Is a positive bias necessarily a bad thing?

It occurred to me that I have a fairly strong prejudice in favor of a particular group.

Mormons–I am not Mormon, but I have known several over the years, in different places. Some were friends, some coworkers, a couple of teachers. Without exception, every single Mormon I’ve known has been very polite, friendly, honest, upbeat, hard working, and generally a joy to be around. Other than the missionary guys, they don’t seem to push their religion on others, unless asked about it. For this reason, when I learn someone is a Mormon, even before I ever meet them, I have a positive impression just because they are Mormon. OK, I’m not letting them choose the refreshments for my party–they tend to avoid intoxicants. But otherwise, yeah, Mormons are generally cool with me.

Now I am sure there are Mormon assholes, just as there are assholes of pretty much every other subset of humanity. I just happen to be lucky enough to have never met one.

Is this a bad thing?

(note, this is not intended to be a debate about Mormons. They just happened to be a convenient example. I also have generally favorable impressions of veterans…but some of those have been thoroughly debunked after getting to know certain veterans and learning that they are assholes).

If you act on your bias to the detriment of non-Mormons, that could be bad.

Putting any group on a pedestal (or damning them) on the basis of a small sample size is a bad idea, just as generalizing on a science/medical issue on the basis of anecdote is a bad idea.

When it comes to people, I want to be able to evaluate them each as individuals, without preconceptions on who’s naughty or nice.

Hmmm…I’d like to say I wouldn’t do that. But I might in my private capacity. For example, if I was choosing a babysitter for my hypothetical child, with one Mormon applicant and one non-Mormon applicant, all other things being equal, I’d probably go with the Mormon.

Of course, if the non-Mormon was clearly more qualified–more experienced, some training in first aid, etc, I’d go with them over the Mormon.

Yup, this is where biases interfere, both positive and negative.

To the OP: How do you want to be evaluated?

Me too. In fact, now that I’m an ex-Mormon I still mostly use Mormon babysitters. They believe weird stuff, but they raise reliable teenagers.

This type of bias often leads to affinity fraud, particularly in Utah. People tend to trust the people in their congregation or people who profess similar moral convictions. This makes people easy marks.

Now that you mention it…

Yes, the Hoffman story is certainly interesting. He would not have fooled nearly as many people with his forged embarrasing LDS history documents if he had not marketed himself as a believer.

But I was referring more specificallyto people who perceive Mormons as being honest businessmen, and then are suckered into Ponzi schemes by the guy who dresses and talks like a Mormon.

When my parents’ small business needed to join a payroll company in order to get group health insurance, the guy we picked talked more about his church callings and his missionary experiences than about his accounting skills. He has since been arrested for some sort of fraud, and is just a tiny portion of the $1.4 billion that (mostly LDS) con-men steal from (mostly LDS) investors in Utah.

I definitely think that a positive bias can be a red flag.

I knew someone well who was fascinated with another culture because she was convinced that she was a kindred soul of this group. After hitting a certain age this turned into disappointment and mixed feelings, and finally 100% bigotry. I’ve also seen this kind of thing happen with other people in less dramatic ways, and it’s always creepy.

I don’t think that’s what’s going on with you but with some people it can turn into a variation on the stalker mentality.

Pretty sure I’m safe there. I am most definitely not a kindred soul of Mormons. I like cigarettes, whiskey, and wild women. And I’m an atheist with an aversion to tithing. With no children or desire for children.

It’s just that…if I know someone is a Mormon, they get a +, just like if I know they’re a member of WBC, they get a -. Either person could be an asshole. Or a saint. More data needed.

I’ve known quite a few wild Mormon women, but what is “WBC”?

As for the OP, I was just talking about this the other day. I have no religious beliefs, and look widely askance at the Mormons beliefs. But, I’ve had Mormon engineers working for me, and they were the best. You wanted something done, they got it done. No issues, no drama, just hard work and results.

WBC = Westboro Baptist Church

And the only route to sainthood there would be a gay infiltrator hoping to reform from within.

I don’t know the answer to your question but my experiences with Mormons that have told me they’re Mormons has been the exact same and there are a lot of Mormons where I live.

