How 'Unconscious Bias' Can Trick Your Brain Into Trusting People (Even if You Shouldn't)

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There might be some truth to the old “fake it 'til you make it” adage after all. Research shows that “proxies of expertise”—the traits we typically associate with experience, like confidence—can trick our brains into believing someone knows their stuff, even if they don’t.

This is a form of unconscious bias, and although these “mental leaps” help our brains sift through a great deal of information and make decisions more quickly, they can also lead to impaired judgment, as The New York Times points out.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Utah, oftentimes when we’re trying to decide whose judgment to trust, how people talk or present themselves has greater sway over our opinion than their actual knowledge or qualifications. Traits like confidence and extroversion can easily be mistaken for expertise.

“We’d hope that facts would be the currency of influence," Bryan L. Bonner, the lead author of the study, told The Wall Street Journal. "But often, we guess at who’s the expert—and we’re wrong.”

Another study found that a person’s actual influence is often overlooked for “airtime”—the amount of time they spend speaking, as Strategy+Business reports. In a similar vein, the status-enhancement theory posits that influence can be gained by acting dominant and confident.

Unconscious biases can lead to snap decisions based on cultural context and personal experiences, even though we're oblivious to the rationale behind them. For example, a school hiring an English teacher might scrap someone’s application because their name sounds foreign, even if they don't realize they're doing so.

There are many different forms of unconscious bias, and while some kinds can lead to harsh judgment even when it’s unwarranted, other forms can have the opposite effect. One such form, called the Halo Effect, is when we let someone’s positive attributes cloud our judgment to such a degree that we overlook their flaws. Say, for example, you admire someone who just won a prestigious award, but you overlook poor decisions they made in other areas of their life. The opposite of this is the Horns Effect—when we only see their faults.

Although these unconscious biases are difficult to overcome, being aware of them helps prevent them from having undue influence over your decision-making.

[h/t The New York Times]

Why Is Pee Yellow?

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Your body is kind of like a house. You bring things into your body by eating, drinking, and breathing. But just like the things we bring home to real houses, we don’t need every part of what we take in. So there are leftovers, or garbage. And if you let garbage sit around in your house or your body for too long, it gets gross and can make you sick. Your body takes out the garbage by peeing and pooping. These two things are part of your body’s excretory system (ECKS-krih-tore-eee SISS-tem), which is just a fancy way of saying “trash removal.” If your body is healthy, when you look in the toilet you should see brown poop and yellow pee.

Clear, light yellow pee is a sign that your excretory system and the rest of your body are working right. If your pee, or urine (YER-inn), is not see-through, that might mean you are sick. Dark yellow urine usually means that you aren’t drinking enough water. On the other hand, really pale or colorless pee can mean you might be drinking too much water! 

Your blood is filtered through two small organs called kidneys (KID-knees). Remember the garbage we talked about earlier? The chemicals called toxins (TOCK-sins) are like garbage in your blood. Your kidneys act like a net, catching the toxins and other leftovers and turning them into pee.

One part of your blood is called hemoglobin (HEE-moh-gloh-bin). This is what makes your blood red. Hemoglobin goes through a lot of changes as it passes through your body. When it reaches your kidneys, it turns yellow thanks to a chemical called urobilin (yer-ah-BY-lin). Urobilin is kind of like food coloring. The more water you add, the lighter it will be. That's why, if you see dark yellow pee in the toilet, it's time to ask your mom or dad for a cup of water. 

To learn more about pee, check out this article from Kids Health. 

Why Don’t We Fall Off the Earth?

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asksHave a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Do you know the saying “what goes up, must come down”? There’s a lot of truth to that. No matter how hard you hit that baseball or how high you get on the swings, you’re not going to make it into space (without a spaceship, of course). This is because of something called gravity (GRAV-it-ee). Gravity is the force that keeps you (and all your toys) from floating into space. 

The Earth’s gravity is a force that works kind of like a magnet. When you jump in the air, you come back down because gravity is pulling you towards the center of the Earth. Gravity does a lot more than just keep your feet on the ground. The strong pull of planets has created whole solar systems and galaxies. The Earth's gravity pulls in the Moon, which orbits (or circles) around it. Objects that orbit planets are called satellites (SAT-uh-lights). Some other planets have one or more moons of their own. The largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter, has 63 known moons! The Sun also has a gravitational (grav-uh-TAY-shun-ull) pull. It pulls all the planets in our solar system around it. Just like the Moon circles the Earth, the Earth circles the Sun.   

This force is something that all objects have—even you! The reason you don’t have tiny objects stuck to you is because you’re not big enough to have a strong enough pull. Even really big things like whales aren’t large enough to have a gravitational pull. Only really, really big things like stars, planets, and moons have it. 

The Moon is big enough to have its own pull. Its gravity tugs on the Earth's oceans. That's why we have ocean tides. But the Moon's gravity isn't as strong as the Earth’s. That’s why the astronauts who visited the Moon were able to jump really high. If those same astronauts went to a bigger planet, like Jupiter, the gravity would be a lot stronger. There, they would feel much heavier, and they wouldn't be able to jump much at all. People in spaceships are not near anything with a big gravitational force, so they can float in the air inside the spaceship. 

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