Controlling Your Personal Bias

If I told you we have found a great solution to help reduce criminal recidivism and it would cost taxpayers nothing, plus save taxpayers money by housing fewer criminals over time; I imagine most of you reading this would be interested in putting this solution into effect.

What if I then told you the solution involved giving inmates tablet computers and access to the Internet?

This is a true story by the way (, and so were many of the complaints about it. The negative reaction has focused less on the results of initial testing and more on the belief that it was rewarding inmates. You have to buy your own tablets, why should inmates get them for free?

Emotional Bias

Maintaining Objectivity

We only tend to look at the surface of things. We don’t look deeper. On the surface “Prison Inmates Get Free Tablets” sounds pretty bad. But why – especially when it shows a positive impact? This seems like it would warrant further study and create a rare triple win situation for inmates, taxpayers, and society. Although situations like this should be thoroughly investigated due to the pure positive results.

Every day we face small little biased thoughts that may have no rational basis, and then we face much larger choices on things that our bias thoughts may impact and cause us to not choose the best solution or path forward that we have available to us.

If you are interested in learning about subconscious bias you can check out Project Implicit for help weeding out your unconscious bias.

Related Books

Are there emotional reactions to the idea?

Reactions that are emotional in nature usually reflect a bias. If it elicits an emotional response from you, like anger, sadness, or fear, it may impact your thought process and create a bias. It may be a sign to pay closer attention.

Many political opinion television shows work because they make people angry. This doesn’t just impact one side or the other. In fact, there are usually more than two sides anyway because life is more like a range of color rather than black and white.

It’s possible to be okay with legal abortion but also believe abortion to be abhorrent, and it’s possible to be against abortion generally but see some scenarios where it could be acceptable. It’s also possible to be against abortion personally, not care what others do, and then go get an abortion. We don’t live in a black and white world free of emotion; things would be easier if that were true.

Abortion is, of course, a topic that is heavily influenced by emotion – as seen when insisting on referring to a 2-week old fetus as a baby or painting all people who get abortions as survivors of incest. Wow! Killing babies makes me angry, but so does forcing an incest survivor to have the kid of her attacker.

“I believe we should help all homeless people and the poor no matter what?”

Should we though? What if they don’t want help or prefer being homeless? Personally, I strongly believe that as a society we are stronger when we actually care for the weakest members of the society and provide safety nets when unexpected things happen. What if a person routinely shows no effort on their own behalf but is fully capable, should we still help them if they become homeless? What if they have kids who are put in that situation due to no fault of their own?

Are there valid reasons to be for against an idea?

Rational ThinkingList the ideas out and examine why you believe the way you do. “Tablets are a reward for prisoners” – why do you think that? Do you know anything about the tablets (they aren’t very good actually)?

The results of the smaller scale studies on this have shown that it reduces the number of people returning to prison. The tablets aren’t encouraging them to come back. Rewards usually encourage the behavior that causes someone to earn the reward. Since more prisoners are not returning to prison, any reward is not for going to prison. The tablets are also only being given to prisoners who behave within the prison – thus the reward is for behaving while incarcerated. From my understanding, they don’t get to keep the tablets when they leave.

So why are you against the idea? Because you have to buy your own tablet? I have read about the arrangement the maker of this tablet has and the actual tablet they are giving away. Not many people would willingly buy these things.

Amazon used to sell, and maybe still do, Kindle Fire Tablets with advertising for a little cheaper than a no advertising model. This company is giving these tablets away for free, and they aren’t using advertising to make their money back. To be clear, they are making their money back. Just imagine how cheap that tablet is and how much they are charging to use the services it provides.

I bet if you ask them and promise to use the services (as the tablet is pointless without them), they would give you one for free too. Your Kindle Fire is cheaper and more useful. I get that getting one for yourself still doesn’t eliminate the feeling that we are rewarding prisoners, but a reward is really based more on your perspective than it is on just giving someone something. You hear “Free Tablet” and think “Reward,” but are you willing to go to prison to be rewarded with one? Will it motivate other people to go to prison? How many people? Is it less than the people who are not coming back after the program started?

Do you have some sort of expert knowledge in an area others are not privy to our are you sideline commenting?

I wouldn’t go to a plumber to get my car fixed. I am not smart enough with my car to argue with my auto mechanic on what is right or wrong. We aren’t all going to be experts in everything and sometimes we need to work with other people to get their expertise.

I am not likely to go out of my way and give you medical advice. I will defend the general scientific consensus on things, but I can’t give you specifics on everything. So when I hear about all of these people refusing to take vaccines I have to wonder where they are getting their information from and what experience they have that warrants such a deviation from the scientific consensus.

I have lightly studied vaccines, but I am no expert. Everything I have studied supports vaccine usage, but I tend to avoid reading anything from non-experts (I am not closed minded, I am just not stupid). The background and credentials of the people are important to me as well as their motivations behind what they are claiming. When an osteopathic physician wants to talk about vaccines – I am not likely to listen. They aren’t showing any sort of special knowledge in vaccines with their educational background in joint health.

It’s made even worse when they tell me the cure to everything is chiropractic care and the essential oils they happen to sell. I wouldn’t listen to a doctor employed by a drug company to sell me a vaccine, I am more likely to listen to someone who profits less from the situation – like 3rd party independent studies (like the hundreds showing vaccines as being safe – no I haven’t read them all, but I have actually read some of them which is probably more than most people).

I actually know very little about this free prison tablet thing I keep bringing up. It could be, some expert involved in the studies comes along and reads this post and informs me that what I say about it is completely wrong. I can’t really rationally argue with that. Yet we live in a world where people don’t know much about what they are talking about and argue with the experts directly involved.

So the key is – do you actually have the knowledge needed to make the best-unbiased choices? And if not, do the people you rely on have that knowledge? Where did they acquire that knowledge from? Are there ulterior motivations behind their claims?



It’s okay to go against the consensus when you can back up your position with valid facts, but a clear sign that you aren’t working with facts is when you hear an appeal to emotion or are provided no valid supporting evidence of a claim but. If someone is trying to sway you by scaring you (like vaccines causing autism while ignoring the evidence that says otherwise) or only pointing to the flaws of the opposing views but providing no evidence of their own claim (like evolution not being able to pinpoint the exact origin of life, therefore creationism must be true), it makes what they are saying questionable.

I recently wrote about examining yourself to look for your flaws and your strengths –Agile and Self-Transparency – What Are Your Biggest Flaws?. In that article, I discussed how to learn when you are lying to yourself. In much the same way, our bias is one way we lie to ourselves.

We may fully believe our views are justified and correct and we ignore all contrary evidence that tells us we are wrong. No one is immune to this; not me, not you, not your coworkers, your politicians, or your journalists. The goal is to try and recognize it when it happens to you and evaluate your own thoughts. Admit when you are wrong and try to do better the next time.



WKBW Staff (2018). All inmates in NYS prisons to get free tablets.

Warren, Cortney S. (2014). How Do I Know When I Am Lying to Myself? Retrieved from

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