Bias Blind Spot: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Douglas Stockbridge

DJ Stockbridge is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Accounting.

Like a blind spot in a car, a blind spot bias is often something of which we're unaware. In this lesson, you will learn about five different biases that can distort our perception of reality and lead to faulty thinking and decisions.

Blind Spots

Imagine you are cruising down the highway. You realize you need to get into the far-right lane because your exit is approaching. So, you go through the steps: you put your right blinker on, and you look in the rear-view mirror. No car is directly to the right of you. You are all set. You start to gradually turn right, then hear a loud honk. Hhhhooonnnnnkkkkk. The gray minivan you didn't see in your blind spot is really leaning into his horn to make sure you don't merge right into him. You went through all the right steps. You just forgot to check your blind spot.

What is a blind spot? For this lesson, we'll define it as something you systematically overlook either intentionally, but, more likely, subconsciously. The key word here is systematically. You consistently overlook what is actually happening. You distort reality. It's human nature to have blind spots and to be tripped up by them. For example, I tend to leave for appointments with just enough time to spare. However, I'm often late because things unexpectedly happen during the trip. There could be traffic or car trouble. I know I should give myself more time but I rationalize, saying, 'There will not be any traffic. There will not be…' even though past experience should convince me that unexpected things will come up and delay me. In this lesson, we will discuss five blind spot biases. These biases are referred to as blind spot biases because they can distort our perception of reality without us realizing it and lead to faulty thinking and decisions. Like a blind spot in a car, these biases can cause bad consequences if not checked.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to gravitate to, and to remember, facts that confirm your already-held beliefs. You have probably heard the saying 'Go talk with someone who disagrees with you.' Well that piece of advice is to counteract our natural inclination to just talk with people who have the same views as us. It's much more intellectually demanding to hold your thoughts up against someone else's. We often shy away from that type of stress/work. The result is that we create a false sense of security, like a cocoon of positive reinforcement. Our beliefs become more entrenched and we become more likely to overlook salient points that don't agree with our view of the subject.

Pain-avoiding Psychological Denial

Pain-avoiding psychological denial is the tendency to wish so ardently for something to be true that we cannot comprehend it not being true. This bias is often seen in the parents of fallen soldiers. If the son's or daughter's body is never found, the parents will often hold out hope, despite the odds, that their loved one is still alive. People believe what they want to believe, and subconsciously push away disconfirming, painful evidence. You can see how pain-avoiding psychological denial is related to our tendency towards confirmation bias.

The Affect Heuristic

The affect, or emotion, heuristic describes how emotions can cloud our judgment and lead to poor decisions. My grandfather always said, 'Do not set to sea in a storm.' If you are mad, or highly emotional, it's much more difficult for you to think through all the consequences of your actions. The emotion can cloud your judgment and alter reality.

Incentive-caused Bias

Incentive-caused bias is acting a certain way because the incentives are aligned for you to act that way. Humans often have a Pavlovian association. Ivan Pavlov was a famous Russian psychologist who trained his dogs to salivate at the ring of a bell. Well, like dogs, humans are conditioned to act a way, or to not act a way, based on our reward system. This reward system can get so strong, and so intoxicating, that it gets us to overlook things that we should consider.

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