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bias blind spot

The bias blind spot was described by Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin and her colleagues (2002) as the tendency to perceive cognitive and motivational biases much more in others than in oneself. The bias blind spot is a metabias since it refers to a pattern of inaccurate judgment in reasoning about cognitive biases.

In one study, Pronin et al. (2002) found that people tend to rate themselves as less subject to biases than others. In another study, “participants … who showed better-than-average bias” were instructed in how biases operate at the unconscious level. Nevertheless, 63% insisted that their self-assessments were accurate and objective. Better-than-average bias is the tendency of individuals to rank themselves as better than average on just about anything you ask them. For example, 74% of all managers think they are better than average at managing. (As Dilbert’s boss noted: this means that 26% of managers don’t know that they’re better than average. To which Dilbert replied: you’re all in the top 110%. See Scott Adams's cartoon for January 18, 2013.)

Participants in another study “reported their peer’s self-serving attributions regarding test performance to be biased but their own similarly self-serving attributions to be free of bias.”

In another study, Pronin and Matthew Kugler (2006) argue that the bias blind spot “involves the value that people place, and believe they should place, on introspective information (relative to behavioral information) when assessing bias in themselves versus others. Participants considered introspective information more than behavioral information for assessing bias in themselves, but not others.” A consequence of the bias blind spot is that people tend to think their own beliefs are accurate and their sources trustworthy, but those who hold different views are biased and their sources are not trustworthy (Ehrlinger et al. 2005).

Finally, a study by Richard West et al. (2012) found that “being free of the bias blind spot does not help a person avoid the actual classic cognitive biases.” They also found that higher cognitive ability did not correlate with a smaller bias blind spot. (Note: West et al. did not find that “smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors,” as Jonah Lehrer claimed in a New Yorker article [“Why Smart People Are Stupid,” June 12, 2012]. In fact, the opposite is true: Most cognitive biases are negatively correlated with cognitive sophistication, as West et al. note in their article.)

See also hidden persuaders.

further reading

Ehrlinger, Joyce, Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross. 2005. Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot: People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Vol. 31, No. 5, 680-692.

Pronin, E. & Matthew B. Kugler. 2006. Valuing thoughts, ignoring behavior: The introspection illusion as a source of the bias blind spot. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 43, Issue 4, 565-578.

Pronin, E., Gilovich, T., & Ross, L. 2004. Objectivity in the eye of the beholder: divergent perceptions of bias in self versus others. Psychological Review. 111, 781–799.

Pronin, E., Lin, D. Y., & Ross, L. 2002. The bias blind spot: Perceptions of bias in self versus others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 28, 369-381.

Shermer, Michael. 2011. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. Times Books.

West, Richard, Russell Meserve and Keith Stanovich. 2012. Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. September; 103(3): 506-19.

Wilson, T. D., Centerbar, D. B., & Brekke, N. 2002. Mental contamination and the debiasing problem. In D. Griffin & T. Gilovich (Eds.), Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment (pp. 185–200). New York: Cambridge.

Last updated 13-Jan-2014

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