How ‘myside bias’ is related to your intelligence
We’ve written about myside bias before here. Myside bias is a subset of confirmation bias, and these researchers say it is also “related to the construct of actively open-minded thinking”. We see myside bias so often during pretrial research and in post-verdict juror interviews that side-stepping it is always at the front of our minds as we consider case narrative development.
In a nutshell, myside bias looks like this:
When challenged, we see and hear things through the lens of our own values and personal experience.
Ultimately, we interpret the meaning of what we see and what we hear in accordance with our own biases.
In other words, we don’t take in what you say. We take in what we (all ready) believe to be true. We lock onto data points that confirm our own world views. This is the point in pretrial research where our clients jump out of their chairs in the observation room, pace back and forth, munching handfuls of peanut M&Ms, and begin talking with their mouth full: “That is NOT what I said!”. It’s a frustrating experience for all involved.
So we were glad to see new research published on the relationship between myside bias and intelligence levels. How wonderful would it be if all we had to do was estimate intellectual function in order to know who would have the highest levels of myside bias? Let me answer that. It would be fabulous! Why, it would almost be too good to be true. And, unfortunately it is. There is absolutely no relationship between myside bias and intelligence. Bummer. In other words, smart or not, we all do it. Sigh.
Researchers summarize years of research they (and others) have done on myside bias.
“The research discussed here shows that in a naturalistic reasoning situation, people of high cognitive ability may be no more likely than people of a low cognitive ability to recognize the need to dampen myside bias when reasoning. High intelligence is no inoculation against myside bias.”
In short, if you are not warned in advance to dampen your myside bias, you don’t do it. However! If you are warned in advance to dampen your myside bias, people with higher intelligence are more able to do so. The researchers say we need to find ways to assess rational thinking skills and myside biases. We say–wait! What we need to do now is think of ways to warn our jurors in advance that they need to set aside their myside biases as they listen to the evidence!
And that strategy has potential. What we are talking about is the presence of the ability to be analytical. When looking at potential jurors, we are always examining who will be a natural leader. Natural leaders are often very intelligent and have the ability to think analytically. So we want to alert them to the need to set aside preconceived opinions without asking the tired “can you be fair?” question.
It’s already at work in some routine sorts of ways. Unfortunately, it usually takes the form of dull and empty boilerplate jury instructions such as “Don’t let bias, prejudice or sympathy play any part in your deliberations of this case.” Maybe when that was written decades ago it shocked people into arresting their myside bias, but at this point they skip over it and look for an instruction that makes sense.
And it does make sense, with an effective attorney guiding the process. The problem is, that there is a tendency to gloss over it, to make it a point to mention, rather than an issue to emphasize. To include in opening statements, or witness examinations, or closing arguments the notion that “before I heard the facts, I was naturally inclined to assume X, only to realize after carefully looking at things just how wrong I was at first” can be compelling. It normalizes something that is truly normal, thereby allowing the jury to do the same– to recognize the need to rise above our preconceptions.
We’ve written a lot about ways to “raise the flag” for racial bias awareness. There are times you want to do that and times you don’t want to do that. The same, we would wager, is true about myside bias. We will be experimenting with ways to know when you want to alert jurors to not showing myside bias and when you want to just zip it. We’ll get back to you on this one.
Stanovich, KE, West, RF, & Toplak, ME (2013). Myside bias, rational thinking and intelligence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 DOI: 10.1177/0963721413480174