The American Bar Association Journal posted on September 22, 2016 that the police officer who shot and killed stranded motorist Terence Crutcher on September 16, 2016 will be charged with manslaughter in that fatal shooting.
As I posted recently, emotions are linked to racial beliefs. According to reports, Officer Betty Shelby has said in an affidavit she feared for her life and had ordered Crutcher to get down on his knees.
One wonders where the fear arose from: Is it a result of police training that teaches to treat everyone as a criminal, rush in spouting commands, and feel the emotion of fear if the individual reaches for a closed driver’s door?
And, is it possible the professed fear arose from some paradigm shared by others in the police department? (A paradigm is a set of understood assumptions that are not meant to be tested; in fact they are essentially unconscious. These buried assumptions are part of one’s every day thinking.) Note that both the Tulsa World newspaper and Tulsa television station KJRH later reported that video footage contradicted initial reports:
7:43 p.m.: Helicopter footage begins, showing Terence Crutcher slowly walking with arms up toward his vehicle while being followed at a close distance by two uniformed officers. One of the men in the helicopter notes that it appears a Taser is about to be deployed, and the other comments that Crutcher “looks like a bad dude, maybe on something.”
One must ask, “How can one make such a character assessment from high above in a helicopter?” And why pull a gun? Clearly others on that police force understood that other less lethal options were available and in fact one officer had Taser sights on the stranded motorist.
Daniel Kahneman has reportedly stated that it is his hope that the modes of thinking that result in bias and errors in decision-making will become widely understood and efforts will be made to adjust one’s thinking so that bias and errors are reduced or eliminated. He calls this educating gossip. In this case, perhaps one sees System 1 intuitive thinking behind both the officer’s actions and the helicopter pilot’s statement. Intuitive thinking is fast, automatic and emotional and often based on paradigms (simple mental rules of thumb), and thinking biases that result in impressions, feelings and inclinations.
Perhaps what we witnessed was representativeness heuristic. Heuristics, very simply stated, involves or serves as an aid to problem-solving, learning or discovery. Representativeness heuristic is when an individual intuitively thinks that different events that seem similar to the individual have a similar likelihood or occurrence—when often they don’t. Perhaps this different event of a stranded black male motorist seemed similar to some other event where danger was present, when in fact, this occurrence was not the same.
Take a look at this under 2 minute video to hear what educating gossip is:
System 2 thinking poses other bias and errors in thinking.
According to Kahneman, System 2 thinking is rational thinking that is slow, deliberate and systematic and based on considered evaluation that result in logical conclusions. And yet, System 2 lazy thinking can lead to errors and bias in decision-making.
Perhaps confirmation bias resulted in the killing of the stranded motorist, Terence Crutcher. Confirmation bias is intuitive thinking (fast, automatic and emotional and often based on paradigms (simple mental rules of thumb), and thinking biases that result in impressions, feelings and inclinations) towards interpreting information in a way that confirms preconceptions. Clearly, the pilot voiced his preconception that the motorist “looks like a bad dude, maybe on something.” Here, it is difficult to identify what information about a motorist and a stopped vehicle can be interpreted in a way that perhaps confirmed these preconceptions.
One can also consider perhaps an additional System 2 bias at the center of these police actions: Halo Effect and WYSIATI.
The Halo Effect is intuitive thinking biased by existing judgments about a person—if one judges the person negatively in one respect, one is likely to assume they will be negative in another. In other words, Shelby may have been judged Cruther to be a “bad dude” in one respect, leading to an assumption that he is a “bad dude” in this circumstance. (Note that there is some debate in race studies about possible underlying psychological anxieties, reinforced by racial stereotypes, that often result in acts of violence against racial minorities.)
WYSIATI is intuitive thinking biased by the assumption that “What You See Is All There Is” where one discounts or ignores what one does not know; jumping to conclusions on the basis of limited information. WYSIATI helps to explain over confidence, framing effects, and base-rate neglect biases.
Perhaps the officers were over confident, intuitively believing that they were encountering a ‘bad dude.’ WYSIATI rule implies neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence (like the motorist’s hands in the air; the vehicle stopped in the road.) The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell themselves about what they see, even if they see little. They often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence that should be critical to their judgment is missing—what we see is all there is.
WYSIATI also helps to explain other bias that may have been present at the point of decision-making by the officer. Perhaps the framing effect bias also was present. The framing effect is when different ways of presenting the same information often evokes different emotions. If the same information of a stranded motorist had been the same, yet the different way of presenting was a white female or a white elderly male motorist, that information might have evoked different emotions in the police officers such as compassion, empathy, provision of aid instead of evoking feelings of fear. (If indeed we accept this defense of fear to be accurate.)
And lastly, WYSIATI also helps to explain another bias that may have been present at the point of decision-making by the officer: Base-rate neglect. The personality description perhaps held by the police of Cruther as a ‘bad dude’ is salient and vivid, and although one surely knows that there are more black male law-abiding citizens than black male ‘bad dudes’, that statistical fact almost certainly did not come to mind when they first considered the hapless motorist.
PART IV CONCLUSION
It is highly likely System I and System 2 biases were in play during this tragic encounter between police and a motorist needing roadside assistance. Many questions arise: Why were the responding police officers so suspicious? Why did the officer rush in rather than take the time to assess the situation? Why not see the situation as a motorist needing assistance rather than a ‘bad dude’ who needs to be shouted into submission? Why the use of lethal force? These and many more questions can be answered by bias and errors in decision-making: System I and System 2 thinking.
The good news is that as people talk about and consider these human biases and errors in thinking, educating gossip will become more natural and commonplace, thus displacing intuitive thinking that is fast, automatic and emotional and often based on paradigms (simple mental rules of thumb); and thinking biases that result in impressions, feelings and inclinations. And by reducing lazy System 2 thinking that can lead to errors and bias in decision-making.
Watch the video again about educating gossip and join me in owning our beliefs; feeling courage to change those beliefs so when we know better we can do better; live a better life in community with others; and love the life you live. Let’s start edugossiping!!
Own it! Feel It! Live It! Love It!
the Educating Gossip ™