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Attribution Bias

We have a tendency to trust people in “our tribe” but in this video – with a little side rant about the express checkout lane at the grocery store – Craig cautions us to consider our biases if we want to make good group decisions.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here. I want to explain a concept called attribution bias.

I’m at the grocery store. I’m in the checkout line. Actually, the line that I’m in says express – 14 items or less – and I’m pretty sure that the person in front of me has like 27 items in their cart. Not that I’m counting.

They get up to the clerk and the clerk says, “Excuse me, but you’re only supposed to have 14 items if you’re in this line.” And the person responds like in a real snippy voice,“Well, that’s just too bad isn’t it? Ring me up anyways.”

Now if that person is part of my tribe I am apt to look upon them favorably. If they look like me, same skin color, same age, wearing the same kind of clothes. Maybe I’m a Democrat and they’ve got a button that says Hillary or something like that. I might give them a break. I might think, “Okay, she said a mean thing to the clerk but you know, she probably had a long hard day just like I did. She’s probably got problems at home just like I do.” And I’d be inclined to give her a break.

Now if that person is not part of my tribe, if they look different than me – maybe it’s a young man. Maybe he’s got a haircut and tattoos that I don’t like. Maybe I’m a Democrat, and maybe he’s got a Trump sticker. I might be apt to think, “Well gosh darn, that guy is a jerk. He should respect his elders and the grocery store clerk, and why are these people so mean all the time.”

In both of those cases I have attributed characteristics to those people that I actually have no idea about. Because of my bias I attribute motive. I make a character judgment. It happens in grocery store lines and it happens when we are trying to make decisions in groups.

I might make a proposal in a meeting and somebody else opposes me. If they’re of “my tribe” I might think, “Well they might have a good point – I need to hear them out and see what they have to say about this.” If they are not in “my tribe” I might think “There she goes again. Just being mean. She just doesn’t get it, she doesn’t see the world correctly like I do.” When I let my attribution biases come to the surface, I prevent me and my group from gaining the best possible wisdom available.

When I shut people off because of what I think are their motives or their character, I’m robbing both of us of some good opportunities to make the world better. When I’m at my best, I am burying my biases and I am looking upon each person I meet, regardless of what they look like, as somebody who has things to give and as somebody who might have had a hard day and who has problems at home.

I hope this helps you and your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

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