We never see Trump or Brexit coming because we drown in data and biases – Implicit Bias

Good piece by Mike Ross, Davide Pisanu and Blanche Ajarrista on the risks of bias and automatic thinking and the need to be more mindful:

Three ways to diminish the risk of overreliance on analytics or biased forecasting are the use of premortems, devil’s advocates and self-reflection. Tools that we all (including the market research organizations and newsrooms of the world) can implement more systematically to avoid shocks such as the Brexit result.

  • Premortems start with imagining that you are wrong, dead wrong, and that the worst has occurred. You then ask, what could be the cause of this predictive failure? Through this type of questioning, we can identify the limitations of the available data and dig deeper to improve the quality of the quality of the information used.
  • A devil’s advocate is appointed to ensure that contrarian positions have a voice at the table when groups are making decisions, but they are also useful on an individual basis. This person’s role is to argue against the group’s intention – essentially stating why everyone else is wrong. By clearly nominating someone to take this on (or by forcing yourself to question your own assumptions in this way), we free the advocate from the constraint of not wanting to go against the position of the group and in doing so allow them to highlight our collective blind spots.
  • Self reflection (by an individual or a group) is more of a habitual practice – ensuring that you think deeply on how your background, beliefs and socioeconomic context heavily bias your views. From the people you regularly interact with to the Facebook algorithm that pushes content to your stream, your view of the world is curated by your context. Forcing yourself to acknowledge this and actively seek out opinions counter to your own will diminish the influence your personal situation has on your decision-making, broaden your context and expand the range of data you’ll use to inform your decisions.

It’s not that data and analytics are inherently bad or that our biases are not useful in decision-making, but rather that these can be flawed.

By recognizing and using a set of tools to overcome these flaws, we can be much more effective decision-makers and avoid (and perhaps profit from) the shocking and the unexpected.

Source: We never see Trump or Brexit coming because we drown in data and biases – The Globe and Mail

Easier to spot a liar in a niqab, says study challenging Canada’s courtroom ban on Muslim veils

Counter-intuitive but interesting study.

Another study I would like to see done is a new version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that would use a variety of faces and headgear rather than just the white/black current test. More appropriate for the multicultural reality of Canada, although I always recommend taking the current version for its insights into bias:

In a landmark finding inspired by a Supreme Court ban on niqab-wearing court witnesses, a Canadian study has come to the surprising conclusion that it is actually easier to detect a liar if their face is veiled.

“There’s concrete data from over 500 people showing that, in fact, the courts were incorrect,” said Amy-May Leach, an associate professor at the Oshawa-based University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Leach’s study, published in the latest edition of the journal of the American Psychological Association, had test subjects guess the truthfulness of women with and without religious veils.

The result? “Veiling actually improved lie detection.”

Veiling actually improved lie detection

“People were focusing on what the women are saying, rather than what they look like,” said Leach.

In a 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada effectively levied a courtroom ban on the wearing of niqabs by testifying witnesses.

NP Graphics

NP GraphicsClick or tap to enlarge
…Leach’s study worked by taking female volunteers and showing them one of two videos featuring a woman and a backpack. In one video, a woman is shown vigilantly watching over a backpack. In the other, the woman is rifling through the backpack to steal its contents.

After the video, the volunteers are then led into a mock courtroom to be questioned by a “prosecution” and a “defence.” Whatever video they saw, the volunteer had to maintain that no theft took place. Thus, anybody who saw the “stealing” video was forced to lie.

People were focusing on what the women are saying, rather than what they look like

Trials were staged with volunteers having their heads uncovered, wearing a hijab (a Muslim hair covering) or wearing a face-covering niqab.

Videos of the trials were then played to a second set of volunteers who were asked to guess if the witness was telling the truth.

For unveiled women, witnesses spotted the liars at a rate of about 50 per cent — no better than if they had flipped a coin.

