Mitigating Bias

Every leaders needs to be aware of bias and mitigating bias. Recently, I attended the Neuroleadership Summit which is a conference in which the latest findings in neuroscience are applied to the practice of leadership. One presentation was on mitigating bias and I found it fascinating and worthy of sharing.

As humans our brain is hard wired to get pleasure from being right and pain from being wrong.  The pain we feel when we are wrong activates the same pain center as breaking a leg, for example. The pleasure we feel when being right activates the reward or pleasure center.This is tied to the fact that we are social beings and need each other to survive.

This means the group we belong to is also right and the other group is wrong. The unknown is scary and wrong and the known is right. All of this takes place in the invisible brain. We don’t know it is happening. We just think and are certain we are right without knowing the unconscious processing.

This is so important that our brain finds ways to get to the desired state and there are two ways (1) being right and (2) believing we are right even when we are wrong. Also safety is a primary goal of our organism and our brain feels threat with ambiguity. We therefore want certainty.

It is very difficult to mitigate an unconscious process. The researchers had three suggestions.

  1. Accept that you may be wrong even when you feel right or know you are certain
  2. Become aware of what you are doing and label it – labeling allows other circuits in the brain to view things more objectively. They say there are about 120 types of bias that have been studied but 4 main categories to act as labels
    1. Self-protection – are we trying to keep feeling good about ourselves?
    2. Corner cutting – are we jumping to conclusions?
    3. Objectifying – are we projecting our experience as objective reality?
    4. Time and money – humans will always choose now over later and money in hand over future rewards – are we choosing now rather than wait to find out?
    5. Then consciously choose other options than the four above


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