When modern societies and their organizations address complex problems, they aspire to do so rationally. We rely on experts and specialists for advice, wisdom, and approval of the approaches we adopt. We do this in every field, including software user interface design, urban planning, the safety and effectiveness of drugs and medical procedures, and more. Or at least, we believe we do. But belief and reality differ from each other, sometimes dramatically, in part because of a phenomenon that has come to be known as myside bias.
Myside bias in brief
It's fair to say that researchers are still working out a consensus view of what myside bias is. Some regard it as interchangeable with confirmation bias [Nickerson 1998]; others hold that it's a type of confirmation bias; still others regard myside bias and confirmation bias as distinct.
As Wolfe puts it, "Although some authors use the terms interchangeably, confirmation bias typically refers to a biased search for or weighing of evidence, whereas myside bias refers to biases in generating reasons or arguments." [Wolfe 2011] That is, confirmation bias appears in the gathering and weighing of evidence, while myside bias appears in the way we use evidence in reasoned arguments. It is this view that I favor. Myside bias is our tendency to overlook or even dismiss flaws in our own rational arguments that we easily notice in the arguments of others.
The effects of myside bias
Along Myside bias is our tendency to overlook
or even dismiss flaws in our own rational
arguments that we easily notice
in the arguments of othersthe spectrum of the effects of myside bias, at the less-damaging end, we find the skepticism with which we treat the rational arguments of domain experts. At the more damaging end of that spectrum is our tendency to reject outright experts' recommendations. We might even relieve them of their positions and authority, or strip them of their credentials and certifications, or treat them with such disdain or disrespect that they voluntarily withdraw from the debate, or even resign their positions.
Myside bias is probably more likely to occur when the rational argument in question leads to conclusions different from our preconceptions. But "more likely" is the operative phrase. Myside bias can occur whether or not the conclusions of the argument in question align with our preferred positions, because it serves as a debate-rigging device. It helps us win arguments, whether we're on the "right" side or not.
It's probably for this reason that "red teams" are so effective in cyberdefense, business plan evaluation, military planning, and intelligence analysis. Red teaming might be providing a check on myside bias. And the scientific method, too, could be providing a check on myside bias through its requirement that independent researchers replicate results before the community grants acceptance. [Kolbert 2017]
In my own view, the term myside bias connotes binary polarity. That is, it suggests that there are only two sides: mine and not-mine. In actual interactions, though, we often find multiple sides, factions, alliances, schools of thought, or political parties. I wish we had settled on the term my-school bias, but oh well. Myside bias applies in any case: we tend to be better at noticing the shortcomings of the arguments others use than we are at noticing the shortcomings in the arguments we use for our own positions. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Cognitive Biases at Work:
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
- Shared information bias is widely recognized as a cause of bad decisions. But over time, it can also
erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality
and the group's perceptions of reality.
- The Stupidity Attribution Error
- In workplace debates, we sometimes conclude erroneously that only stupidity can explain why our debate
partners fail to grasp the elegance or importance of our arguments. There are many other possibilities.
- Risk Acceptance: Naïve Realism
- When we suddenly notice a "project-killer" risk that hasn't yet materialized, we sometimes
accept the risk even though we know how seriously it threatens the effort. A psychological phenomenon
known as naïve realism plays a role in this behavior.
- Risk Acceptance: One Path
- When a project team decides to accept a risk, and when their project eventually experiences that risk,
a natural question arises: What were they thinking? Cognitive biases, other psychological phenomena,
and organizational dysfunction all can play roles.
See also Cognitive Biases at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHoWzUJVeioCfozEIner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info