“It was only when witnesses wore veils (i.e., hijabs or niqabs) that observers performed above chance levels,” wrote the study.

Subsequent repeats of the experiment in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands found similar results.

Source: Easier to spot a liar in a niqab, says study challenging Canada’s courtroom ban on Muslim veils | National Post

How to be less stupid, according to psychologists: Tone down that ‘confident ignorance’

Interesting study and characterization of the three kinds of stupidity (and how awareness and mindfulness are key to reducing it):

What they found is that people tend to agree about what deserves to be called stupid and what doesn’t — remarkably, there was a roughly 90 per cent rate of agreement. They also learned that there are, it seems, three situations, that we tend to use the word stupid for. Three scenarios, characterized by specific types of behavior, that make people cringe or laugh or put their hands to their forehead.

The first is what Aczel and his team call “confident ignorance.” It’s when a person’s self-perceived ability to do something far outweighs that person’s actual ability to do it, and it’s associated with the highest level of stupidity.

Think of a drunk driver, who wrongly believes he or she is perfectly capable of manning the wheel. Or a burglar, who, meaning to steal a phone, instead plucks a GPS device, which leads the police straight to him.

People don’t just find this type of behavior stupid — they seem to associate it with the highest level of stupidity. These were given a mean stupidity score of 8.5 out of 10, a good deal higher than that for any other.

“The stupidest thing someone can do is overestimate themselves,” he said. “What that tells us is that you don’t have to have a low IQ, in people’s eyes, to act stupidly. You just have to misperceive your abilities.”

The second thing we use the word stupid to describe is when someone does something because they have, on some level, lost their ability to do otherwise.

Aczel calls this “lack of control” and characterizes it as the result of “obsessive, compulsive, or addictive behavior.” He offers the example of a person who decides to cancel plans with a good friend in order to keep playing video games at home.

The third type of behavior people like to call stupid is what Aczel coins “absentmindedness — lack of practicality.” It’s an either/or scenario, in which someone does something that’s clearly irrational, but for a reason that could be one of two things: they either weren’t paying attention or simply weren’t aware of something.

Think of someone who, having overfilled their car tires, ends up on the side of the road with a flat. That person either forgot to pay attention while filling the tires or didn’t know that he or she needed to do so in the first place. And we’re apt to call both of those scenarios stupid, albeit less stupid than the previous examples.

In some ways, Aczel’s research recalls the famous and oft-quoted scene from “Forrest Gump,” in which Tom Hanks, asked whether he’s crazy or just plain stupid, quips, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

These stupidity categories can potentially predict what environmental or inner states increase the likelihood that one would behave in a way that others could call stupid

The research, as it turns out, offers important lessons for all of us, because what we choose to call stupid actually has a significant impact on our behavior. As Aczel and his colleagues write in their paper:

“These stupidity categories can potentially predict what environmental or inner states increase the likelihood that one would behave in a way that others could call stupid. For example, ingested substances or excessive social support can promote confidence disproportionate to competence.

Executing habitual behaviors or multi-tasking can lead to absent-mindedness. Intensive affective states can result in failure of behavior control. Our findings would suggest that these environmental or inner contexts make us more susceptible to commit foolishness. An interaction of individual differences and environmental factors may serve as predictors for people’s propensity to show behavior that others would label as stupid.”

Source: How to be less stupid, according to psychologists: Tone down that ‘confident ignorance’

Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant? Much Depends on Gender – NYTimes.com

Gender bias universities

Frequency of word “genius” in RatemyProfessor

Interesting study on bias, this time in the university setting:

Studies have also shown that students can be biased against female professors. In one, teachers graded and returned papers to students at the exact same time, but when asked to rate their promptness, students gave female professors lower scores than men. Biases cut both ways — teachers have also been found to believe girls are not as good in math and science, even when they perform similarly to boys.

