Thinking on the bias

SharpBrains has an interview (Why Smart Brains Make Stupid Decisions) with Ori Brafman, co-author of Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.

A striking example: a professor at the Harvard Business School had his class participate in an auction — for a $20 bill. The kicker was that the winner would get the $20, but the second-place bidder, while getting nothing, would have to honor his bid.

And yes, the bidding did pass $20.

Brafman says that awareness that we can be swayed might help prevent us from being swayed. He offers the example of a highly structured job interview, less likely to influence the interviewer than the informal, what’s-your-biggest-strength approach.

A comment on this post led me to In Bias, Meta is Max at Overcoming Bias. Robin Hanson writes about an article suggesting that “being more aware of biases makes us more willing to assume that others’ biases, and not ours, are responsible for our disagreement.”

Reflection, or distortion?

These biases or distortions are connected to our faith in our own objectivity, which brings to mind Benjamin Franklin’s observation:

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

A depressing observation that Hanson quotes from the Science review:

People also behave more conflictually toward those whom they suspect will be biased by self-interest. Participants in one study were instructed to consider the perspective of their adversaries in a conflict over limited resources. That instruction had the ironic effect of leading them to expect that their adversaries would be biased by self-interest, which, in turn, led the participants themselves to act more competitively and selfishly.

(Hanson provides a link to the review, but the Science site requires a subscription.)

I found the Brafman interview thanks to the latest edition of Encephalon, the brain science blog carnival. If brain-related topics, or cleverly introduced collections, tweak either of your hemispheres, take a look at Encephalon 48, The Usual Suspects, at Neuroanthropology.

Distortion photo by Photochiel / Argos Panoptes.

2 thoughts on “Thinking on the bias

  1. Hi, Dave…

    Interesting example of persuasion. Dr. Robert Cialdini at Arizona State has done some wonderful work in identifying 6 principles of ethical persuasion and does workshops on how to use them at work. Check out


  2. Hi, Ann — nice to have you stop and read. Thanks for the link, also. I like the quote from the London Telegraph: “Nobody since Jane Austen has done more for persuasion than Robert Cialdini.”

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