Does Having Biases and Prejudices Make Me a Bad Person?

Bias: “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” (Google)

Prejudice: “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” (Google)

As a human being, I’m proud to say I have biases and prejudices. They separate me from the machines I live with. My coffee pot doesn’t care what color I am or how old I am or who I associate with. It brews the same pot of coffee regardless.

Biases and prejudices become dangerous when they spin out of control and threaten others. By allowing a bias to go unchecked or unacknowledged, I develop a perceptual filter – a blind spot – that blinds me to the harm I may be doing. Fed by this positive feedback loop of prejudice and perceptual filters of justification, unacknowledged societal biases can result in terrifying outcomes like genocide.

About Bias and Prejudice

Perhaps bias and prejudice have evolved to serve some useful purpose – to some degree and in certain contexts. My “preference” for long pants in the winter, for example, serves me in that context by keeping me warmer. It also satisfies my personal and unreasonable prejudice about pants and dresses. The prejudice seems to be based on context – it’s cold, so wear long pants – and yet it is unreasonable because in MY world view, women wear dresses, even when it’s cold. I don’t ever consider men wearing anything other than pants… hot or cold Why not? Prejudice!

Perhaps being AWARE of and acknowledging bias and prejudice is ALWAYS useful, although the experience can be subjective. That is where education can be helpful.

Knowing and accepting that I have biases and prejudices helps me monitor and control them. This helps me communicate more effectively, make sounder choices, respond more appropriately, and live with far less stress.

Admitting my biases helps me take charge of them. In taking charge of my biases I take charge of my life. Further, in understanding my biases and how they work I become a more useful and stress-free member of my society.

In this article, I have copied liberally from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. As you read the list of cognitive biases below, along with their variants, I hope you, too, will find some value. Maybe you’ll notice some biases you didn’t know you had.

Remember: knowing you have biases helps you take charge of them. Understanding how your biases work helps you understand yourself and others better. This understanding can serve you and your community in a number of ways.

30 Cognitive Biases

  1. Bandwagon effect – the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same.
  2. Bias blind spot – the tendency not to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases.
  3. Choice-supportive bias – Choice-supportive bias – the tendency to justify one’s past choices with positive attributes that may or may not have existed at the time the choice was made.
  4. Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  5. Congruence bias – the tendency to test hypotheses exclusively through direct testing, in contrast to tests of possible alternative hypotheses.
  6. Contrast effect – the enhancement or diminishment of a weight or other measurement when compared with recently observed contrasting object.
  7. Deformation professionnelle – the tendency to look at things according to the conventions of one’s own profession, forgetting any broader point of view.
  8. Disconfirmation bias – the tendency for people to extend critical scrutiny to information which contradicts their prior beliefs and uncritically accept information that is congruent with their prior beliefs.
  9. Endowment effect – the tendency to place a higher value on objects one owns relative to objects they do not.
  10. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.
  11. Focusing effect – prediction bias occurring when people place too much importance on one aspect of an event; causes error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome.
  12. Hyperbolic discounting – the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs, the closer to the present both payoffs are.
  13. Hindsight bias, sometimes called the “I-knew-it-all-along” effect, is the inclination to see past events as being predictable.
  14. Illusion of control – the tendency for human beings to believe they can control or at least influence outcomes that they clearly cannot.
  15. Impact bias – the tendency for people to overestimate the length or the intensity of the impact of future feeling states.
  16. Information bias – a distorted evaluation of information. An example of information bias is believing that the more information that can be acquired to make a decision, the better, even if that extra information is irrelevant for the decision.
  17. Loss aversion – the tendency for people strongly to prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains.
  18. Neglect of probability – the tendency to completely disregard probability when making a decision under uncertainty.
  19. Mere exposure effect – the tendency for people to express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.
  20. Omission bias – The tendency to judge harmful actions as worse, or less moral, than equally harmful omissions (inactions).
  21. Outcome bias – the tendency to judge a past decision by incorporating presently available information.
  22. Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times.
  23. Post-purchase rationalization – the tendency to persuade oneself through rational argument that a purchase was a good value.
  24. Pseudocertainty effect – the tendency to make risk-averse choices if the expected outcome is positive, but make risk-seeking choices to avoid negative outcomes.
  25. Reactance – the urge to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do out of a need to reassert a perceived attempt to constrain your freedom of choice.
  26. Selective perception – the tendency for expectations to affect perception.
  27. Self-serving bias is the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.
  28. Status quo bias – the tendency for people to like things to stay relatively the same.
  29. Von Restorff effect – the tendency for an item that “stands out like a sore thumb” to be more likely to be remembered than other items.
  30. Zero-risk bias – preference for reducing a small risk to zero over a greater reduction in a larger risk.

Acceptable Prejudice

Which prejudices do I consider “acceptable?” Racism, for example, is not acceptable to me, yet preference for my own child over another is.

Many of my understandings of what “should and shouldn’t” be are imagined as benefit or threat to my life. These understandings differ wildly between cultures, races, social orders, and individuals – yet I want to believe I’m right in my understandings without exerting the least amount of energy to actually study other people. I’d rather let my subconscious prejudices do the work for me.

As long as I’m willing to live unconsciously – “doing my own thing” regardless of the well-being of others – I’ll continue to live under prejudicial societal agreements that restrict individual behaviors for nonsensical reasons. Acceptable prejudice.

Read more Acceptable Prejudice