Mr. Schmidt, who made the chart as part of a project called Bookworm for searching and visualizing large texts, said he was struck by “this spectrum from smart to brilliant to genius, where each one of those is more strongly gendered male than the previous one was.” He was also surprised that relatively few people commented on female professors’ clothing or looks, which he had expected to be the case.

Another surprise, he said, was Shakespeare — apparently many more men than women teach it in English departments.

Men are more likely to be described as a star, knowledgeable, awesome or the best professor. Women are more likely to be described as bossy, disorganized, helpful, annoying or as playing favorites. Nice or rude are also more often used to describe women than men.

Men and women seemed equally likely to be thought of as tough or easy, lazy, distracted or inspiring.

Interestingly, women were more likely to be described in reviews as role models. Mr. Schmidt notes that the reviews are anonymous, so he doesn’t know the gender of reviewers. It could be that more female students describe female professors as role models than men do when describing men or women.

Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant? Much Depends on Gender – NYTimes.com.

Study Says Creativity Can Flow From Political Correctness

Interesting study on political correctness and the diversity of teams:

Duguid and her co-authors set up an experiment to see if the notion that politically correctness impedes creativity held up to scientific scrutiny.

They sat down students in groups of three to brainstorm ideas on how to use a vacant space on campus. Some of the groups were all men, some all women, others mixed. Control groups got to start right away on the brainstorming, but the test groups were primed with a script.

The research team told those groups that they were interested in gathering examples from college undergraduates of politically correct behavior on campus. They were instructed to, as a group, list examples of political correctness that they had either heard of or directly experienced on this campus.

“They did that for 10 minutes,” Duguid says.

In the same-sex groups, the old notion held true. Groups of three men or three women who were instructed to think about political correctness were less creative than the control group. But in the mixed-gender groups that got the politically correct instructions, creativity went up.

“They generated more ideas, and those ideas were more novel,” Duguid says. “Whether it was two men and one woman or two women and one man, the results were consistent.”

Study Says Creativity Can Flow From Political Correctness : NPR.

A MacArthur Grant Winner Tries to Unearth Biases to Aid Criminal Justice – NYTimes.com

Further to my earlier post (The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men), a good interview with Jennifer Eberhardt, another psychology professor looking into subconscious biases:

We’re finding that the beliefs of the police aren’t generally that different from everyone else’s. A lot of the tests we’ve done, we give them to students, to ordinary citizens and to police officers. We’re finding the results are generally similar. The police are people like everyone else.

….One thing I do is work with police departments. We do workshops where we present these studies and show what implicit bias is, and how it’s different from old-fashioned racism. I don’t think this alone can change behavior. But it can help people become aware of the unconscious ways race operates. If you combine that with other things, there is hope.

A MacArthur Grant Winner Tries to Unearth Biases to Aid Criminal Justice – NYTimes.com.

Radicalized young people feel like ‘a speck of dust in an uncaring universe’ before joining extremists like ISIS | National Post

More good reporting on motivations for radicalization by Tom Blackwell in the Post:

What little evidence exists now indicates terrorists generally are no more likely to suffer from psychological problems than the general population, he [Lorne Dawson] said. As for the homegrown variety, some are second-generation immigrants struggling to find a place between their parents’ culture and Canadian society. Adhering to a dogmatic ideology might give them the direction they seek, said Prof. Dawson, noting that not all young people are craving freedom.

In fact, “there is a whole group to whom that is totally perplexing and frustrating,” he said. “They don’t want that. They want structure and order. They want a clear vision.”

Research that Prof. Bélanger and colleagues have done with Tamil Tigers and extremists in Jordan and the Philippines point to a single, overarching motivation, what the academics call the “quest for personal significance,” leading them to join a community they believe gives their lives meaning, and adopting its ideology in an effort to be accepted.

“When, for instance, [they feel they are] not important, they don’t matter, they are a speck of dust in some kind of uncaring universe, it increases psychological pain,” he said. “One way of assuaging this negative feeling is connecting through a group.”

