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Society

Dealing with biases

When we create an impression about who you are and what you stand for, we are unlikely to take the time and spend the energy to find any evidence to the contrary.
When we create an impression about who you are and what you stand for, we are unlikely to take the time and spend the energy to find any evidence to the contrary. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

First impressions last. This is not because the impressions themselves come with a lifetime guarantee. It is because we guard them with our lives.

When we create an impression about who you are and what you stand for, we are unlikely to take the time and spend the energy to find any evidence to the contrary. That would prove us wrong. No one likes to be wrong. We are wont to find evidence of the accuracy of our impression. This is why you would be well advised to ensure that our first experience of you is impeccable. You want us knowing you and anything related to you in this way and you want us continually finding reasons why we are right about that. When we do this, we are more likely to forgive you when you’re less than we expect. This is called Confirmation Bias – our tendency to entertain only information that confirms our predispositions.

“Better safe than sorry”, we are told. No one could have explained this better than the disinfectant company in the local television commercial. There is the Cautious Mum who must clean the playground and needs to think twice about letting her child do any gardening. We are then treated to the mum who will literally lock her child indoors to avoid any contact with dirt. She even draws the curtains for good measure!

The television commercial is hilarious especially because we all know those mothers and their clean but utterly miserable children. This is called Zero Risk Bias. We love certainty so much so that even when it is unproductive, we still hold the notion that to avoid the possibility of harm or loss, we must entirely eliminate risk from our lives. Why would we confine ourselves to such mundane lives when there are endless possibilities to truly live fully available?

“Where do you come from?”. No, the correct answer is not “Nairobi”. There is no tribe in this country that isn’t the butt of Churchill’s jokes. When asked where you come from, it is because a person is more comfortable dealing with you after placing you in a box of what is familiar to him/her. This is called stereotyping - our expectation of qualities or peculiarities in certain groups unfortunately without any information about the particular person. These stereotypes can be way off base, leading to some pretty embarrassing situations.

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Have you seen children and some grown-ups covering their faces when watching a horror movie? Research shows that investment brokers check fund performances less frequently during tough economic times – they expect drops in the portfolios and would rather avoid seeing these until they really must. Doctors who have had the misfortune of losing patient lives especially during theatre procedures have it the hardest on this.

Getting relatives to listen to the sad news is no mean feat. Most will usually have deciphered the news from the doctor’s disposition and immediately cover their ears or walk away before the words are vocalised. This is called the Ostrich Effect – our almost automatic internal decision to ignore dangerous or negative information by burying our heads in the sand. We do this even when faced with day-to-day hardships in our lives causing us to delay remedial action until it is unfortunately too late.

There are those of us to whom nothing just happens. No, it is not because we have a deep understanding of Cause and Effect. It is because we know that the evil eye, hand and all related limbs exist. We are even more clear that our enemies are out to finish us. This is called Clustering Illusion – our tendency to connect random dots and even find patterns in totally unrelated events.

We also fail to recognise this as a bias towards witchcraft and evil spirits. This in itself is called Blind-spot Bias – failure to recognise our own cognitive biases that keep us largely unproductive.

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