Tag Archives: Bias

Attractive Men May Appear More Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts have noted bias in favor of attractive people for hiring and venture funding decisions, as well as for positive impression formation by others.

As a result, less attractive yet capable individuals may face “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” according to Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

Their four studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.

Lee’s team drew on two theories to explain differential impact of attractiveness in employment and work task situation: Status generalization and interpersonal interdependence.

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

Status generalization describes how unrelated characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, become relevant to task performance when observers associate these characteristics with behavioral expectations for performance.
These associations often occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, and lead to group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

Separately, Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell demonstrated that status characteristics significantly affect face-to-face interactions.
The researchers made physical status characteristics salient in group tasks.
In this condition, participants with preferred characteristics were more likely to be rewarded with power and prestige, even when these physical status characteristics were irrelevant to the task.

Martha Foschi

Martha Foschi

As a result, people with relevant skills may be overlooked in favor of individuals with perceived high status characteristics.
More specifically, Lee’s team suspected that decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates based on  status generalization theory.

Harold Kelley

Harold Kelley

They suggested that people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships affect their attempts to maximize relational rewards and minimize accompanying costs, based on interdependence theory. Proposed by UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina, interdependence theory proposed that people who are interdependent in cooperative or competitive situations discriminate differently based on perceived attractiveness.

John Thibault

John Thibault

To evaluate this notion, Lee’s group assigned male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations  in which team members interviewed and provided hiring recommendations for job candidates.
In this situation, interviewers were in both cooperative and competitive situations with these candidates because they would be cooperating for shared team rewards yet competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Participants read a hiring scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as decision-makers and the person to be hired, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment.

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.
Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.

Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race, education and a manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes were affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggest that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.

-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?

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Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often evaluate others using facial profiling making inferences of personality attributes by visual observation, according to Georgetown University Hospital’s Michael J. Reilly, Jaclyn A. Tomsic and Steven P. Davison, collaborating with Stephen J. Fernandez of MedStar Health Research Institute.
This cognitive shortcut can lead to biased impressions and limited opportunities for those unfavorably judged.

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

The research team asked observers to rate women’s personality and character traits following plastic surgery procedures between 2009, and 2013 including:

  • Chin implant,
  • Eyebrow-lift,
  • Lower blepharoplasty (lower eye lift),
  • Upper blepharoplasty (upper eye lift),
  • Neck-lift,
  • Rhytidectomy (face-lift).

Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with their pre-surgery ratings.

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photosPreoperative and postoperative photographs of 30 women exhibiting “well-matched neutral facial expressions” were split into 6 groups, each with 5 preoperative and 5 postoperative photographs of different participants.

Steven Davison

Steven Davison

At least 24 raters, unaware that participants had plastic surgery procedures, evaluated each photograph on a 7-point scale for:

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Extroversion,
  • Likeability,
  • Risk-seeking,
  • Social skills,
  • Trustworthiness,
  • Attractiveness.

Reilly’s team noted that these surgical procedures provided cosmetic improvements to two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions: eyes and mouth.

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2They concluded that:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness which may explain why, in our patient population, patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had a trend toward improved trustworthiness as well.”

“The corner of the mouth is the diagnostic region for both happy and surprised expressions and plays an important role in the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.
“A subtle upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.
“This appearance may explain why patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.”

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

These results validate empirical findings that people make trait inferences based on facial appearance and structural resemblance to standard emotional expressions, described by University of San Francisco’s Paul Ekman.

Volunteers attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they detected a resemblance to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento in their study applying a Bayesian network classifier trained to detect emotional expressions in facial images.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces perceived as positive resemble typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resemble facial displays of disgust and fear.
Faces viewed as threatening resemble facial expressions of anger.

Trait inferences result from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems, which typically extract accurate information about a person’s emotional state.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

However, faces that bear subtle resemblance to emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.
These judgments can change for the better when a person’s appearance changes after plastic surgery.

-*To what extent do people’s personality traits seems different following plastic surgery?

-*How often are people treated differently following plastic surgery?

*What are ways to avoid confusing emotional expressions with personality traits?

