Wednesday, 8 February 2012

To Bias Is Human ...

… to respect Referees' decisions divine ?

[Original quote: To err is human, to forgive divine.]

Why are people usually biased? For instance, the 'tribalism' that football supporters adhere to and exhibit can be extremely subjective, distorted and one-sided. Psychologists usually explain this by the way the human mind has evolved to make distinctions between "in-groups" and "out-groups" (i.e. possessing an "us" vs "them" mentality). This had a lot of survival value when humans roamed around in groups thousands of years ago.

I believe Referees already grasp this concept of "in-groups" from their experience in officiating matches and in talking with players, coaches and anyone expressing a preference to a particular team. There is obvious bias involved, but it is another matter altogether whether supporters of teams actually acknowledge this bias or not.

And recent research suggests that people do not tend to acknowledge their bias because they are probably unaware of it. University researchers have confirmed this "subconscious" bias with a study analyzing brain scans of volunteers who professed to support particular sports teams (see link here and text below). The researchers found that individuals perceive the actions of players in their own team differently to those of players from a rival team. Apparently, the bias manifested itself in people "judging their players as faster, even when the two actions [of opposing players] were performed at identical speeds."

As I said, this much is really already known. Supporters perceive players in their team to be "faster", even when the facts clearly show that they are not faster or better.

This means one has to actually make an effort to think critically and to self-reflect rationally in order to obtain a reasonably good understanding of one's own views, opinions and value judgements in life. Unfortunately, very few people appear to be willing or able to do this.

So, Here's A Thought For Referees

We, as Referees, also consider ourselves as an "in-group"; sometimes even labeling ourselves as the "third team". Therefore, has it ever occurred to any of us that when we view match incidents and Referees' decisions, and when we favour the Referees' decisions, are we in some "human" way falling into the 'bias' trap too? How do we, as Referees, minimize or eliminate (if possible?) any bias towards favouring fellow Referees all the time? And should we?

For instance, let's just say when we are ARs to a match Referee and the Referee is having a particularly bad performance, what should be the correct response? There are pros and cons to all the different types of possible responses that we can give to the Referee. But more often than not, most ARs will simply support the match Referee no matter what (i.e. be biased in favour of him); and this is because of our "in-group" tendencies and the way we have been instructed to support the team. Whether or not we also perceive the actions of the Referee differently from non-match officials is unknown … and could be an inspiration for a future research project!


Why you think your team is the best (New Scientist)
31 January 2012 by Wendy Zukerman

Ah ref! Now you have an excuse for thinking your team always performs best. Your brain perceives the actions of people in your own team differently to those of a rival team.

Pascal Molenberghs at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, divided 24 volunteers into two teams and had them judge the speed of hand actions performed by two people, one from each team.

As expected, most of the volunteers were biased towards their own team, judging their players as faster, even when the two actions were performed at identical speeds.

Surprisingly, brain scans taken during the task showed that this bias arises from differences in brain activity during perception of the hand action and not during the decision-making process. The work will appear in Human Brain Mapping.

Louise Newman, a psychologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, says the research is an important step to unravelling the mechanisms of how people develop perceptions of "in-groups" and "out-groups". This can inform our understanding of racism and discrimination, she adds.

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