My posts over the last year or so have discussed or alluded to the negative consequences of bias. Bias is bad. I have also talked about how to reduce biases.
- Avoiding evidence that contradicts our strongly held views (in the confirmation bias) keeps us from feeling stupid.
- Blaming a victim for his/her suffering (in the FAE) can reduce our own distress from watching and make us feel safer (that we will not suffer the same fate).
- Feeling absolute certainty can reduce fear and anxiety, even if we’re wrong.
- Blind support for our own political party might help our candidate to win elections.
Okay, it’s a short list of pros so far, but bias has pros and cons. Don’t get me wrong – the cons outweigh the pros – bias is mostly bad. However, let’s not necessarily beat ourselves up if we happen to show a small degree of certain biases.
In the right margin of this website is a section titled, “Beware Depression.” I think you’re ready to hear more about it. For most of us, being perfectly accurate about ourselves and the world, and seeing how little control we have over negative life events, relates to higher rates of depression. This phenomenon is called “depressive realism” (e.g., Moore & Fresco, 2012).
Shelley Taylor wrote an entire book and many articles on the beneficial role of certain positive illusions, such as unrealistic optimism, self-serving bias, and illusion of control. Such illusions predict good mental health and even good physical health (e.g., Taylor, 1989; Taylor et al., 2003).
So being a little favorably biased toward ourselves and the world in which we live can be a good thing. Bias is not all bad.
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. – Aldous Huxley
The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. – Mark Twain
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
My brief message for now is try not to reduce your biases all at once or too quickly (if you think you are biased), because you might start to feel helpless, insecure, or less positive about yourself, which can contribute to depression. Being a little favorably biased toward yourself, your views, your group, and where you live can be a good thing.
Ultimately though, I think most people need to reduce (if not eliminate) even this “good” bias. The cons of bias outweigh the pros for most of us. Stay tuned for tips on this site to minimize the risk of depression while trying to reduce (mentally healthy) biases.
Tip #1: Know that you’re not alone. We are all persons at risk of bias (PARBs), and we can improve. You belong to PARBs Anonymous now. (Yeah baby.)
Moore, M. T., & Fresco, D. M. (2012). Depressive realism: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 496-509.
Taylor, S. E. (1989). Positive illusions: Creative self-deception and the healthy mind. New York: Basic Books.
Taylor, S. E., Lerner, J. S., Sherman, D. K., Sage, R. M., & McDowell, N. K. (2003). Are self-enhancing cognitions associated with healthy or unhealthy biological profiles? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 605-615.