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Reputation Affects Women’s Promotion, Earnings

Lily Fang

Lily Fang

Men gain greater reputation and job performance benefits from professional connections than women with equivalent education and job skills, according to INSEAD’s Lily Fang and Sterling Huang of Singapore Management University,

Sterling Huang

Sterling Huang

In fact, among the U.S. Wall Street analysts, many women had superior educational qualifications: Thirty-five percent these women earned degrees from Ivy League universities, in contrast to 25 percent of men from the same prestigious universities.

Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen

Fang and Huang examined analysts’ alumni connections with senior officers or board members of up to eight companies, using an approach pioneered by Harvard’s Lauren Cohen, and Christopher Malloy with Andrea Frazzini, of AQR Capital Management.

Christopher Malloy

Christopher Malloy

They considered analysts’:

  • Year-end earnings per share (EPS) forecasts,
  • Buy/sell stock recommendations from 1993 to 2009,
  • Price impact of their recommendations,
  • Selection to “All America Research Team” (AA) by Institutional Investor magazine during the same period.
Andrea Frazzini

Andrea Frazzini

The coveted AA recognition is based on the institutional investors’ subjective evaluation of each analyst’s industry knowledge, communication, responsiveness, written reports, and related skills.

Surprisingly, forecast accuracy is one of the least important selection criteria, so skillful analysts may be overlooked as an “All America” member if they are not visible and well-regarded by decision-makers.

Connections directly contributed to male analysts’ likelihood of being named to the  “All America Research Team” (AA).
In contrast, professional connections were unrelated to female analysts’ probability of selection as AA, suggesting that investors subjectively value connections among male analysts but not among female analysts.
These reputational decisions have significant financial consequences for analysts because those awarded the AA title earn around three times more than those without it.

About 25% of women and men analysts shared a school tie with a senior officer or board member in the firms they cover, but these connections improved men’s forecast accuracy significantly more than women’s estimate correctness.
These connections also improved the impact of male analysts’ stock recommendations, measured by market reaction to their buy and sell calls.

Female analysts with a connection to a female executive at firms they covered had a highly significant improvement in accuracy ranking, yet male analysts with male connection experienced almost twice as much accuracy improvement.

Herminia Ibarra

Herminia Ibarra

This significantly different impact of similar connections early in women’s and men’s careers could explain gender gaps that exist throughout long-term career trajectories.
This finding supports Herminia Ibarra’s similar results for men and women in an advertising firm, where men capitalized on network ties to improve their positions with employers.

Women capable of executive roles at these Wall Street firms may remain in analytical roles because promotion to General Manager roles depend on subjective evaluations by current decision makers, who are usually men.

The “Old Boys Club” remains a powerful advantage for men even though female analysts are equally represented in the AA analyst pool.
Fang and Huang concluded that despite mandated protections against gender discrimination in the U.S, men and women may be evaluated using different subjective criteria, even with the benefit of social connections.
This leads to differential career advancement for women and men.

Ronald Burt

Ronald Burt

These career-related social connections, or social capital, are affected by legitimacy, reputation, and network structures, argued University of Chicago’s Ronald Burt.
He noted that “holes” in a social network are entrepreneurial opportunities to add value, and women should have equal opportunities to fill network holes and increase their possibility of advancement.

However, Burt noted that “entrepreneurial networks linked to early promotion for senior men do not work for women” because women are not accepted as legitimate members of the population of highly promotable candidates.

He explained that women and minorities who succeed despite this disadvantage gain access to social capital by leveraging the network of a legitimate strategic partners.
This economic analysis may explain the powerful advantage of sponsors for women and minorities in the workplace.

-How do you identify and fill “structural holes in social capital networks”?

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Nothing to Lose: Effective Negotiating Even When “Powerless”

Michael Schaerer

Most negotiators prefer to have alternatives as a “fall back position.”
However, having no alternatives and less power than co-negotiators can improve outcomes, found INSEAD’s Michael Schaerer and Roderick Swaab with Adam Galinsky of Columbia.

Alternatives enable negotiators to gain concessions from co-negotiators because they have a BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, defined by Harvard’s Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher

When an alternative is weak, it can undermine negotiating outcomes more than having no alternative because it establishes an “anchor point” based on competing options.

Anchoring is a frequent cognitive bias characterized by overvaluing one piece of information, according to Hebrew University’s Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman of Princeton.

