Lessons about Bias

I’ve thought for a while about what I wanted to write after Sunday’s #BritishGP. I could write about Lewis winning his first race in a while, or about the crowds going absolutely bonkers for the new generation of British drivers (hello George Russell, hello Williams Racing, it was GREAT to see you in Q3 again, that was an absolutely stunning drive!). I could also write about THE CRASH. But instead, I would like to write about bias.

As a neuroscientist and diversity, inclusion & culture consultant, I have this (sometimes annoying) tendency to deconstruct situations. To always look at things from all perspectives, and pinpoint bias in reasoning and decision making. I saw a lot of that this weekend. More specifically, a category of biases that can be summarized as experience bias. Experience biases revolve around the notion that your brain is trying to make sense of reality as best it can, but it is always your perception. You create your own reality. But to you, how you see things, is how they are. It is a very powerful bias, that can have a dramatic impact on behaviour.

It is the reason Toto Wolff, Lewis Hamilton and the rest of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team were convinced the corner was theirs, while Christian Horner and the Red Bull team were adamant Lewis wasn’t significantly alongside Max. None of them are lying. They all truly believe that their perception of events is accurate. But because this bias is so strong, and because the stakes are so incredibly high, it turns into a bit of a stand-off situation with neither party willing to change perspectives. In this instance, this is completely understandable. Let’s face it: we would all be a tad surprised if Toto or Christian had responded differently.

And this bias kicks in with the fans as well. If you are team LH, you will most likely say that Lewis has always been cautious with Max because he drives too aggressively. That Max had it coming, and that he turned in on Lewis. He should have given him more space. If you are part of the Orange army, you will probably say that Lewis clearly missed the apex and should have backed out. That it was a desperate attempt by a man trying to stay in the race for the world championship. And both sides will say that anybody seeing it differently is either blind, or ignorant. And you will all be completely truthful.

However, bias is not an excuse for racism, or personal attacks of any kind. Not towards drivers, not towards fellow fans. We all love racing, and we all have one thing in common: we are grateful Max is OK, and will be back to fight for the title in Hungary.

Bias isn’t exclusive to these kinds of situations. It pops up everywhere, all the time. Including the work floor. Bias is universal, and in my opinion the main barrier to true diversity and inclusion. If you mitigate bias, you stimulate inclusion, which will result in sustainable, long-lasting diversity. But then again, as a neuroscientist, I may be biased 😉