Social Biases

Social biases are opinions, typically preconceived or unreasoned, about a group in society. These are especially noticeable when they manifest as prejudice

Most of these biases are labeled as attributional biases, that is, they are systematic errors made when a person tries to evaluate or find the reasons for their own and others’ actions.

These biases include:

  • Actor-observer bias – the tendency for explanations of other individuals’ behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation, and for explanations of one’s own behaviors to do the opposite (that is, to overemphasize the influence of our situation and underemphasize the influence of our own personality).
  • Authority bias – the tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion.
  • Defensive attribution hypothesis – attributing more blame to a harm-doer as the outcome becomes more severe or as personal or situational similarity to the victim increases.
  • Egocentric bias – occurs when people claim more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would credit them with.
  • Extrinsic incentives bias – an exception to the fundamental attribution error, when people view others as having situational extrinsic motivations and intrinsic (or, dispositional) motivations for oneself
  • False consensus effect – the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.
  • Forer effect (aka: Barnum effect) – the tendency to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. For example, horoscopes.
  • Fundamental attribution error – the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing the role and power of situational influences on the same behavior.
  • Group attribution error – the biased belief that the characteristics of an individual group member are reflective of the group as a whole or the tendency to assume that group decision outcomes reflect the preferences of group members, even when information is available that clearly suggests otherwise.
  • Halo effect – the tendency for a person’s positive or negative traits to “spill over” from one personality area to another in others’ perceptions of them. See also: physical attractiveness stereotype.
  • Illusion of asymmetric insight – people perceive their knowledge of their peers to surpass their peers’ knowledge of them.
  • Illusion of external agency – when people view self-generated preferences as instead being caused by insightful, effective and benevolent agents.
  • Illusion of transparency – people overestimate others’ ability to know them, and they also overestimate their ability to know others.
  • Illusory superiority – overestimating one’s desirable qualities, and underestimating undesirable qualities, relative to other people. Also known as “Lake Wobegon effect”, “better-than-average effect”, or “superiority bias”.
  • Ingroup bias – the tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.
  • Just-world hypothesis – the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just, causing them to rationalize an otherwise inexplicable injustice as deserved by the victim(s).
  • Moral luck – the tendency for people to ascribe greater or lesser moral standing based on the outcome of an event.
  • Naïve cynicism – expecting more egocentric bias in others than in oneself.
  • Naïve realism – the belief that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don’t are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased.
  • Outgroup homogeneity bias – individuals see members of their own group as being relatively more varied than members of other groups.
  • Self-serving bias – the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes than failures. It may also manifest as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.
  • Shared information bias – known as the tendency for group members to spend more time and energy discussing information that all members are already familiar with (i.e., shared information), and less time and energy discussing information that only some members are aware of (i.e., unshared information).
  • Sociability bias of language – in most languages, the disproportionally higher representation of words related to social interactions, in comparison to words related to physical or mental aspects of behavior. This bias attributed to nature of language as a tool facilitating human interactions.
  • System justification – the tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. Existing social, economic, and political arrangements tend to be preferred, and alternatives disparaged, sometimes even at the expense of individual and collective self-interest. See also: Status quo bias.
  • Trait ascription bias – the tendency for people to view themselves as relatively variable in terms of personality, behavior, and mood while viewing others as much more predictable.
  • Ultimate attribution error – similar to the fundamental attribution error, in this error a person is likely to make an internal attribution to an entire group instead of the individuals within the group.
  • Worse-than-average effect – a tendency to believe ourselves to be worse than others at tasks which are difficult.

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