“Six Hindu sages, very studious, wanted to know what an elephant was. Since they were blind, they decided to find out by touch.
The first to get close to the elephant hit its broad, hard back and said, "I can already see it's like a wall."
The second, touching the tusk, shouted: "It's so sharp, round and smooth, the elephant is like a spear."
The third touched the twisted trunk and cried out in fright: "The elephant is like a snake."
The fourth brought his hand to his knee, touched it and said, "Evidently, the elephant is like a tree."
The fifth, who accidentally touched an ear, exclaimed: "Even the blindest of men would realize that the elephant is like a fan."
The sixth, who touched the swinging tail, said, "The elephant is very much like a rope."
Thus it was that the sages argued long and hard, each of them excessively stubborn and violent in its version. Even if in part, they were all wrong ”.
The parable of the six blind sages and the elephant, attributed to Rumi, a XNUMXth-century Persian Sufi, perfectly shows our tendency to overestimate what we know and our stubbornness in grasping our opinions and beliefs while ignoring everything that puts them into question. discussion. In psychology this is called "blind spot bias".
What is Blind Spot Bias?
Blind spot bias, a concept proposed by Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin, refers to our inability to take notice of our own cognitive biases and a tendency to think we are less biased than others. We think we see things more objectively and rationally, as they are "in reality", while others have a partial judgment.
In general, we believe we are better or more accurate than others. We think we are above average compared to the positive qualities that we value the most. For example, if we value sincerity or justice highly, we believe we are more sincere and just than most people.
In this way we become convinced of our moral righteousness and the correctness of our ideas, believing that our "unique" life experiences and circumstances have given us a broader, richer and wiser perspective than that developed by the people with whom we relate every day or we see on television.
Science has proven the existence of the blind spot bias. A study conducted at Stanford University found that most people (exactly 87%) believe they are better than average. 63% think that the image they have of themselves is objective and reliable, so they do not recognize the existence of prejudices and 13% even say that they are very modest in describing themselves.
These psychologists found that only 24% of people, when reported to have blind spot bias, are able to recognize that perhaps their self-concept may be mediated by some cognitive bias.
Why do we believe we are more rational and objective than others?
The idea of perceiving reality without distortion arises, at least in part, from the fact that we do not analyze our cognitive and motivational processes; that is, we do not do an examination of conscience. On the other hand, to realize our prejudices and limitations, we must do an exercise in introspection and deduce that, like everyone else, we are not immune to cognitive bias.
However, as soon as there is a discrepancy between what another person thinks or perceives and what we think or perceive, we assume that we are right and infer that others are less objective and rational. In this way we also avoid the appearance of a cognitive dissonance, which would force us to do a deep inner work to change some of our ideas, perceptions or beliefs.
Indeed, psychologists conclude that "cognitive and motivational factors reinforce each other to produce the illusion of being less biased than others." That is, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are more rational and objective.
This self-deception also allows us to evaluate ourselves in a more favorable light which improves our self-esteem. In other words, we want to think well of ourselves, to avoid the hard work that change involves, so we deceive ourselves into thinking that others are deceiving ourselves.
An "I" that engulfs the different is condemned to immobility
The problem with not recognizing that we are victims of the blind spot bias is that we will end up living in a world that is further and further away from reality. Feeding our worldview only with our beliefs and through our perceptions, excludes everything that is different because we think it has no value.
In this way we will end up creating an ever smaller comfort zone in which we only allow access to what is comfortable for us or is in tune with our way of thinking. This exclusion mechanism prevents us from growing because it breaks all bridges with the different, which is exactly what we need to expand our horizons.
"The expulsion of the different and the hell of the equal set in motion a process of self-destruction [...] They trap us in an infinite cycle of the" I "and, in the end, lead us to a self-propaganda that indoctrinates us with our own notions, ”warned the philosopher Byung-Chul Han.
How to escape, or at least recognize, the blind spot bias?
Cognitive and motivational biases are an inevitable product of the way we see and understand the world around us. Accusing others of impartiality, while denying our impartiality, generates misunderstandings, distrust and escalates the conflict, so it is impossible to find a common point to reach an agreement.
We must start from the idea that we do not see things as they are, but as we are. This means that, as people, we are biased like others because we cannot get rid of our "I" by relating to the world. We must assume that many times our view of the facts is as partial as that of the blind in the story.
Accepting our partiality is difficult in a world that advocates impartiality and objectivity, without realizing that both concepts are an illusory product of rationalism. We are subjective beings and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as we have enough cognitive flexibility to enrich our world with the subjectivity of others. The meeting of two or more subjectivities is what brings us closer to objectivity.
To achieve this, it would not hurt a good dose of intellectual humility to realize that no one is better or worse, but we only have prejudices in different aspects of life. Adopting this attitude will allow us to grow as people, be more tolerant and, with a little luck, help make the world a better place or, at least, where differences have their place as an expression of authenticity and uniqueness.