William Ury

William Ury

Typically, negotiators anchor on the value of their alternatives when making their first offer, so people with weak alternatives generally make lower first offers than those with no alternative.
“Lowball” first offers based on few or poor alternatives usually undermine a negotiator’s final outcome.

Professional athletes and their agents provide many anecdotal examples of negotiating better deals when they have no “back up” offers and “nothing to lose” because they can set ambitious anchor points.

Amos Tversky

Amos Tversky

In a separate study of job negotiation, Schaerer and team asked a hundred people whether they would prefer to negotiate a job offer with a weak alternative or without any alternative.
More than 90 percent indicated that they would prefer to enter the negotiation with an unattractive alternative offer, confirming the popular assumption that any alternative is seen as better than no alternative.

Another of Schaerer’s lab studies asked volunteers to imagine they were selling a used music CD by The Rolling Stones.
They randomly assigned participants to three groups and gave each group different information about their alternatives, ranging from:

  • No offers (no alternative),
  • One offer at USD $2 (weak alternative),
  • A bid at USD $8 (strong alternative).
Roderick Swaab

Roderick Swaab

Volunteers in each group proposed a first offer, and rated the degree of power they felt.
Not surprisingly, people with the strong alternative felt the most powerful and those with no alternative felt the least powerful.

However, people with a weak alternative felt more powerful than those with no alternative, but they made lower first offers, signaling less confidence than participants with no alternative.
Having alternatives, whether poor or attractive, may make people feel powerful but can undermine negotiation performance.

Schaerer’s team further explored this paradox by pairing participants as a  “seller” who was offering a Starbucks mug during a face-to-face meeting, and a potential “buyer.”

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Before the meeting, the seller received a phone call from “another buyer,” who was actually a confederate.
For half of the “sellers,” the potential buyer either made a low offer or declined to bid.

“Sellers” without an alternative offer said they felt less powerful, but made higher first offers and received considerably higher sales prices than negotiators with a an unattractive alternative.

In another situation, half of the “sellers” concentrated on available alternatives (none, weak, or strong) and the remaining negotiators focused on the target price.

Volunteers with unappealing alternatives negotiated worse deals than those without other options when they focused on alternatives, but “sellers” avoided this pitfall by concentrating on the target price.
This is another validation of focusing on the goal when alternatives are weak, and of the power of first-offer anchors.

Negotiators with non-existent or unappealing alternatives benefit from caution in setting modest first offers driven by feeling powerless.
Instead, the situation can be reconstrued as an opportunity to set audacious goals, reflected in an ambitious opening offer.

  • How do you overcome lowball anchoring when you have few negotiation alternatives?

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“Precise” Offers Provide Negotiation Advantage

Malia F Mason

Malia F Mason

Opening negotiation offers typically “anchor” the discussion and shape settlement values.
Many people make opening offers in “round” numbers like $10 instead of “precise” numbers like $9.
However, “round number offers” were less powerful than “precise” offers in negotiations, found Columbia’s Malia Mason, Alice J. Lee, Elizabeth A. Wiley, and Daniel Ames.
This finding suggests that negotiators can improve their outcomes by specifying offers more precisely, such as $103.

Y Charles Zhang

Y Charles Zhang

Precise first offers more potently anchored the negotiation range than round number proposals, perhaps because those who proposed precise offers were perceived as more confident, credible, and “well-informed” regarding actual value.

Norbert Schwartz

Norbert Schwartz

This finding complements observations by University of Michigan’s Y. Charles Zhang and Norbert Schwarz of University of Southern California that consumers have less confidence in precise estimates when they doubt the communicator and when they engage in less “cooperative conversational conduct norms” during negotiations.

H Paul Grice

H Paul Grice

These norms, defined by Berkeley’s H. Paul Grice in Grice’s maxims, which advocate communicating:

  • Briefly,
  • Clearly,
  • Relevantly,
  • Truthfully,
  • Offering only as much and content as required.

Despite the apparent advantages of more precise offers, these could signal “inflexibility” to some co-negotiators.
As a result, people who received precise offers generally made more conciliatory counter-offers, leading to smaller adjustments and more favorable final settlements.
Precise offers also led to better final deals even when the negotiator opened with a less ambitious, but precise offer.

Martin Schweinsberg

Martin Schweinsberg

Another benefit of precise offers is that they are less likely to offend a co-negotiator by signaling aggression or greed, according to INSEAD’s Martin Schweinsberg collaborating with Gillian Ku and Madan M. Pillutla of London Business School’s and Cynthia S. Wang of Oklahoma State University.
Ambitious first offers may lead a negotiation partner to walk away from the discussion, resulting in an impasse or stalled progress toward a final settlement.

Gillian Ku

Gillian Ku

In addition, negotiators who see themselves in a lower-power position are more likely to walk away, even though both low-power and high-power negotiators were equally offended by extreme offers.
Though an extreme offer may result in high rewards, it can be a more risky strategy than offering a more moderate precise offer.

Manoj Thomas

Manoj Thomas

Another advantage of more precise offers is that buyers may not recognize their actual magnitude:  Buyers underestimated the size of precise prices, particularly under uncertain conditions in studies by Cornell’s Manoj Thomas and Vrinda Kadiyali with Daniel H. Simon of Indiana University.

In fact, U.S. homeowner participants in their lab said they would pay a higher price quoted in precise numbers than when stated in round number in the team’s analysis of actual residential real estate transactions in two U.S. markets.
In fact, buyers actually paid more when list prices were precise in experiments by Thomas and team.

Vrinda Kadiyali

Vrinda Kadiyali

Precise offers provide some of the benefits of favorably anchoring negotiation discussions while reducing risks of extreme offers.

-*How effective have you found “precise” opening offers in achieving your negotiation goals?

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Ethnic Diversity Reduces “Groupthink,” Economic “Bubbles”

Despite progress in raising awareness about implicit bias and stereotypes, most people are less likely to trust recommendations and evaluations from people of different ethnic groups.

Sheen Levine

Sheen Levine

However, this bias may reduce the “herd mentality” that characterized recent price “bubbles” in U.S. housing and global financial markets, reported Columbia’s Sheen S. Levine, Evan P. Apfelbaum of MIT, Goethe University’s Mark Bernard, Texas A&M’s Valerie L. Bartelt, Edward J. Zajac of Northwestern, and University of Warwick’s David Stark.
They concluded that, “Diversity facilitates friction that enhances deliberation and upends conformity.”

Economic “bubbles” occur when the majority of traders, probably influenced by a type of “groupthink,” set inaccurate prices, leading to a mismatch between market prices and true asset values.

Irving Janis

Irving Janis

Groupthink can occur when three conditions interact, according to Yale’s Irving Janis:

  • Group Cohesiveness
    • Deindividuation,” when group cohesiveness becomes more important than individual dissenting views,
  • Group Structure
  • Context
    • Stressful external threats,
    • Recent failures,
    • Decision-making difficulties,
    • Moral dilemmas.
Scott E. Page

Scott E. Page

A mathematical model, developed by University of Michigan’s Scott E. Page and Lu Hong of Loyola University, demonstrated that a wider range of viewpoints leads to less groupthink and more balanced decisions.

Diverse groups ran into fewer “dead ends” in developing solutions than homogenous groups full of smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.

David A. Thomas

David A. Thomas

Likewise, additional experimental evidence by Georgetown’s David A Thomas and Robin J. Ely of Harvard confirmed that identity-diverse groups can outperform homogeneous groups.
Group errors depended on group member ability and member diversity, expressed in the formula:

Collective Accuracy = Average Accuracy + Diversity.

To test the impact of group diversity on market “bubbles,” Levine’s group constructed experimental markets in Singapore and Texas, USA, in which participants traded stocks to earn money.

Evan Apfelbaum

Evan Apfelbaum

More than 175 volunteers with backgrounds in business or finance were randomly-assigned to groups of six ethnically-homogeneous or ethnically- diverse participants.

Traders knew the ethnic composition of their groups, but they couldn’t communicate with each other.
In addition, their “trades” of dividend-paying stock during 10 rounds were anonymous.

Homogeneous groups set inflated selling prices, yet traders in those groups still bought the stock, resulting in increasing stock prices.

Mark Bernard

Mark Bernard

In contrast, traders in diverse groups refused inflated selling prices, so the stock price fell to approximately the price in an “ideal” market with “rational” traders.

When traders and other decision-makers come from similar ethnic, social, and attitudinal backgrounds, they tend to place undue confidence in others’ opinions and decisions, and tend not to subject them to rigorous analysis and scrutiny.

Valerie Bartelt

Valerie Bartelt

As a result, they may be more likely to accept prices and deals that deviate from actual underlying values.
Levine’s group concluded that “homogeneity…imbues people with false confidence in the judgment of coethnics, discouraging them from scrutinizing behavior.”

  • How do you mitigate “groupthink” in organizational decision-making?

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Comparative Rankings May Reduce Gender Bias in Career Advancement

Iris Bohnet

Iris Bohnet

An “evaluation nudge” is a decision framing aid that may reduce biased judgments in hiring, promotion, and job assignments, according to Harvard’s Iris Bohnet, Alexandra van Geen, and Max H. Bazerman.

Alexandra van Geen

Alexandra van Geen

Based on their research, they recommended that organizations evaluate multiple employees  simultaneously rather than each person independently.
This approach contrasts widespread practices like “Stack Ranking” (“Rank and Yank”), advocated by GE’s Jack Welch and critiqued in a previous blog post .

This approach is frequently used for hiring decisions, but less frequently when considering employee candidates for developmental job assignments and promotions.

Max Bazerman

Max Bazerman

Bazerman and Sally B. White, then of Northwestern with George F. Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon, provided the original demonstration of preference reversals between joint and separate evaluation.

George F. Loewenstein

George F. Loewenstein

Lack of comparison information in separate evaluation typically leads people to rely on internal referents as decision norms, though these may be biased or stereotyped preferences, according to Princeton’s Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Dale T. Miller of Stanford.

Dale T. Miller

Dale T. Miller

Additionally, lack of comparative referents can lead evaluators to rely on easily calibrated attributes, found University of Chicago’s Christopher K. Hsee.
Both of these shortcuts can lead to biased decisions, which may systematically exclude members of under-represented groups.

Christopher K. Hsee

Christopher K. Hsee

Still another problem is the “want/should” battle of emotions and preferences, outlined by Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame, with Duke’s Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni itheir provocatively titled article, “Negotiating with Yourself and Losing.”

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

Ann E. Tenbrunsel

They argue that the want self” tends to dominate when deciding on a single option because there’s less information and less need to justify the decision.
In contrast, the more analytic “should self” is activated by the need to explain decision rationales.

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Kimberly Wade-Benzoni

Bohnet’s team asked more than 175 volunteer “employees” to perform a math task or a verbal task, then 554 “employer” evaluators (44% male, 56% female) received information on “employees’” past performance, gender, and the average past performance for all “employees.”

“Employers” were paid based on their “employees’’” performance in future tasks, similar to managerial incentives in many organizations.
Consequently, “employers” were rewarded for selecting people they considered effective performers.
Based on information about “employee” performance, evaluators decided to:

  • “Hire” the “employees,” or
  • Recommend them to perform the task in future, or
  • Return to “employees” to the pool for random assignment to an employer.
Keith E. Stanovich

Keith E. Stanovich

The Harvard team found that “employers” who evaluated “employees” in relation to each other’s performance were more likely to select employees based on past performance, rather than relying on irrelevant criteria like gender.

Richard F. West

Richard F. West

In contrast, more than 50% of “employers” evaluated each candidate separately without reference to other “employees,” selected under-performing people for advancement.
Only 8% of employers selected under-performers when comparing “employees” to each other, and multiple raters for multiple candidates also tended to select the higher performing “employees.”

Team Bohnet suggested that people have two distinct and situation-specific modes of thinking, “System 1” and “System 2,” illustrated by University of Toronto’s Keith E. Stanovich and Richard F. West of James Mason University.

Keith Stanovich-Richard West System 1- System 2 ThinkingThese varied cognitive patterns can lead evaluators to select incorrect decision norms, leading to biased outcomes.

As a result, decision tools like the “evaluative nudge” decision-framing can reduce bias in hiring and promotion decisions, leading to a more equitable workplace opportunity across demographic groups.

-*What other evaluation procedures can reduce unconscious bias in performance appraisal and career advancement selection processes?

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