The Bias Myth: Bias is All Bad

myth vs truth

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.

In the corners of some posts, however, you might have noticed that bias can also be a good thing.happy minion

  • 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.

mark twainFamous literary figures have occasionally tried to tell us.

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.)

———-

References:

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.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Bias Myth: Bias is All Bad

  1. How much cheap merchandise.

    Bias exists because nature needs it, all human tendencies are there because they awere required. Bias will stop existing when, and if, humanity will stop existing too (for instance, being turned into what we call “machines” now).

    “Equality”, “justice”, are the names of new biases and discriminations struggling and pushing to take the place of former ones.
    And that is all right, too.

    What makes me smile is that you know this (and other things that I could have added) as well as I.

    So well, have a nice day…

  2. Besides, I smiled again reading your warning that individuals less endowed with the natural skills of self-deception and self-hallucination are more likely to end up by being depressed.

    At times I wonder, how many people had the same intelligence and sensitivity of those who became known philosophers and writers, but didn’t achieve that goal, being unable to resist to the ordeal that life is to he who has no self-hallucination skills (which, in facts, support normal people’s life permanently, just as well as arms and legs)

    I know how unthinkably hard is it, to lead a life outside the theatre where humanity plays its natural, necessary, comedy.

    And, yes, I wasn’t made of cast iron like the known thinkers and artists, who see things as they are but can stand the accruing fathomless solitude. I didn’t make it.

    Pier Paolo Pasolini said: one is not dead when he is alone, he is dead when no-one can understand him.

    Someone as sensitive and non-self-deceiving as the great thinkers, but with not so much intelligence (just a 125 QI) and poor health, who doesn’t make it to grab a research job into a university department. He remains like a grain of sand in the arctic ice, or a block of ice in the Sahara.

    I know how it is :)… however, the day comes one can even smile while considering his fate. And then, solitude is weakened, because you have your smile beside you.

    best luck for everything..

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