, but bias is a part of the human animal. Until we all have AI chips implanted in our frontal lobes, that is the way it will be for a long time to come.
Bartlett, R., Morse, A., Stanton, R., & Wallace, N. (2019, November). Consumer-Lending Discrimination in the FinTech Era. Paper published by the University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from: https://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/morse/research/papers/discrim.pdf
Ehrlinger, J., Gilovich, T., & Ross, L.D. (2005). Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot: People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 680 – 692.
Pronin, E., Lin, D.Y., & Ross, L.D. (2002). The Bias Blind Spot: Perceptions of Bias in Self Versus Others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 369 – 381.Scopelliti, I., Morewedge, C. K., McCormick, E., Min, H. L., Lebrecht, S., &Kassam, K. S. (2015) Bias blind spot: Structure, measurement, and consequences. Management Science, 61(10), 2468-2486. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.2096