Science

Dan Gilbert on the Myth of Objectivity

Dan_gilbertAt TED2004, Harvard Psychology Professor Dan Gilbert demonstrated how poor we humans are at predicting what will make us happy. Then, at TEDGlobal, he explained why we’re so likely to miscalculate odds, act against our best interest, and generally fool ourselves. Forever drawn to the failings of our own brains, we’ll read (and recommend) just about anything Gilbert writes. His essay “I’m OK, You’re Biased,” which ran in Sunday’s New York Times, is no exception. Entertaining, illuminating, and definitely worth the read …

In it, Gilbert brings cognitive science to the public realm, making a persuasive case that objectivity is near-impossible when a person has something at stake. Where there’s an appearance of bias, there is bias, he argues. Politicians legislate in favor of lobbyists; doctors prescribe drugs from pharmaceutical companies that offer perks; judges favor defendants to whom they have ties. Not because they’re corrupt, but because we all subconsciously make the choices we want to make. “The human brain knows many tricks that allow it to consider evidence, weigh facts and still reach precisely the conclusion it favors,” he writes. On the flip side, people usually aren’t as biased as they appear; after all, everyone thinks they’re objective. “Doctors, judges, consultants and vice presidents strive for truth more often than we realize, and miss that mark more often than they realize.”

Think this is true for everyone but you? Of course you do …