Bias takes all forms. I’ve been studying bias my entire adult life, long before I first encountered its mention in Psych 1001 during my freshman year of college. It explained a lot, not only about racism, which I detest and abhor, but also about why people so often make such incredibly stupid decisions. It’s usually not that they’re stupid. Rather, it’s because human beings make decisions based upon rather often flawed systems of errant beliefs and false information i.e. bias about which most people are only dimly aware. Some bias serves a useful purpose, such as helping us to pair down useful information from extraneous information, helping us to act very rapidly when life or limb are at stake, and extract useful meaning from incomplete information.
John Manoogian III (JM3) has done a wonderful job categorizing many biases into four basic groups:
- What should we remember?
- Too much information
- Not enough meaning
- The need to act fast
All four of these situations, however, involve an imperfect mismatch between reality and information. A perfect grasp upon reality implies both perfect knowledge and freedom from any and all biases. Naturally, as human beings are imperfect, that’s simply not possible. However, given the absolutely incredible amount of harm caused by people throughout the ages who had neither perfect knowledge while also being affected by many biases, being able to identify and distance ourselves from the vast majority of biases has become absolutely critical for the survival of the human race, not because we’re in any sort of race against time to fix this or that, but because many biases have worked together to make people think we’re in such “sky is falling” races, and “if we don’t take action to fix it right this second…”
Yeah… That’s biased.
Here’s JM3’s complete graphic. Click on it to see a full-sized version.