Emily Pronin, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, says we fall victim to BSB even when we're shown incontrovertible evidence that it exists. “I spend a whole lecture describing blind-spot bias, and I give my students lots of examples of biases,” says Pronin – say, believing you're smarter than the average person, or more altruistic than others, or more socially desirable than average. A few days later, she says, a graduate student from another class asks the same students how much they show bias relative to others in the class. “And they still tend to say they're free from the bias,” Pronin says.
Pronin says people deny that they suffer from these issues because they occur subconsciously. “In order to determine whether they are biased,” she writes, “people generally look to their conscious motives rather than to their actions.” So when a bias occurs subconsciously, people don't notice it.
Pronin came up with a simple solution: She had students read an article, titled “Unaware of Our Unawareness,” that convincingly lays out the case that our subconscious can influence our attitudes and behavior. After reading the article, the people in one group didn't show the usual tendency to deny their biases. Those who skipped the article did.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” runs the popular refrain. It’s been used to explain how we can recognize everything from obscenity to true love. But how much can we trust what we see or, rather, what we think we see? For decades, cognitive psychologists have been discovering that there is more going on in our brains than we could ever be consciously aware of, even for a moment. The simple tasks of everyday life are so complex that they would overwhelm us if we had to supervise them all the time.