This is the second post in a new series in which I’ll highlight some of my favorite Cognitive Biases. Last week we talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect. This week, lets tackle one that actually has some meat on it, the Authority Bias.
Authority bias is seeing the opinions of those in authority as more accurate and influential than the opinions of others. I’m very happy to report that this is one that I probably do not suffer from….as opposed to many others we’ll discuss in this series.
So why is this a thing? I believe we are all in some ways programmed to respect authority (even me). If our parents told us something, we believed it (looking at you Santa). At least until something challenged our beliefs in an irrefutable way (that’s right Easter Bunny). But, when it comes to those who are in positions of authority, sometimes we don’t have that luxury. We believe those in authority are there because they are credible. We believe that their authority has been bestowed upon them because of their knowledge and skills. And importantly, we believe that those in positions of authority are privy to information we are not.
If the Mayor of my fine town announced on the news that she was supporting a new initiative to help the homeless. And if she said the reason most people are homeless is because they don’t have the training to find jobs locally, I would believe her. I don’t know enough about local homelessness to have an informed decision, and I assume she does. If a friend of mine countered with, “I think that the real reason for homelessness here is because we don’t have enough jobs”. Who would I believe? Unless my friend was a specialist in this area, I would believe the Mayor. Because she must have all the right information otherwise, she wouldn’t be Mayor right? Maybe. Maybe not.
So how do we combat this one? I can’t just wander around thinking everyone is credible, or incredible because I don’t know enough about the topic to have my own opinion. I think the moral of this story is that we have to be just skeptical enough to move through our work and lives. And if something matters to us, or before we share it or adopt it as our own view, for the love of all that is holy, we need to do some research. We need to form our own opinions. We cannot become sheeple.
I am more than a bit cynical about authority. Jaded some might say. I have worked for those who have authority but not credibility. I have seen positions of authority given out for reasons that have nothing to do with competency. So without sounding like a paranoid nut, I’d like us all to question authority.
Also, lets stop giving authority to people who are asshats ok? That would help.