The Imprinting of Authority Bias

A unifying theory for bias is proposed here. It replaces the idea there are a multitude of types and causes for bias.  The proposition states there is just one foundational bias which adequately addresses two fundamental problems with other bias theories.  Those problems are why well-informed, honest, and good people can hold opinions that can readily be shown to be the result of a closed mind; and why those good people can be blind to morally bad behaviour based upon those biases.


A couple of assumption are needed for this analysis: People are not intentionally biased, immoral, or wilfully ignorant. But they are busy, distracted, and over-stressed such that they have insufficient time, motivation, or specific knowledge to correctly analyse information.  They then have nothing left but to form their beliefs on the basis of their "transcendent feelings". These assumptions lead to the observation that people can be susceptible to subconscious forces for their opinions.  These are often called assumptions or worldviews which are never examined due to imprinting.  As noted in other parts of this website a significant aspect of this situation is who we have learned, or been erroneously taught, to trust (or mistrust) in our personal experiences and our social environment (see: Bias Aware Thinking).  So we need to ask: where does this type of "trust" come from?


Imprinting is the learned behavior that can occur in humans and animals. It can be a rapidly acquired response to an individual (sometimes an object), such as a parent.  It is most visible in baby ducks, and some other species, who follow the authority of the first adult duck they see.  In humans, it could be said to be any other kind of learned behavior that occurs at a particular life stage. It could be certain styles of speech, mannerisms, or body movements that are imprinted into us; but, most crucially, it is how we form our foundational trusts and mistrusts. 


How we select our worldviews, the assumptions we make to support them, and exactly how we form our biases can be generally explained by the imprinting of a specific authority we subconsciously choose to follow - just like a duckling.  In many people - possibly a majority - this imprinting is not generally overpowering as many are able to learn how to successfully adjust their ideas based on new information, experiences, and techniques. 


This idea could be called Authority Bias; and it plays a significant part in the Big Three Biases - group-think or the bandwagon effect (my authority is right and wants me to trust others in my group), confirmation bias (my authority is right and wants me to be a team player) and the over-confidence effect (my authority is right, period).


So what or who are these authorities? They could be our parents or other mentors; they could be our culture, our institutions, or our educators; they could be our religious or scientific traditions. For many today they could be the top searches on the internet, social media, or even our selected news and documentary media. 


What is remarkable about this list, especially in today's self-centred era, is that the source of human's beliefs and biases comes from outside the individual. We had better be sure we choose the correct authority and are not simply relying upon our imprinting and subsequent assertive ideas.  This idea of imprinting is important as modern marketing techniques, for products and ideas, are based upon the concept. 


The marketing techniques used to influence people's beliefs are mostly devious and akin to propaganda.  But one idea recorded in the Christian Bible is open and above board. Jesus clearly understood how people believe: He stated that followers must simply trust him, and if they did not then they would never be able to understand him, his proposed way of life, or any part of his message.  It is fascinating that this religion, often characterized as being old fashioned and closed minded, seems to adequately teach how we all come to believe what we do.