That includes the missionaries. I used to work next door to a large Mormon church and I talked to those missionaries a couple of times of week. Each time they asked how my day was going, how I was doing and if I was ok. They never once mentioned their religion. I’m assuming they knew that we all knew their mission of course and they’d have happily have tried to pitch their religion if asked. To me, they were cool and I’ve never run into any other missionaries that you know tried to convert me but I’ve had some hand me their magazine and one of the most amazing persons I’ve met here, who was a knight in shining armor when I was in need, wouldn’t let me pay him for his help but asked me to read The Book of Mormon which he gave me.

I still have it on my shelf but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. When I see it I kinda feel guilty though. Such a small price for the help I got.

Ok, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have such a bias but it can be a dangerous thing if you give them too much of the benefit of the doubt, just like for anyone else. I think, however, that if a culture is comfortable to you that you’d generally be more warm and open to someone of that culture. That’s natural.

Anecdote alert!

It can blind you to some of their faults. I was working with a member of an ethnic group that it widely considered to be very good with technology and programming. I had a question about a spreadsheet – there seemed to be an error. He was explaining his “logic” and I kept thinking, well, this guy is a member of said ethnic group (plus, he had an English accent, another thing that can throw an American like me), so he must know what he’s doing, I’m just not able to understand. Well, it turns out the guy was just dumb as a post and was wrong, but it took some convincing for me to figure that out.

At that point, I realized I had a positive bias toward that ethnic group and it had blinded me to his flaws. Since then, I’ve met other members of the same ethnic group who are also dumb as posts, so I’ve gotten past my positive bias, and I’m more careful about watching out for similar positive biases with other groups.

I would say positive bias is just negative bias, looking from the reverse. If you are viewing someone or a group preferentially–by definition you are putting that person or group “above” others.

We’ve all felt the resentment and/or jealousy experienced when someone seems to be the “annointed” one for absolutely no good reason. From the favored son to the teacher’s pet to the brown-noser at work…it’s just asking for trouble when you allow that kind of bias to creep in too publically.

In private, however, people do it all the time and I don’t think it’s possible to shame people into not doing it. Most people do not choose a SO based on their own idiosyncratic qualities from the big universe of all potential mates, but rather first cull from a subpopulation(s) that they consciously or subconsciously prefer. I would say the more narrow the focus, the more likely you are to make errors in judgement. But you just can’t make people like everyone equally.

The important thing is, does your bias predict reality accurately? If you have a big halo effect around all Mormons, and notice that you systematically overestimate their goodness, then that’s a problem. If they generally are superior on whatever variable you’re describing them on, and you’re realistically allowing for outliers etc., then that’s just called a functional model of reality.

Edited to add: of course if you’re coming at this from a normative viewpoint saying “group differences don’t exist and any differences you notice are wrong and evil,” then no, of course having a positive view of one group is equivalent to having a somewhat negative view of everyone else, and is equally bad. I just hold that particular value system to be bullocks.

When is inaccuracy a good thing?

Well, for one thing, people with an inaccurately positive perception of their attractiveness to their preferred gender have a higher chance of getting dates than those who are entirely accurate.

And I’ll point out that the cure for depression is replacing statements you believe to be accurate with those that you do not. Cognitive errors that are positive are ignored in treatment, as they do not cause problems.

It wouldn’t surprise me if a study showed that people who believe inaccurate yet positive statements about themselves and the world around them are more likely to be happy.

Accuracy is often overrated. As someone with OCD, I had to learn that the hard way.

I’m trying to figure out how struggling with a disorder that makes one worry about irrational, likely inaccurate things, would teach someone that accuracy is overrated. The only thing I can think of would be having perfectionistic personality. Is that what you’re talking about?

It is true that depressed people tend to have a more accurate assessment of themselves than non-depressed people, which is a depressing finding in and of itself. But their views of other people and the world around them? I don’t know if studies exist showing that they are more accurate than other people.

I disagree that “positive” cognitive errors are necessarily ignored in treatment, because sometimes they’re at the root of problems. “I am superior to everyone in every way” is a straight-up falsehood no matter who’s saying it. If the person who believes this is confronted by harsh reality, many bad problems can ensue. Including major depression. Likewise, believing that someone else is superior to everyone is also problematic, especially when that god or goddess decides to dump you for being too clingy and dependent on them for self-esteem.

But now I’m just hijacking the thread, so I’ll shaddup.

I’ll buy this in the context of depression treatment, but I find that highly implausible for the population as a whole. At any rate this is a tangent since making correct observations about group differences has nothing to do with depression or other mental illnesses.