“Putting your best brain forward:” Check your biases
This is the one of seven strategies that you can follow to help you apply the emerging lessons of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to the day-to-day work of your practice, as explained in the article Putting your best brain forward: How neuroscience awareness and evolutionary psychology can help lawyers avoid claims and offer better client service
An understanding of some of the biases that shape our decisions can offer us the opportunity to bring to bear the “override” function of System 2 reasoning on problems. Because System 2 most often provides a rationalization for our unconscious decisions, this won’t always sway our choices, but it may slow us down and provide the chance, for example, to consult with others, or, as Craig E. Jones, Q.C., a professor in the Faculty of Law at Thomson Rivers University puts it, to “pay attention to the difference between ‘truthiness’ and truth.”
Skills for challenging confirmation bias have long been an important part of the training of scientists, law enforcement personnel, and other investigators. Lawyers are beginning to pay attention, too – and not only with respect to the impact of the bias on their own decisions. An understanding of confirmation bias has useful implications for litigators. For example, while many of us may feel compelled, in an argument, to have the last word, studies of legal decisions suggest that juries are more likely to latch onto early information and to interpret subsequent testimony and argument as confirmation of their preliminary conclusions.
Having the first word – especially where that word is a number – may also be important when it comes to negotiating settlements, because of anchoring bias. And where the first number is proposed by someone else, it can be useful to consciously resist the natural impulse to be drawn toward it – an impulse that gets even stronger if we have our eye on a compromise position that is an even number, or one that is a multiple of five.
There are many different kinds of biases that our brains use as shortcuts – lawyers who take time to learn about them may well discover other strategies for improving performance and avoiding mistakes.
Here is the list of all seven strategies to “put your best brain forward”:
- Think slowly, and let your clients do the same
- Lay a solid foundation for routine decisions
- Consult with others
- Check your biases
- Nourish your brain
- Reflect on your clients’ psychology
- Strive for self-awareness