Evaluator bias; a thorn in the flesh?: mindFly

Horn and Halo bias


Ravi, a seasoned pilot with over 30 years of experience and 15000 flying hrs undergoes training to fly on a new fleet. He leads a flashy lifestyle and has a bold personality. None of these have a bearing on his flying capabilities and has been a safe pilot. He is competent during his ground and full flight simulator training and evaluations. He is certified as competent to fly the aircraft using normal procedures as well as with abnormalities in the aircraft systems. Surprisingly he is unable to clear the line training on regular routes and evaluation. It is worth debating whether it is the trainee’s fault, trainers fault or the fault of the system. I strongly feel that the system failed to highlight any shortcomings early enough. However, I would like to highlight an aspect of trainer/evaluator bias which unconsciously may have had a role to play in the final outcome.

Trainers play a key role in the execution of the training program. They are the via media between the content and the trainee. However best the training program is designed, the quality of training depends largely on the trainer and the evaluator. They are responsible for imparting training and evaluating. More importantly, they ensure that standards are met and the desired competencies are retained.

However best that we may train, trainers and evaluators are affected by biases. These biases affect the outcome of the training and evaluation. The bias is like a thorn in the flesh. They are problematic, annoying and aggravating since it is difficult to control each individual and they set of biases.

Unconscious Judgments of an Investment Broker

Unconscious Judgments of an Investment Broker
The investors

A 2007 study highlights two of the most common unconscious social judgment biases. Prof. Emily Pronin of Princeton University showed study participants one of two pictures of the same man whom she introduced as an investment broker. One picture showed a suited man with a highly regarded Cornell degree and the other showed the man in casual clothing with a degree from a nondescript college. The professor asked her participants how much of a theoretical $1,000 they would invest in each. The participants rated the suited man as more competent: on average, he got $535 on without having his background checked. In contrast, the causal dresser received just $352. Not only were the participants more likely to have the second broker’s credentials verified —but also they did not consider him as trustworthy.

IATA has released the 1st edition of the guidance material for instructor & evaluator training. This is a welcome change towards defining the training and checking requirements of the people in charge of training. A chapter on human and evaluator biases would have improved the content quality and helped the trainers understand the concept. IATA Guidance Material for Instructor and Evaluator Training

Rater bias

Rater bias is an error in judgment that can occur when a person allows their preformed biases to affect the evaluation of another. It is a common issue when it comes to evaluations. They are a hazard of rating systems and cannot be truly eliminated.

Halo/Horn bias

The Halo Effect occurs when a rater evaluates people based on only one good aspect of theirs and disregards the other factors of their performance, whether they are good or bad.

Conversely, the Halo Effect occurs when a rater assumes that a person’s performance must be entirely bad because the rater chooses to focus on one bad aspect of the person’s performance.

The Halo Effect

The “halo effect” occurs when a person who is judged positively based on one aspect is automatically judged positively on several others without much evidence. For instance, as a result of the halo effect,

  • attractive people are often judged as competent and sociable. Film stars and other celebrities are assumed pleasant and sharp-witted,
  • inexperienced interviewers tend to pay less attention to a candidate’s negative traits after discerning one or two positive traits in the first few minutes of a job interview,
  • charismatic professionals tend to get noticed and move up the corporate ladder faster, irrespective of their technical and leadership skills,
  • articulate speakers are likely to influence their audiences more even if their messages are poor in form and content.

The Horns Effect

Psychologist Edward L. Thorndike discovered this curious phenomenon in 1920 while studying soldiers and noticing that when they discovered something good about their superiors, they automatically started to attribute other positive traits to them. If the first thing they discovered about their superior was negative, however, they attributed negative traits to them. The Halo Effect occurs when a rater evaluates people based on only one good aspect of theirs and disregards the other factors of their performance, whether they are good or bad.

The “horns” or “devil effect” is a concept wherein a person is judged negatively on one aspect is automatically judged negatively on several other aspects without evidence. Clearly, this is the opposite of the halo effect.

Years later, researchers Nisbett and Wilson from the University of Michigan divided 118 students into two groups. Then, they showed each group a different video of the same professor. In one video, the professor seemed kind, while he seemed rude and authoritarian in the other.

After the viewing, researchers instructed the students to describe the professor. Interestingly enough, the students who saw the video of the “kind” professor described him as an attractive man. The other group, however, said he had an unpleasant appearance.

This interesting experiment shows how your perception of another person affects your judgment to an unexpected level. Another interesting thing about the horn effect is that once you’ve attributed a trait to someone, it’s very difficult to change your mind about them. If the first things you notice about someone are positive, it’s easier to ignore all their negative aspects, and vice-versa.

How to protect against bias: Human Factor

  • The best defense against the horns effect and halo effect is to always adhere to one rule: Every idea must stand on its own merit regardless of who proposes it.
  • A good idea remains good, even if it is proposed by the town drunk.  A bad idea remains bad, even if it is proposed by the town hero.
  • Last but not least, know thy self. To evaluate one’s own personality and limitations will help highlight the shortcomings and areas to develop.

The Halo and Horns Effects [Rating Errors] April 30, 2010 by Nagesh Belludi 

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am https://www.linkedin.com/in/traintofly/ Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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