Chocolate Pillow | The Joy of Bias
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The Joy of Bias

05 Feb The Joy of Bias

The title of this post is actually ironic – bias is not a joyful thing in most circumstances, but can be used to your advantage despite being mainly disadvantageous.  The rule of bias is simple – bias is defined as ‘inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair’ but in psychological terms bias is about leaning towards one stereotype or preconception when others are available.

Lets take the guest who arrives and is abrupt and rude.  Why is this?  Is this because of there natural attitude towards hotels and staff, or are they always like this, or did they have a bad day, or have they some medical condition that affects their personality, or did they have a bad childhood that causes their attitude, or are they tired or stressed out and not normally like this?  Chances are you just immediately assumed they are always like this.  Correct?

That is known as ‘Correspondence Bias’ which is when we see a person doing something, we tend to assume that they are doing this more because this is ‘how they are’ — that is because of their internal disposition — than the external environmental situational factors.  So someone being rude is automatically assumed as being because that is ‘how they are’ rather than being a combination of other things such as a bad day, poor language skills or fear of unknown places.

This bias also serves to reinforce opinions – you deal with a rude guest from London (sorry Londoners, it is only an example!), you automatically assume this is because that is how they are.  You then deal with another guest from London who is also rude.  You begin forming a bias that Londoners are rude.  A process known as ‘Cognitive Bias’ then kicks in – this is where you have a stereotype or preconception reinforced several times, despite having hundreds of references to it.  So for example, over the course of a week you check in 1000 people.  200 are Londoners of which in one day 10 were rude to you.  You will likely formulate an opinion that Londoners are rude as you had a negative experience (which you are likely to remember as it created an emotional response in the same way as a positive experience would), that was then repeated several times in one day.  Your brain on every occasion remembered the prior instances that you had, and creates a bias that Londoners are rude.  Every time you encounter a friendly Londoner, you think it strange and remember them a bit more than others, but every time you have a rude Londoner, you reinforce the idea that Londoners are rude.  It then takes a lot of work and thinking to override this opinion.  That is cognitive bias!  It also works in another way – you want to lose weight and then suddenly notice everywhere that there are adverts for weight loss programmes, or you want to buy a new car and suddenly notice hundreds of adverts for new cars.  This is cognitive bias – it is where you actually pay more attention to something because it at the forefront of your mind as something you want or desire.

This bias actually creates your reaction to a scenario – any form of bias you have will create an automatic response to a situation.  If you think every Londoner is rude, you will treat Londoners as rude, even if they are pleasant as you react on your automated bias rather than the situation at hand.

So be careful how you use your biased opinions, as no matter how much you think you do not discriminate or show bias towards one thing or another, your brain will always say otherwise!  That is not to say that bias is a bad thing however!  Bias keeps you safe.  If you see someone with a gun, your bias dictates they are a risk and should be avoided.  But if that person is a policeman with a gun, your other bias kicks in that you are safe!  That is how bias works, it uses images and scenarios to create a ‘shortcut’ for future use by your memory.  For instance:

Man + Gun = Danger

Man + Gun + Police Uniform = Safety

So now that you know about it, try to consciously think of some of the biases or preconceptions you may have and how you can counteract those – do you truly treat everyone the same?

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Matt Shiells-Jones
matt@chocolatepillow.com

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious ‘old cat lady’



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