That connection might occur in person or, in the case of “lone-wolf” radicals, through online correspondence with an extremist overseas, like ISIS members who have posted propaganda videos on the Internet, said Prof. Belanger. Once hooked, the home-grown radical may be willing to sacrifice his own life – as well as take others’ – thinking “they will have more in death than they had in life.”

Radicalized young people feel like ‘a speck of dust in an uncaring universe’ before joining extremists like ISIS | National Post.

Moral Judgments Depend on What Language We’re Speaking – NYTimes.com

Interesting psychological experiment on language. Believe there have been similar experiments with managers working in a second-language which both slows down their thinking (Kahneman’s System 2) and removes some of the emotion:

But we’ve got some surprising news. In a study recently published in the journal PloS One, our two research teams, working independently, discovered that when people are presented with the trolley problem in a foreign language, they are more willing to sacrifice one person to save five than when they are presented with the dilemma in their native tongue.

One research team, working in Barcelona, recruited native Spanish speakers studying English and vice versa and randomly assigned them to read this dilemma in either English or Spanish. In their native tongue, only 18 percent said they would push the man, but in a foreign language, almost half 44 percent would do so. The other research team, working in Chicago, found similar results with languages as diverse as Korean, Hebrew, Japanese, English and Spanish. For more than 1,000 participants, moral choice was influenced by whether the language was native or foreign. In practice, our moral code might be much more pliable than we think.

Extreme moral dilemmas are supposed to touch the very core of our moral being. So why the inconsistency? The answer, we believe, is reminiscent of Nelson Mandela’s advice about negotiation: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” As psychology researchers such as Catherine Caldwell-Harris have shown, in general people react less strongly to emotional expressions in a foreign language.

An aversion to pushing the large man onto the tracks seems to engage a deeply emotional part of us, whereas privileging five lives over one appears to result from a less emotional, more utilitarian calculus. Accordingly, when our participants faced this dilemma in their native tongue, they reacted more emotionally and spared the man. Whereas a foreign language seemed to provide participants with an emotional distance that resulted in the less visceral choice to save the five people.

If this explanation is correct, then you would expect that a less emotionally vivid version of the same dilemma would minimize the difference between being presented with it in a foreign versus a native language. And this indeed is what we found. We conducted the same experiment using a dilemma almost identical to the footbridge — but with one crucial difference. In this version, you can save the five people by diverting the trolley to a track where the large man is, rather than by actively shoving him off the bridge.

Moral Judgments Depend on What Language We’re Speaking – NYTimes.com.

Language and morality: Gained in translation

Interesting finding but not surprising that slowing down thinking, through the language barrier, can lead to more rational outcomes:

Several psychologists, including Daniel Kahneman, who was awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 2002 for his work on how people make decisions, think that the mind uses two separate cognitive systems—one for quick, intuitive decisions and another that makes slower, more reasoned choices. These can conflict, which is what the trolley dilemma is designed to provoke: normal people have a moral aversion to killing (the intuitive system), but can nonetheless recognise that one death is, mathematically speaking, better than five (the reasoning system).

This latest study fits with other research which suggests that speaking a foreign language boosts the second system—provided, that is, you don’t speak it as well as a native. Earlier work, by some of the same scholars who performed this new study, found that people tend to fare better on tests of pure logic in a foreign language—and particularly on questions with an obvious-but-wrong answer and a correct answer that takes time to work out.

Dr Costa and his colleagues hypothesise that, while fluent speakers can form sentences effortlessly, the merely competent must spend more brainpower, and reason much more carefully, when operating in their less-familiar tongue. And that kind of thinking helps to provide psychological and emotional distance, in much the same way that replacing the fat man with a switch does. As further support for that idea, the researchers note that the effect of speaking the foreign language became smaller as the speaker’s familiarity with it increased.

Language and morality: Gained in translation | The Economist.