Have you ever heard of a person dying in the middle of a city center or in the metro, surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of people and nobody would even try to help him? Are we so stupid, indifferent to other people’s suffering or is it our brain playing tricks with us?
We are all social beings and being a part of the group is essential for our well being. Usually we are all part of many different groups, some we choose and others we are born into. Some we are forced to join and others we are just not refusing consciously. Groups are forming work, family, friends, religion, country, region, community, ethnicity, according to our believes, habits, traditions, interests, life style.
Cognitive biases are mostly result of evolution and are the tendencies to think in a certain way, which can lead to systematic deviations from standard of rationality or good judgment. Let’s take a look at three most common group ones.
is the one we already mentioned in the beginning. People might die because of this cognitive bias. We presume someone else is going to do something in an emergency situation. When something terrible is happening in a public setting we can experience a kind of shock and mental paralysis that distracts us from a sense of personal responsibility. The problem is that everyone can experience this sense of deindividuation in a crowd. So for a long time nobody is doing anything, everybody is just waiting for other people to react.
Knowing that, we can make ourselves more alert and know that when emergency situation does appear, we have to be the ones to react. Even if that group seems really loud and helpful, you never know, maybe they are talking a lot but not doing much.
And talking about groups, we all belong to some and we favor those people who are in our group. That is called IN-GROUP BIAS. We presume that we’re fair and impartial, but the truth is that we automatically favor those who are most like us. If a person who is a part of your group (like a friend or a nice co-worker) is saying something stupid, you will be more likely to consider it and maybe even think it is OK, while if somebody who you have no personal relationship with and possibly looks a lot different for you, says stupid things, you will instantly judge, contradict or at least recognize it for what it is.
We are more tolerant with people in our group too. It is our brain tricking us, so we need plenty of emotional intelligence to position ourselves in the shoes of those in out-group, while we need to be more objective when judging those who belong to our in-group. But what if my group doesn’t like me after that?
And we get to GROUPTHINKING. We let the social dynamics of a group situation override the best outcomes. Contradicting the group opinion can be uncomfortable and dangerous to one’s social standing, so most of us try to avoid it. The one who determines the group decisions is often the most confident or first one to speak. The rest of the group end up agreeing with everybody else even if we think differently, just so we are still part of the group. This cognitive bias can have quite severe side-effects, such as racism or slavery.
What we can do if we want to do the right thing while staying the part of the group is rather than openly contradicting others, is to encourage the group to think critically and be ready for a discussion on any given topic.
Interesting thing about brain and cognitive biases is that once we know about them, we start thinking about them, we are no longer reacting automatically. And if we share that with our group(s) and everyone starts thinking, this group will totally rock and kick the group biases ass!