When making judgments, separate fact from opinion. However, unconscious biases, prejudices, and paradigms dominate our conscious reasoning.
Everyone has a limited worldview. The reason? Our brains can’t process everything, at least not consciously.
This idea is relatively simple to demonstrate. First, choose a partner: a spouse, a friend, anyone who will cooperate. Then, before revealing the purpose of the experiment, each looks around the present environment, a room, a garden, etc., and mentally records anything green. After that, have your partner close their eyes and relate everything they saw that was red. It will be difficult because the partner spent their energy focusing on green.
The point demonstrated by this experiment is that we tend to see what we want to see.
The result of selective viewing is personal biases (e.g., inclined to one side of an issue), prejudices (e.g., judgments without due examination), and paradigms (e.g., patterns which influence how we view a situation: big is better; small is better).
To demonstrate paradigms further, the concept popularized by American psychologist Joel Barker (that everything that happens to us is processed by our brain and related to our own life experiences), let me refer to myself. I’m a geographer. I’m well aware that different people may view a forest differently than I do, depending on their paradigms. For example, a hunter will see a forest as an excellent place to hunt game. A forester will assess a forest for its resource potential. A farmer will consider the forest an obstacle that must be cleared before the land can be used for field crops. A city dweller may appreciate the forest for its natural beauty. A geographer, as an integrator, will consider all views. Each person will have a different paradigm about forests.
Now, stop reading and look at yourself: list any personal biases, prejudices, or paradigms you think you may have; perceptions based on your experiences and your parents, teachers, church, etc. They are essential to know because they affect your decisions.
As pointed out by the administration of Cite Man, “A growing amount of research shows that decision-makers assessments are prone to systematic biases and mistakes. These are initiatives to speed up decision-making.” They further point out that, “to minimize effort and avoid difficult trade-offs,” people rely too heavily on:
- handy thumb rules
Katherine L. Milkman of Harvard and her colleagues call this “bounded judgments,” or System 1 or Intuitive (fast, automatic and subconscious), in contrast to System 2 or reasoned (slow, conscious, logical) cognitive functioning.
The Issue of Subjectivity
We must be aware, not just of our own biases and prejudices but also of the viewpoints of others that influence our thinking.
The more we analyze media, for instance, the more we realize that all viewpoints and perspectives are, to some degree, biased. As viewers, we must acknowledge these prejudices. Only then can we understand and evaluate critical issues that require reasoned decisions.
In investigating any issue, for instance, we come across various information. In evaluating it, we must first analyze its subjective (opinion) or objective (factual), whether reporting facts or expressing the writer’s personal bias.
The Ratio of Facts to Opinions
Factual articles are those with substantiated evidence. They provide us with objective reporting, which allows us to form our conclusions. Editorials, in contrast, are generally based on the writer’s opinion. As such, they are subjective; they have biases.
When analyzing information to determine its level of objectivity, the following is a valuable set of steps:
- Read an article once to gain a sense of the author’s perspective;
- Reread and highlight all the facts (e.g., citations, recognized fact) in one color;
- Reread it, but this time underline any viewpoints (e.g., value judgments).
- Count up the number of points and express this as a ratio to the number of opinions
It will tell you if an article is objective or subjective:
- the more significant the ratio of facts to opinions, the more accurate it is;
- if views far outweigh the points, the piece is highly biased.
Rate this article, or perhaps the Cite Man article referenced above, if you are so inclined.
How to Make Better Choices
Boosting decision-making: How can people work at removing biases from their decision-making? Milkman and her colleagues suggest the following:
- Preferences should be able to move and not be affected by small changes in context.
- Revealed preferences (offered warnings of bias) should be consistent with stated preferences (stating direction of bias);
- Mathematical errors should not systematically arise;
- A decision-maker should be happy with their conclusion after calmly reflecting on it.
- An ideal decision is one that a decision-maker would approve of, whether their own or someone else’s.