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Evaluation Biases that Impact Decision-Making


Gender Schemas Implicit, unconscious, socialized ideas about what roles and behaviors are appropriate for a given person based on their gender (or minority status). Gender schemas may produce overvaluation of men and undervaluation of women (or underrepresented groups). As a result of numerous small overvaluations, men accrue advantages quickly. On the flip side, as a result of several seemingly insignificant undervaluations, women (or underrepresented groups) and are unfairly penalized. For example, Martell, Lane, and Emrich’s (1996) model of gender disparities in performance evaluations assumed a tiny bias in favor of men, which initially accounted for only 1% of variance in promotion. After many iterations, the model produced top level ranks in institutions which were 65% male.


Stereotype Threat An external threat to an interviewee’s performance if s/he is confronted with the possibility of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype. Seemingly innocuous stimuli, such as asking a candidate’s gender or race on a questionnaire, can unconsciously trigger this threat to performance. Paradoxically, the most achievement-oriented individuals, who are also the most skilled, motivated, and confident, are also the most impaired by this external threat, perhaps because they care so much about their performance that their actions are disrupted by the prospect of being perceived as conforming to negative stereotypes. For example, Davis and Silver (2003) found that the race of the interviewer affected the accuracy of African-American students’ responses to questions about political knowledge; they got more answers right when interviewed by an African-American than by a White interviewer.


Confirmation Bias This refers to a type of selective thinking whereby we tend to notice, look for, and give more weight to information that confirms what we already believe and ignore disconfirming evidence. This myopic attention to selective information is particularly pernicious when our beliefs are founded in unsupported prejudices.
Interestingly, this bias affects not only what we pay attention to in the present moment, but also the information we retrieve from memory at a later time. For example, if Davis and Silver (2003), in the above example had believed in the stereotyped cognitive underperformance of African-American students and compared them to White students while using White interviewers across both samples, they would have likely found evidence to confirm their stereotyped beliefs. However, they engaged in disconfirming thinking and designed a study that demonstrated the role of interviewer’s race in performance.
Fundamental Attribution Error When trying to understand and explain what happens in social situations, we tend to view behavior as especially significant. We have a tendency to explain other people’s behavior in terms of internal dispositions, such as personality traits, abilities, motives, etc. as opposed to using external situational factors. For example, if during an interview a candidate seems to fumble, we tend to attribute their blunder to personal characteristics, thereby committing the fundamental attribution error. Interestingly, if we had made the same mistake, we would have used situational attributions — such as “the highpressure atmosphere during the interview” to explain our behavior. This error, though common, prevents a balanced assessment of the situation where factors like gender schemas, stereotype threat, and confirmation bias may have played a bigger role in determining a candidate’s behavior than her or his personal characteristics.


Bias Avoidance Avoiding certain behaviors for fear of negative evaluations or other consequences. For example, in order to avoid discriminatory evaluations, interviewees may avoid asking important questions or presenting information, such as questions about family leave policies, etc. Or, new hires may avoid taking leave to care for a family member in order to avoid being thought of as uncommitted to their work.


Self-fulfilling Prophecy The phenomenon of causing something to happen merely by believing it will occur, regardless of whether the actor or the spectator holds the belief. This may sabotage an interviewee’s performance who may be unsure about her / his ability to perform well in a non-traditional area. A classic experiment in 1968 (Rosenthal & Jacobson) demonstrated that merely by leading teachers to believe that certain (average performing) students were brighter than the rest of class, those students’ performance on achievement tests could be substantially enhanced.


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