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Bias causes bias

Posted Feb 08 2011 12:29pm

By, Adam K. Fetterman
The New York Times  reviewed a talk given at the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference by Jonathan Haidt. As an attendee, I did not catch the talk, but Haidt had noted that there is an extreme liberal bias in social psychology . While some of his conclusions and evidence is questionable (which he would expect me to say as a liberal social psychologist), it does not seem like that far of a stretch. I can give many examples of conservative social psychologists, I can give far more of liberal ones. The causes and consequences of this bias are worth investigating. In fact, the consequences more inform the causes. One of the concerns of the field in regard to this bias, according to the NYT piece , is that reviewers and interviewers may be unfair to those that may be conservative leaning.

The reason that this possible consequence may inform the cause of the bias is because of research done by Vivian and Berkowitz (1993) concerning in-group and out-group bias. What they found was that if someone anticipated a biased evaluation from an out-group, they acted with increased in-group bias. Therefore, it may be that the reason there is a liberal bias is because the social psychologists anticipate a detrimental conservative bias from conservative psychologists. However, they also found that if the participants anticipated a fair evaluation, the participants showed a positive bias toward the out-group. Another possible way to see this is that the conservatives are anticipating a liberal bias from colleagues, reviewers and interviewers, which may cause a biased perception of the conservatives. According to the article , Haidt attributes this extreme bias to a “tribal-moral community”. This also seems plausible. While I approach the causes and assertions of this research/talk/article with great skepticism, it is definitely worth researching. Science, after all, should attempt to eliminate such biases to the greatest extent possible.

Social scientist sees bias within. by, John Tierney

Vivian, J. E., & Berkowitz, N. H. (1993). Anticipated outgroup evaluations and intergroup bias. European Journal of Social Psychology, 23, 513-524


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