Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Cant Be Biased!

Just a reminder that the purpose of this discussion aims at stimulating thought and self awareness as tools to help those in recovery from trauma learn how to make safer choices. To make the discussion more jocular, we've defined Cognitive Biases as “CranioRectal Inversions” (CRI).

When I first started to really dig deep into recovery from my spiritually abusive church, I became overwhelmed as I realized all of the things that I ignored. Little things would trouble me, but I would assume the best about those around me, dismissing the dissonance that I sensed as my own inattentiveness. If people I did not know were discussed and I found the discussion to be a bit odd, I would tell myself that I didn't know them and must not have understood their story.
I remember thinking this often, but the example that I remember most concerned discussions of people who the pastor claimed had left the church, but the elders didn't think that they should leave. The intensity of the things that he had to say about people seemed a bit disproportionate to me at the time, and he almost seemed as though he expected me to ask more questions.

I know that I believed then that I had a pretty good grip on things concerning my attitudes and what I believed about the church and the people. How could I attend there if I didn't trust my instincts. And those little inconsistencies that poked at me? I was quick to absorb them as my own fault. I'm sure that I figured that I was just as biased as the average guy – and as a nurse, I'd like to think that I could see more hopeful possibilities for others. Would that be a bias or a gift?

Bias Awareness

According to one study, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon found that only one person out of 661 people believed that they were biased – at least more than everyone else. It isn't quite that disparaging, for most people in the study perceived and admitted to having degrees of bias. So it seems to be a very human trait to believe that we are unbiased, but it has no correlation with actual cognitive ability, intelligence, or self-esteem. The findings don't even have any kind of correlation with how biased or unbiased their decision-making actually proved to be. (They researchers also examined how accurate they were in their projections.)

I could go on citing research about the Blind Spot Bias as our CRI #9, but suffice it to say that most people tend to assume that their vantage on the world proves to be reasonable and reliable. We aren't all knowing, but we all seem to trust in the positive idea that we're able to comprehend the world around us fairly accurately and that our judgements about others tend to be sound. We couldn't live optimistic, healthy life if we didn't trust our starting point.

But I Just Can't See It!

When we look from the outside into another set of circumstances of which we're not a part, we have the benefit of perspective. I guess that it gives to reason that we human beings are much better at taking note of someone else's biases than we are at picking up on our own. Apparently, we find the information that we we gain from introspection as better than the information that others can conclude from our behavior. It's more real to us – as if our intimate connection to our inner thoughts gives us more of an insightful advantage to pick up on our own biases as a consequence. People thus tend to put more value on their own insights when they conflict with the conclusions of others. Most people are more apt to trust themselves.

I have a psychologist friend who seems to think that she doesn't suffer from most biases, and I see her coping with her own problems by focusing on noting the biases of others. It becomes a comfort zone for her, and she leans hard on her professional training for support when she faces interpersonal conflict. She doesn't like the idea that she's human like the rest of us, and I think that she believes that her training gives her a special edge over others. A study has shown that people who don't have a blind spot bias are still just as vulnerable to the other classic ones, and that idea reminds me of my friend.

That also reminds me of what is almost like an enforced bias in a high demand group, as the leader must be deemed free of bias and completely reliable. They are like something divine, so they are free from any self-deception. Leaders begin to believe their own press as part of the system, and they become the most blind of all. Just that fact alone makes it far more difficult for a leader to break out of their habit of being right about everything most of the time. And it takes some time after we leave a high demand group to realize and overcome the idea that the leaders don't have some special insight which allows them to see everything.

Courageous Honesty

None of us likes to consider that we are blind to something that is significant, particularly about ourselves and who we are. If we can train ourselves to be more self-aware and can accept our limitations, we stand a chance of overcoming our biases. We may prefer the fantasy of what we want the world to be and how we want to think of ourselves in it, but it takes courage and humility to be completely honest with ourselves. I like the idea of the universe picture with the “You are here” arrow, for it puts life into perspective. We can't know everything, and in a world that constantly changes, there is always something to learn or realize. Life is dynamic, we change, and our lives change. Considering the simple fact that as humans, we all have some biases to overcome can be our greatest asset in our recovery toolbox. 

For Further Reading until the next post: