Tag: Jonathan Haidt

Naive Realism — I’m Right; You’re Biased

We’re good at spotting others’ faults while ignoring our own.

If someone informed you of your biases do you think you’d change your response?

Not likely. Even when we know about our biases and we’re asked ‘do you want to change what you just said’ the results are the same.

We’re happy to learn about biases, we even apply this knowledge to better predict the behavior of others. However, when it comes to ourselves, we’re unmoved.

You probably think you’re an above average driver.

Now I can shake you and tell you that most people have an inflated view of themselves. I can tell you that you’re biased. I can tell you to be realistic.

And you’re still going to look at me and say “Other people may be biased but I really am an above average driver.”

Why is this? Emily Pronin at Princeton and Lee Ross at Stanford trace our resistance to self-awareness to a phenomenon they call naive realism.

From The Happiness Hypothesis:

Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is.

We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us.

If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.

People acknowledge that their own backgrounds have shaped their views, but such experiences are invariably seen as deepening one’s insights; for example, being a doctor gives a person special insight into the problems of the health-care industry. But the background of other people is used to explain their biases and covert motivations; for example, doctors think that lawyers disagree with them about tort reform not because they work with the victims of malpractice (and therefore have their own special insights) but because their self-interest biases their thinking.

It just seems plain as day, to the naive realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Except for me. I see things as they are.

It’s so easy for this to move from the individual to the group level. My group is right because we see things as they are and your group is wrong because you are biased by your ideology, religion, or self-interest.

Moral Hypocrisy

From Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis:

The gap between action and perception is bridged by the art of impression management. If life itself is what you deem it, then why not focus your efforts on persuading others to believe that you are a virtuous and trustworthy cooperator?

Natural selection, like politics, works by the principle of survival of the fittest, and several researchers have argued that human beings evolved to play the game of life in a Machiavellian way. The Machiavellian version of tit for tat… is to do all you can to cultivate the reputation of a trustworthy yet vigilant partner, whatever reality may be.

The simplest way to cultivate a reputation for being fair is to really be fair, but life and psychology experiments sometimes force us to choose between appearance and reality. The findings are not pretty. … The tendency to value the appearance of morality over reality has been dubbed “moral hypocrisy”.

… Proving that people are selfish, or that they’ll sometimes cheat when they know they won’t be caught, seems like a good way to get an article into the Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results. What’s not so obvious is that, in nearly all these studies, people don’t think they are doing anything wrong. It’s the same in real life. From the person who cuts you off on the highway all the way to the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, most people think they are good people and they their actions are motivated by good reasons. Machiavellian tit for tat requires devotion to appearances, including protestations of one’s virtue even when one chooses vice. And such protestations are most effective when the person making them really believes them.

As Robert Wright puts it in his masterful book The Moral Animal, “Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse.