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S1 EP43 | The Science of Bias With Lindsey Tepfer

Show Notes:

Focus Discussion of the Week:

Your brain helps you navigate the world, assess situations, and judge interactions — so does that mean your brain also causes you to have biased opinions about other people? Challenge your thought process today as Lindsey Tepfer, a research associate from Temple University, joins us to discuss the “The Science of Bias” in our everyday lives.


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Two thought leaders come together to explore all things sales and marketing from their unique perspectives. Each week, Mollie Elkman, Matt Riley, and others from Group Two dive into a focus discussion to talk about the latest trends, changes, and best practices.

[00:00:00] When you’re interacting with any given situation, it’s really useful to sort of just think as a general scientist question yourself, question, the information you have in front of you, question your thoughts. often when we’re coming up with a hypothesis, we might say, okay, my hypothesis is that, you know, when I drop this ball, it’ll fall to the ground.

Right? But it’s not, it’s kinda not where it ends. We also have to think of alternative hypotheses. We have to think about, well, what is the situation that I could be wrong? and how many ways can I be wrong?

Hi, and welcome to [00:01:00] building perspective with Matt Riley and Mollie Elkman. We’re here to bring value to you and your team by exploring all things, sales and marketing related all from different perspectives. And today our focus discussion of the week is. The science of bias, and we have a very special guest with us.

We have Lindsey T for, with us, and, Lindsay has more, more titles, more recognition, more, more smarts than I could ever imagine. And, Mollie, why don’t you actually kind of. Read off Lindsay’s bio cause like I can’t even handle it. Yeah. So when I, when Lindsay and I were talking earlier, I said, I’m not smart enough to talk to you.

So, Lindsay is a research associate in the neuroeconomics lab at temple university. She also happens to be married to someone on the group, two team who, we love and, YouTube, our family, [00:02:00] and, You know, when everything started happening, I wanted to talk to you because as I told you, I am one of your biggest fans that you didn’t know you have.

So welcome. Thank you. Thanks guys for having me. So, you know, I know for me, I am taking a moment to try to. Learn a little bit, and you are obviously someone I can learn a lot from, and that we all can learn a lot from, tell us a little bit just about, you know, Neuroeconomics in general, what you study, what your passion is just to kind of frame the context of our conversation.

Sure. Yeah. So currently as a research associate, I work on lots of questions pertaining to a decision making and my interest in particular, happens to be around social decision making. So. social, decision-making considers our intergroup, [00:03:00] interactions. It considers the functions that, we use when we’re thinking about the minds of other people, thinking about the actions of other people.

And so. It’s the, conjunction of those two worlds that I’m really interested in. because, if you’ve already known this, our decisions are not the same when we’re by yourself versus when we’re in front of other people. And so some of the work that we do, we’ll try to understand more. how does the brain process, social stimuli, when it’s making decisions, and how, differences between different groups of people, you know, for example, that could be people with depression.

that’s a study that I’ve worked on very recently. It could be when we’re thinking about social norms. So it’s a really, really broad space, that we work on. And a lot of the, models that we work with are economic models. So that’s where the, neuro econ. element comes into play and, economics is very helpful because it helps us [00:04:00] use models and tools, for the, the decision making aspect.

So how do people decide between two options, in these given scenarios, what will people tend to do and so on? So it’s a really big step. Space that we can go in a lot of different directions, which is, clearly very exciting because it gives you a lot of different avenues to explore. So for me, my biggest interest is that a theme that I hinted to a little bit is, thinking about the minds of other people.

So that’s a term called. Theory of mind. it’s also referred to as mentally rising. So there are some of the social interactions that we do. We’re often thinking about other people’s minds. we have a network of brain regions that tends to be associated with this function and, It’s this function that we can kind of understand.

Well, what happens when people aren’t considering the minds of other people? And of course, I’m sure you guys can think of a lot of [00:05:00] situations where people might not be thinking about other people’s minds. So you were taught, you talked, you said for a second, something about, how the brain processes, social stimuli.

And, can you explain that a little bit more? Can you talk a little bit more just like about the brain and what that means to people who are not studying neuroeconomics. Yeah. So when we say social stimuli, it’s actually, yeah, I’m glad you asked because it it’s really a loaded term, so that could be.

Facial stimuli. So, a lot of the time when we’re saying stimuli, I’m, I’m sort of referring to experiments inside of the lab. So we’ll bring the participants in. they’ll usually be sitting down in front of a computer. we’ve designed some sort of experimental paradigm where we’re trying to isolate a very specific hypothesis.

so for example, one hypothesis can be, If people are looking at certain shapes, moving, will they see some kind of social meaning of that, right? Even if it’s just shapes. [00:06:00] so shapes can be interacting. Shapes can be a stimuli that could be like a, what we consider a mental wising stimuli. It could be different kinds of faces, so you can have different.

genders, you can have different races. You can also have people interacting live in the scanner. That’s something called in, in the FMRI scanner. So that’s something called hyper scanning where two people are literally in FMRI scanners and we’re watching their brain activity at the same time while they’re communicating.

So, the social stimuli, can really refer to any one of those sort of social interactions or socially meaningful information. So, where does bias fit in to that conversation? Is that, is that something that everyone is pre, you know, everyone has bias? Is that something that’s learned? I mean, what, what does that look like from an academic standpoint?

I think that bias is, a very challenging topic because you’re [00:07:00] talking about this in group out group dynamic. And so it’s very relative to the point of which group that you might be in. So. Bias can be in a given situation, the likelihood for seeing the brain, for example, a certain brain region to activate more towards faces that are within your group.

So say if you are, a white person looking at a white face, that would be an ingroup, stimuli. And now imagine that you saw, you saw the brain activity from that interaction. And compared it directly to say a white person looking at a black face, that would be an example of an out-group interactions.

So by categorizing race, you can have an in and out group, but in and out group again, this is where it can get challenging and it can get a little bit hairy. Doesn’t exclusively refer to rice. We obviously have a [00:08:00] lot of different groups that we belong to. We, you know, you belong to group too. I belong to temple university.

And so right then and there, we can have an ingroup outgroup bias says, you know, I am an academic and you are a marketer. And so we can start thinking. And detangling the things that we say from each other differently. but to the question is, is everybody kind of born biased? everybody, the neural function of categorization is, is, fundamental.

It is useful, to categorize the world so that we can navigate it easily. If we weren’t categorizing, the world would be pretty overwhelming. but I think the problem is when we’re not realizing. Our categorizations and how they might be contributing to harm. So for example, if you’re constantly categorizing certain races of people, certain genders of [00:09:00] people, along stereotypes.

So that’s kind of where the conversation of bias and kind of ingroup outgroup can, you know, take a different flavor depending on the context that you’re using it in. I think that, like, what you just said is exactly why I wanted to talk to you because I think that, that part of the conversation is I know for me, I want to learn and grow.

And I think just knowing that, that, that. We categorize people and things, and we create these groups and that might be contributing to harm and, and being aware of it. yeah, go ahead. Now. I like that. I have so many different questions based on that, based on that statement and who knows if any of them make it to air and if this part even makes it to air that’s okay.

But so. How, like from a, from an understanding of the brain of your own brain and how you make decisions. If I, if I innately [00:10:00] have a bias, at my core, from an in out group, how do I. Say, how do I recognize that a, that is a fact that that can happen, or I do have that, that innate bias and, and be like, how do I consciously.

Address that and, and an attempt not to, you really went for the hard one. Yeah. I mean, Lindsey, I mean, come on, you got this in the bag, right? That’s the, all of the answers to the world, please. so I think that. In, in some ways, thinking about the brain is useful. it is nice to know that okay. The, that, it is useful for the brain, right.

To categorize. It helps us navigate the world. It helps us know what’s dangerous. It helps us know what safe it helps us know. Every time we have an interaction with someone. That, Hey, every time I [00:11:00] talk to this person, they don’t seem to be very friendly or they don’t really seem to like me. So then all right, from here on out, I won’t do that.

Right. So I think that can be very useful, but I, I think in some ways it’s, it’s best to consider, in independently of the brain too. So when you’re interacting with any given situation, It’s really useful to sort of just think as a general scientist question yourself, question, the information you have in front of you, question your thoughts.

often when we’re coming up with a hypothesis, we might say, okay, my hypothesis is that, you know, when I drop this ball, it’ll fall to the ground. Right? But it’s not, it’s kind of not where it ends. We also have to think of alternative hypothesis. We have to think about, well, what is the situation that I could be wrong?

and how many ways can I be wrong? So when you’re interacting with different people or say, you’re [00:12:00] finding yourself categorizing, or you find yourself just, engaging with some sort of truth or, or semblance of a truth, it’s worth just asking yourself, why do I think this. And what would be a way that I could disprove myself.

And to be honest, Matt, there’s an extremely difficult thing without even being aware of basic cognitive fallacies. So, I think that one way that has helped me because it being a scientist does not mean that you’re some objective robotic creature science is human. It is a human endeavor and.

Scientists very often bring in their own biases into their work. And so it drives our hypotheses. It drives how we ask questions. So just for me, knowing about some of the popular cognitive biases. So for example, one huge one, and I’m sure a lot of people have heard about this before. confirmation bias, That is when you have a specific [00:13:00] view of the world and every piece of information, that new piece of information that you encounter it either agrees with or disagrees with something you already believe.

And so there’s this tendency to discredit something that. Disagrees with what you believe. So it can be like the echo chamber of social media, right? Yes. It can be, Oh, that person agrees with me. it must be right because that’s what I believe anyway. So it’s, it’s just knowing that. So for me when I’m interacting with something online and of course we’ve all gotten much better at this just by being online.

But when I see a post online and it seems to agree with what I’m saying, I usually try to click on it and be like, is this the truth? And where else can I find maybe something that disagrees with it and how many other things can I see that agrees with it? And, Is there some sort of point where there’s a discrepancy, is there sort of a gap and [00:14:00] that’s really what we’re trained to do as scientists, we’re trained to evaluate information and find gaps of information that, that kind of doesn’t exist.

And that’s where we pursue kind of evidence in that space. But I think people in general can think that way. And I think that would be really helpful. One of my favorite cognitive biases, I just, I just think it’s a very funny one. so it’s hilarious to me when I catch myself doing it. It is the sunk cost bias.

Are you too familiar with that one? I love it. Yeah, you do? Yep. Okay. So that one is one of my, I don’t know why. I just think it’s very funny. It’s the, for those who don’t know, it’s the bias of when you spend a lot of time say nurturing a relationship, sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a waiter to bring your food.

And it goes on for so long and you’ve gotten nothing in return. So. That’s kind of one really good example of just knowing about bias, can help you make better decisions. So if you’re sitting there in line or waiting on [00:15:00] the phone, because you’re trying to call the bank and it’s been an hour, you can kind of think, well, am I wasting more time and yielding no benefit to myself by falling into the sunk cost bias.

and if that’s the case, should I just hang up? So little things like that, I think can be very powerful. Just questioning your own thinking constantly. Yeah. The only tie in I’m going to use to our normal conversations in this entire thing is, is that I use the, I use the sunk cost example all the time when I’m talking to our builder partners, a perfect example would be, Hey, I’ve been using this CRM or lack thereof for four years, five years, we spent.

$200,000 to get it in. But the reality is, is no one uses it. It’s like, well, great. Well, why don’t we get a new one? Well, we spent so much money on it. We can’t, that is a sunk cost. It doesn’t matter what you spent, how much emotional time you have on it, how much actual money you spent on it. [00:16:00] It’s a sunk cost.

It’s gone. You’ve already spent that money or that time regardless. So you can either continue on in the, the room that you’re in or you can. Cut cut line and move a different direction. met you, you happen to speak to an issue really close to my heart. One of my roles that I had in the time that I spent in between academia.

So I was in marketing. I was a digital marketing analyst. And of my biggest roles was CRM. And that was a challenge that we dealt with every day, because they had spent thousands of dollars for a, yes. A device, a P platform that nobody used. So, not to derail here, but that was a perfect example. Yeah. Get no that’s I love that.

And I love, I had no idea that you did marketing. Analysts. I think that’s amazing. so yeah. Okay. So continue, you hit confirmation bias, sunk, cost bias. What are some other [00:17:00] examples? Some other examples. So, here’s where there’s a really nice chart. I think if you just, do a search, of cognitive biases or, or I think you can search chart of cognitive biases, there are some 100 something that they’ve kind of named, And so I, of course, of course, I don’t know all of them, but there are, there are quite a few really useful ones to know.

There’s the negativity bias where, people who see any kind of, negative information will kind of cling on to that information. and, then think that, you know, kind of use that as a marker for all things from there. So for example, if they see a review on a TV that they’re trying to buy. And it’s, it’s very negative.

Well we’ll then that must be this whole TV must suck. Right. And so that’s something you can think about, I guess, in terms of, framing. So, a framing effect is using language to frame something in a particular way. and if certain, [00:18:00] information is framed very negatively, language is very powerful.

So, you know, a lot of what we. Understand about the world is through language. And so when you’re using things like negative language towards certain topics, towards certain, groups of people towards certain actions, you can really paint that given thing, with a certain kind of emotional connotation.

another bias could be, the anchoring bias where you got a piece of information, it says, say, Thinking of an example, universities are, increasing their tuition prices too. $10,000, you know, every year. Right. And then, so you see, one of the universities you might be interested in enrolling some courses at increase their prices, but only $1,000, $1,000 for that year.

Well, because you got that initial bit of information now, relatively speaking, you think, well, $1,000 from a Snuffy [00:19:00] bad, that’s a good example of an anchoring. Well, you’ve that you’ve set an anchor point that now made it so that it was much more convincing for you to think that that. $1,000 was suddenly so much cheaper.

So there’s little tiny things like that. You know, in that moment, maybe you can ask yourself, why do I think that this is so much cheaper? Well, why don’t I look at at least a good sample of. Prices to get a better sense of the world. So it’s constantly trying to get more information and not relying on one or two things that you agree with or something that’s based off of only one resource.

It’s trying to get a better snapshot of the world to try, to eliminate, some of the biases or some of the, maybe logical fallacies that are very easy to fall into. and so as you said, it’s, there’s a chart. I quickly Googled the chart as you were talking. and, and one of the things that I saw that I was like, I literally think I had that light bulb moment [00:20:00] is, it’s listed on the chart here, a blind spot bias.

Hmm, viewing oneself as less biased than others. Ah, yeah. I’m not familiar with that one in particular, but there you go. Yeah, obviously, so like that one, I was just like, woo. Yeah, let that one sink in. Yeah. Yeah. I think a lot of people, including myself, are having, you know, a moment of that kind of self reflection.

Lindsay, you were just saying, you said something earlier that I circled like 50 times when you think like a scientist, you question yourself. And to me that is like, Yeah, let’s take a minute and question ourselves. And I think, you know, you do that regularly in your day to day interactions and it sounds exhausting and it sounds like work it is or what it should be a lot of work.

And I think, you know, I know people want to put in that work. [00:21:00] well I hope that people want to put in that work. I know I want to put in that work, I want to talk about empathy because empathy and bias. I feel like they like come up in the same conversations or linked, how are they linked? What does that look like?

I think that that’s such an interesting question. it is a really controversial point in research now. So actually on Thursday, I will be discussing with my, colleagues, a recent, paper submission. So, just really quickly for those who are not familiar, the publication, the peer review system and sciences, you, you know, you, you do an experiment.

there’s new practices called open science practices where you are actually documenting your hypothesis before you even start experimenting. So we are writing down now for the most part, not everybody, but. I’m more of the, forward-thinking laboratories are writing down what we think is going to happen with our experiment and kind of [00:22:00] a it’s called preregistering it.

And then doing the experiment so that we’re not even biasing our own science. So, which is of course, like I said, it’s it’s. Yeah. An absolute thing. We’re humans. So we’re discussing a paper that was submitted, that is undergoing the peer review process where other scientists within the field will evaluate your work, critique your work, find the problems in your work.

And write it out to you and say, Hey, these are the things that you need to address before we can even consider allowing this to be published. Or there’s also the chance of us saying we can’t allow this to be published. So the paper that we’re going to be discussing on Thursday is an empathy paper, and it is something that brings up a lot of debate.

  1. Don’t have any work at this time that, even looks at empathy. I started down that road and of course, right away, as soon as you bring up empathy, the question is, well, how do you measure it? What is [00:23:00] empathy? And there are two people that I absolutely recommend, especially the first person who I recommend is Jamil Zaki and Jamil Zaki is at Stanford.

He’s a social psychologist and he very recently wrote a book called the war for kindness. And he has been researching empathy. and, I’ve seen him talk once, super, super great speaker, really, someone who is committed to science communication. and he’s talked about his battles in being a scientist and trying to pursue empathy.

because there’s also the other side of things. Paul bloom at Yale who kinds of, is on the other side of the camp. That promotes the idea that people are inherently selfish. So, unfortunately, Mollie, I’m very sorry that I have to be this way, but I actually don’t really know the answer here because it’s, it’s a lot, it’s debated, you’re one thing you’re just scientists that you like want to weigh both sides.

You will [00:24:00] evaluate it. It sounds like, like that gray area. Yeah, it’s true though. I, you know, one of the things that I hope to, pursue more in my PhD work is the mental aspect of it because yes, I think that. I I’m curious to know if people who have different sort of empathy scores, for example. And even that that’s a little bit tough because what does it mean when somebody is filling out a survey on how empathetic they are, right.

You know, are they going to be inflating those numbers? are they, is, are those scores always constant in every situation? are they only empathetic in group versus out group? I mean, lots of questions, but I really hope to understand, in the process of mentalizing. So when you’re thinking about the minds of other people, how does empathy play a role there?

Is it the same thing is empathy thinking about the minds of other people is, that just, a side effect of that as well. Like, so if you’re, if you know, you’re thinking about the minds of other people. [00:25:00] Depending on how deeply you think about it is depending on how empathetic you are. So those are really fascinating questions.

I think they’re so important to understand. and I think that’s a really good example of things that people actively, sort of debate and have pretty vigorous discussion about. Yeah, it sounds like it’s a, a great place to start, you know, questioning empathy in general and questioning what that looks like.

I always thought that you could, that your brain reacts in a certain way like that you, that you could actually like your brain responds when you’re more empathetic in one situation than to another, Is that not right. So I don’t know that it’s not right. It’s, it’s sort of like in neuro imaging, for example, what we do is we do a lot of comparisons.

So, I alluded a little bit earlier about a project that I worked on, where I was comparing people with a major [00:26:00] depressive disorder with people, with a family history of. A major depressive disorder. And what we do is we look at their brains while they’re engaging in very specific tasks. So it’s going to be task dependent.

And then what we do is we compare the sort of what some people kind of refer to, as that activation or. You might have heard people say, Oh, when the brain lights up and it’s not lighting up, it’s just how it’s referred to as activation. but so we’ll compare that and see, well, what is the difference in activity between people say with family history of depression and with depression and that kind of residual difference might be in one particular brain region.

And then the next tough part is the inference. So based on this difference, what does this mean? And that’s actually a really hard, hard problem. A lot of the time, some people will research a particular question and come out with one and a interpretation and some people might have a completely different [00:27:00] interpretation.

So it’s not so much that it’s wrong. It’s more so that, it would depend on kind of the, the context of what people were doing. So right away, my question would be well, what, what, what were they doing? And that kind of like. Brain scan, right? Where they looking at their own faces. Were they looking at people that they worked with?

Were they looking? Cause you can also get really granted granular. You could do like, tempo versus Penn state. Right. So people might, you know, react differently to that sort of outgroup membership. Right. so it’s like it’s really being reserved with information constantly and. I’m always thinking, well, there might be more to the story or this might be very context dependent.

and maybe at one finding and the paper is not. The full story. Right. That makes sense. one of the things that you said to me earlier, when we were connecting, you said one of your pet peeves [00:28:00] is when people will, you may not have set pet peeves, but you would say, you said you didn’t like when people used the term hardwired so-and-so is hardwired for XYZ.

Why, why is that? Can you explain that a little bit? Yeah, sometimes I think when, People say hard wired. I think that it makes it seem that you are just this rigid organ. That is just this, that you do, what you do. Your brain is just what your brain is capable of change. Exactly. And, where sure. There are definitely parts of the brain that are literally connected to one another.

we, we also know that. your brain changes. I mean, that’s a very regular function every day that you create new memories, your brain is changing. Right. I think that is that it gets this, sense that, well, this is just the way that it is, right? this group is hard wired to be this way. This other group is hardwired to be this way.

I think that that really summarizes why it [00:29:00] can be. I think, I just think it’s, it doesn’t inform well, I love that your brain changes is, you know, a key message that I think we wanted to kind of tap into today. to me, that really resonates and that your thoughts are not, you can change. Yeah. Your brain changes and think like a scientist question yourself.

to me, those are some really valuable insights that I think, cultivate, you know, Introspective thought. Okay. So is there, are there other topics or other areas that you would like to share or discuss, anything that, you know, you work on or think about that you think would be, you know, timely for our audience or, you know, just to examine, not necessarily.

I mean, There are a lot of, [00:30:00] issues with, in any given situation that we can clearly discuss. I think that may be something that’s useful from the perspective of, you know, a quote unquote scientist is that to not be discouraged when you are overwhelmed with information. when you’re say, if you’re trying to read something scientific and it’s, you know, filled with jargon, filled with lots of complicated information.

Just remember that that’s not on you, you’re not quote unquote stupid, or you’re quote unquote, not smart enough to read it. It’s really the failure of the person who wrote that article because our job as scientists is really, we’re trained to communicate information about the world. And if we’re not doing a good job communicating that’s on us, it’s not.

But science is not an endeavor to sort of artificially elevate yourself as some sort of elite we’re [00:31:00] supposed to be here to inform we’re supposed to be here to help make information easier for everybody else. So if there is one thing that I would want people that they would want to encourage is that you can think like a scientist.

It is hard to think about things that maybe make you uncomfortable. That may be. Does not resonate with the world view that you have grown up with your whole life, but. It’s really okay. To experience that. And it’s, it’s not impossible. Your brain is excellent at figuring out problems and sorting out patterns in the world.

so if you feel like you want to do more, but you, you don’t know if you’re capable, I just would want to reassure anyone that you absolutely can. You are absolutely capable. and if there is some scientific media out there that is, a little bit hard to understand, I would let them know, let them know that, [00:32:00] Hey, I don’t really understand that.

And that’s, that’s really on us to fix that. the we’re here to make information available to you. I think that is the perfect way to wrap up. I mean, that’s exactly why I wanted to talk to you is, You know, talking about these things and learning. So, yeah. Awesome. It was my pleasure. You are. I am, like I said, I am such a huge fan.

you know, I’ve just, I feel very lucky to know you and to be able to, learn from you. Well, the feeling is very mutual. I just, I feel very privileged to have been a part of this conversation with you guys. So thank you. Thank you so much, Lindsey. Appreciate you coming on. [00:33:00] .


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