Bias du Jour #10

by F.

In one study, subjects assumed the hypothetical role of decision makers evaluating applicants for college admissions.

Half of the respondents evaluated the folder of an applicant who played varsity soccer, had supportive letters of recommendation, was editor of the school newspaper, and had a combined SAT score of 1250 and a high school average of B. Presented with this information, the majority voted to accept the applicant.

Other respondents received similar information. As before, the applicant played varsity soccer, had supportive letters of recommendation, was editor of the school newspaper, and had a combined SAT score of 1250.

In the second case, however, there were conflicting reports of the applicant’s average grade. The guidance counselor reported a B, whereas the school office reported an A. Records were being checked, and information about the correct grade was expected shortly.

Presented with this situation, the majority of respondents elected to wait and find out the applicant’s grade before making a decision. Upon being informed that the applicant’s average grade was a B (as in the original version) and not an A, a majority decided to reject the applicant (whereas the original group accepted.)

This is sometimes called

The Information Bias. We tend to look for additional information that may facilitate deliberation, even when it is unlikely to alter the decision.

Cites: Bastardi, A., & Shafir, E. 1998. On the pursuit and misuse of useless information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1, 19-32; Bastardi, A., & Shafir, E. 2000. Nonconsequential reasoning and its consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 6, 216-219; Baron, J. (2000). Thinking and Deciding, 166-167. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Caveat: While Baron (2000) uses the term “information bias,” I haven’t seen it used widely otherwise. This isn’t that significant, as I haven’t looked all that hard, but I don’t want to give the impression that this term is as well-used as, say, “the fundamental attribution error.” Hear endeth the caveat.

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