Reducing Self-Interest Bias in Conflicts by Mitigating Disparities in Liking

Reposted from this post on the Civil Politics Blog

One of the most difficult things for all of us to overcome in any competitive situation is self-serving bias.  The below video explains it in an intuitive and entertaining way.  How many sports fans can be counted on to objectively view the decisions of referees?  Not many.  And similarly, how can we expect members of a group to objectively judge the fairness of actions of other group members?  Even those of us who take great pains to see the viewpoints of the other side are likely influenced by unconscious bias in service of our self-interest.

These same processes explain how both Jews and Palestinians have divergent historical narratives that they are completely convinced is the only view, how fiscal liberals and conservatives have completely opposite ideas about economic history, and how sports fans can be so convinced that they are routinely robbed by referees.  Opposing groups are often going to see facts in a way that conforms to their moral worldview (see research on and examples of moral coherence).

Self-serving bias may be ubiquitous, but there are still situations and circumstances that may reduce or exacerbate these tendencies.  Recently, at the 2014 conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, I met Konrad Bocian who is investigating liking as a potential boundary condition.  Specifically (as is described in the below video), self-serving bias may occur only when it is done by people one has greater liking for.  In three studies, Bocian and colleagues measured moral judgments of rule-breaking behavior that benefited the judging party, and observed that feelings toward the perpetrator of the behavior were central to these moral judgments, even when the behaviors benefited the judging party.

This work relates to the Asteroids Club paradigm that is being pioneered by The Village Square, in that a central aspect of such meetings is to reduce the disparity in liking between members of one’s own group and members of opposing groups.  This hypothesis should be tested directly, but perhaps in moderating our feelings toward both our own groups and competing groups, we can mitigate some of the self-interest bias that exists in all conflicts and learn to disagree more productively.

- Ravi Iyer

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