The Three Bias Reflexes
Bias tends to be automatic and much of the time it is difficult or impossible to control – much like our startle or knee-jerk reflexes. The Bias Reflexes* represent the three main aspects to our biases: Potential Biases, Deficiency Biases, and Egoistic Biases. The graphic above (Bias Reflexes) tries to show the synergistic relationship between the three parts.
Here are the details:
POTENTIAL BIASES initiate the whole process. They are a result of the way our brain works, things we have learned intrinsically (without knowing about it), or what we accept as axioms (see: Bias & Philosophy). Our control over our potential biases needs specialized training and knowledge. Potential biases, left to their own devices, will turn into actual biases. The concept of potential biases is important as it highlights the importance of the next two categories in understanding biases. It also reveals why humans cannot be held responsible for the potential biases caused by their humanness, their genetic make-up, or the accidents of many of their life's events. The other two causes, especially the third, should not receive such consideration.
DEFICIENCY BIASES are caused by the many things we lack. We have incomplete knowledge, limited time to think, imperfect empathy, inadequate awareness, and most often a poor application of logic. The less we have of any one of these items, or the recognition that we lack them, the more likely our thinking will be taken over by our potential and egoistic biases. Decreasing deficiencies by adding to our knowledge, or increasing our awareness, will mitigate our biases - providing the knowledge and awareness is correct and complete. Emotionally charged half-truths seem to have the opposite effect.
EGOISTIC BIASES are the result of looking at the world from our own animalistic perspective. They are influenced by the degree to which we believe we are more important or knowledgeable than others; and focus our thinking around our own wants and desires. The greater our need to influence others and to be judgmental; our craving to fit in and be approved of; and the more pronounced our emotions - such as resentment, fear of failure, and greed - then the more we will succumb to our Potential and Deficiency Bias reflexes. Whereas Deficiency Biases are passive (things we don't know or do), Egoistic Biases are active - things we do which we should not do if we wish to avoid being biased. Like Deficiency Biases they allow Potential Biases to flourish into real biases.
In summary: our deficiencies along with our egos cause our Potential Biases to take over and flourish into real biases. Our observations show that while, with practice, some of our deficiencies can, over time, be reduced our egos often compensate and leave our biases unchanged. Overall, it seems clear our Egoistic Biases are the dominant player in the Bias Puzzle.
A summary of the main reflexes is shown in the table below. The correlation, if any, has not been determined between the degree and nature of ones biasing factors to the degree of bias one exhibits. But recognizing these sources of our biases helps in finding solutions for the Bias Puzzle.
Our Intrinsic Assumptions
Knowledge & Logic
Time & Energy
Absolute belief in an Ideology
Need to Influence & Judge
Need for Affirmation
Need to Belong
Biases flourish not so much from what you don’t know but from thinking you know so much that isn’t true
It is difficult to get (someone) to understand something when (their) salary depends upon (them) not understanding it
Upton Sinclair – US writer and political theorist
* The concept of the Three Bias Reflexes builds on the ideas developed by Dr. D. Kehneman of Princeton University and presented in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. However, the Three Bias Reflexes concept has added an important Reflex Type (Egoistic) and renamed and expanded the other two to more accurately reflect other findings of the social sciences and our experiences.