Are you guilty of the ‘naturalness bias’?

by Lauren Acurantes16 Nov 2016
Given the choice between a hard worker or one that is perceived to be naturally talented, a recent study found that hiring managers would more likely go for the latter.
“Through a series of studies, researchers discovered that hiring managers show a strong bias for people whom they believe have natural talent,” reported psychology instructor Amy Morin at Forbes.
“Interestingly, most of the participants didn’t recognize this bias. They thought they preferred hard-working strivers over those with natural gifts.”
“[T]here exists the belief that certain achievements cannot be explained solely by perseverance and hard work—that natural talent plays a role, and some ‘have it’ and others ‘do not,’” wrote lead study author Chia-Jung Tsay, assistant professor at the University College London’s (UCL) School of Management.
According to a report by the Association of Psychological Science (APS), Tsay conducted three different studies to reach her conclusions.
In her first study, Tsay showed 212 participants a profile of ‘Charles’, “an entrepreneur who had quickly achieved a high-ranking position through new product development at a recycling company”.
Half of the participants were told that he was a naturally talented leader from day one while the other half were told that he was a ‘striver’ that became a good leader by developing critical relationships.
Participants were then asked to listen to Charles’ pitch for a business idea and were asked to rank his proposal based on factors such as likelihood of success, skill demonstrated, and their willingness to hire Charles.
“Overall, participants gave Charles and his business proposal higher marks when he was presented as a natural as opposed to a striver,” reported the APS.
Repeating the study with more than 300 participants yielded the same results.
In her third study, participants were shown pairs of individuals who were ranked based on their attributes “[relating] to entrepreneurship: management skills, leadership experience, IQ, investor capital previously raised, and naturalness versus striving”.
Asked which person they would more likely hire, 60% of participants went for the naturally talented, even when they knew they were hiring a less qualified individual and that their hiring would cost them some money.
“When researchers quantified the results, they discovered that participants were willing to give up over four years of leadership experience, 8% in management skills, 30 points on IQ, and over US$30,000 in accrued capital to invest in an entrepreneur who was identified as a natural,” summarised Morin.
It was also of interest to note that the more experience the study subjects had in entrepreneurship, “the more biased they were toward people with natural talent”.
“Further investigations into the nature of experience that moderates the naturalness bias are warranted so that more specific solutions can be identified and prioritised based on where the costs of the bias are more likely to accrue,” explained Tsay.
“[In] the routine hiring of employees in business settings … we must consider the impact of the naturalness bias in those who make these critical decisions,” she concluded.


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