Thursday, 5 August 2010

Bias is immanent

It is human nature that our mind is naturally biased. Our hidden repertoire of biases seduce us into acting irrationally in a variety of common situations. Let’s illustrate it on a common situation – the way people rate films.

People are so excited about a film trailer and its pre-release buzz, especially if it features a big actor, or comes from a big director. Once it releases, they watch it, rate it, and the minority of them strongly defend their ratings against people who disagree with them.

The first set of people - usually week-one goers, think that they give an unbiased rating. This set of people do not know what others think, may not have read the reviews, or people around them may not be talking about it as yet. Thus, the people belonging to this set claim that their rating is purely their own. However, seldom do they consider that theirs is still a biased decision, based on factors such as the actors, the director, the budget, the production house and more - which have an indirect influence.

Then the second set, comprising of people who watch films from the second week onwards. By the time they watch it – a thousand papers have already written reviews about them, critics have either glorified or buried the movie on review shows, cinema and rating websites have built their rating systems, box office reports are out and most importantly, people are talking about it. These have a direct influence. Hence, even before they watch the film, they have already made a subconscious decision – expectation is a common example - which affects their decision.

The second set will most likely base their opinions skewing towards the opinions of the majority of the first set – even if they may not totally agree. The reason for this is social acceptance - a fear of rejection, arising from their decisions’ unanimity with the majority. No wonder, some average films turn out to be big hits and vice versa. On the other hand, in the case of mixed reviews, there is less bias as people are more comfortable giving it their own real rating – because it’s now okay to be on either side of the coin.

Either ways, which every way we look, bias is immanent; only the extent of bias varies.


Anonymous said...

That and due to our own values and belief systems, there will always be a sense of bias in our ratings and conclusions, even if we may not know of the director, author etc.
No one is able to judge something in a truly objective manner. Which in a way I suppose is both a burden and a blessing. If we were to be able to switch off our biases, would we lose our sense of humanity?

Praveen said...

I totally agree that values and belief systems do play a role in us being biased too.

In the case of us being able to switch off our bias - as you mention, we will not loose our sense of humanity, we will instead be overtly rational in our decision making that will uplift our sense of humanity.

Anonymous said...

But if we were to turn off our biases and make completely objective decisions, how would we be any different from a robot or a computer? Wouldn't everything would be black and white rather than multidimensional? Also, do you believe that perhaps people choose to be biased, rather than having to weigh up the other options which would be far more time consuming and intellectually draining?

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