Bias number nine is known as the authority bias. This bias belongs in the category of social cognitive biases.
This bias does what it says on the tin. It’s the bias that many humans have towards authority figures. We believe that a person or organisation must merit its position of authority, and as a result, we tend to comply with requests made of us by these figures.
This bias works in conjunction with the system justification theory, an idea that goes some way to explaining the psychological motivation in people that legitimises authority figures and the systems in which they operate.
In the West, the authority bias begins at conception. As prospective parents, we put our lives and the lives of our unborn child or children in the hands of “experts” who tell us what to eat and drink, what activities we should and shouldn’t engage in, how long we can carry the baby before we are induced, and so on.
As soon as the baby is born, he or she meets the medical establishment’s authority for the first time by getting pricked with a needle for Vitamin K shot, the justification being that it's for the baby's safety and health. In the UK, new parents receive regular home visits from a health visitor whose job it is to make sure you and baby are well. At two months, the vaccine rounds begin, and over the course of your child’s life, you get a call or a letter in the post reminding you that the next round of injections is due.
Then, at three, the state offers your child a place at nursery. This begins the long road of education pre-approved by an authoritative body like the Department of Education. And so the journey continues until you complete your education, with authorities determining whether or not you are suitable for your chosen career based on your exam results.
Then you enter the world of work, where you have a manager who is assigned to oversee the work you do to ensure you get the job done. He or she has a chain of management figures above, and the head honcho has to answer to a board and possible a variety of industry bodies to ensure the rules of the game are being appropriately followed.
And on and on it goes until you die, when you gain your freedom.
I don’t meant to be flippant about it, but can you see that, in this system, you are continually requested to defer your own authority to an authority figure? Whether is's a body like the NHS, various educational establishments, accreditation bodies, head teachers or business managers, your are trained to usurp your own authority in favour of the authority of experts.
This bias exists innately as part of the chimp brain, or the limbic brain resembling that of our primate friends (read The Chimp Paradox for more on this). Mammals like chimps live in strict socially hierarchical systems in which it is made perfectly clear who is in charge. The chimps who try to assert their authority are often beaten into submission, run out of the colony or executed.
Haven’t we been the spectators of a whole lot of chimps on both sides of the fence taking to the streets to battle it out for supremacy? It’s being positioned as one side fighting the system, and we’re supposed to side with the underdog.
The problem with this logic is that the “underdog” is fighting to replace the current flawed system with an equally flawed and more tyrannical system than the one that already exists. They need your consent to do this, so they position themselves as victims of the system to tug at your heart strings so you’ll support the cause.
If you listen to so-called reputable sources of information, you will believe it. And heaven knows, most of you wouldn’t dream of upsetting the apple cart.
But guess what? The apple cart is not just upset. It has been well and truly tipped over and its contents just keep spilling out.
Is humanity destined to remain stuck in the doldrums of its unevolved biology? What’s the answer here?
For a start, recognise that your chimp nature is being played. The drama that has unfolded in recent months is designed to scare your chimp into submission.
You might find this hard to believe, and I get it. It’s like we’re verging into conspiracy theory territory here, right? No one wants to be branded one of those kooks, do they? You’d be banished from the colony, or in some cased killed when the information you present threatens the system.
However, another innate part of your brain is the part that enables you to make conscious choices. Remember that you have a choice. You always have a choice. Do you want to continue to allow your biology to be played by “authorities”, or do you want to develop mastery over your thought processes and sovereignty over the content of your thoughts?
Once you acknowledge that your chimp nature is being played by authority figures who want you to buy into their system, you might feel the motivation to venture away from this system of authority.
I actively encourage this. When you do allow yourself to explore beyond the systemic sandbox, you discover that this system is one of an infinite number of systems, all vying for your participation or waiting for you to get busy creating your own system.
This might sound overwhelming to chimps who like to play it safe. You may choose to step back into the systemic sandbox where you feel comfortable. That’s a valid stance, and I honour you for making that choice.
For those of you who like adventure, though, growth is never comfortable, but it is almost always rewarding. This is an opportunity to explore and expand your knowledge and experience.
With the expansion of knowledge and experience comes an expanded sense of brilliance.
Why? Because you increase the number of facets to you as a human being. The more facets you have, the more surfaces that reflect the light. And let's be honest. The world needs people willing to illuminate the dark places with brilliant thoughts from genuinely brilliant minds at the moment.
Will you join the ranks of the intrepid, brilliant explorers, or will you stick with what you know?
It's your choice.
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About Business Brilliance Professional Development Ltd
Training and coaching provided by Business Brilliance™ Professional Development is the result of consolidating 25 years' learning and practical experience in the fields of marketing communications, psychotherapy, coaching and personal development. In addition to providing accredited training programmes such as Mental Health First Aid, Business Brilliance designs and delivers programmes that facilitate the formulation of the health/wealth virtuous circle for managers, leaders and organisations in high-performance sectors.