Anchoring Bias and Rudeness: Getting Trapped

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Anchoring Bias and Rudeness: Getting Trapped


Jim Windell

           Among the many cognitive biases is anchoring bias.
           The anchoring bias is the tendency to get fixated on one piece of information when making a decision – even if that piece of information is irrelevant.
           For example, if a child is brought to a psychologist with the complaint that the youngster is hyperactive and inattentive, it may be difficult for the clinician to come up with a diagnosis outside of ADHD. In other words, when people are trying to make a decision, they often use an anchor or focal point as a reference or starting point. Researchers have found that people have a tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information they learn – which can have a serious impact on the decision they end up making.
           In a 1974 paper, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman said that people tend to make estimates by starting from an initial value that is adjusted to yield the final answer. “The initial value, or starting point,” they explained, “may be suggested by the formulation of the problem, or it may be the result of a partial computation. In either case, adjustments are typically insufficient. That is, different starting points yield different estimates, which are biased toward the initial values.”
           In a new study, researchers at the University of Maryland suggest that if you experience rudeness that that experience will amplify the anchoring bias and influence future decisions.
           Because anchoring can happen in many scenarios, management professor Trevor Foulk at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and his co-authors wanted to study more about anchoring bias and what factors exacerbate or mitigate it. They have been studying rudeness in the workplace for years and knew from previous studies that when people experience rudeness, it takes up a lot of their psychological resources and narrows their mindset. Foulk and his associates suspected this might play a role in the anchoring effect.
           To test this theory, the researchers ran a medical simulation with anesthesiology residents. The residents had to diagnose and treat the patient, but right before the simulation started the participants were given a suggestion – that was purposefully incorrect – about the patient's condition. This suggestion served as the anchor, but then throughout the exercise, the simulator provided feedback that the ailment was not the suggested diagnosis, but instead something else. In some instances, before the simulation started, the researchers had one doctor enter the room and act rudely toward another doctor in front of the residents.
           “What we find is that when they experienced rudeness prior to the simulation starting, they kept on treating the wrong thing, even in the presence of consistent information that it was actually something else,” says Foulk. “They kept treating the anchor, even though they had plenty of reason to understand that the anchor diagnosis was not what the patient was suffering from.”
           This effect was replicated across a variety of other tasks, including negotiations as well as general knowledge tasks. However, the results were consistent -- experiencing rudeness makes it more likely that a person will get anchored to the first suggestion they hear.
           Foulk and his co-authors found that both witnessing and directly experiencing rudeness seemed to have the same effect. “Basically, what we're observing is a narrowing effect,” says Foulk. “Rudeness narrows your perspective, and that narrowed perspective makes anchoring more likely.”
           The researchers also explored ways to counteract the phenomenon. Since they found that rudeness makes you more likely to anchor because it narrows your perspective, the researchers explored two tasks that have been shown to expand your perspective – perspective-taking and information elaboration.
It has been found that perspective-taking helps you expand your perspective by seeing the world from another person's point of view. Similarly, information elaboration helps you see the situation from a wider perspective by thinking about it more broadly. Across their studies, the researchers found that both behaviors could counteract the effect of rudeness on anchoring.
           While these interventions can help make rudeness less likely to anchor people, Foulk says there may be a better remedy for the rudeness problem.
           "In important domains, where people are making critical decisions, we really need to rethink the way we treat people," Foulk says. That is, we should stop rude behavior and be less tolerant of it when does occur.
           To read the original journal article, find it with this reference:
Binyamin Cooper, Christopher R. Giordano, Amir Erez, Trevor A. Foulk, Heather Reed, Kent B. Berg. (2021). Trapped by a first hypothesis: How rudeness leads to anchoring.. Journal of Applied Psychology; DOI: 10.1037/apl0000914
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