Bias and Trauma

I have been exploring the research and concepts that bias and trauma are deeply linked.  The linkage and directionality are much debated.   Trauma creates bias, and equally, bias creates trauma. It would appear that either can be a starting point, but they definitely feed each other, creating complex positive (healing) and negative (detrimental) feedback loops which extend beyond the individual and their immediate relationships to wider society.    

Using systems-mapping to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and trauma: A qualitative study of stakeholder experiences

Why does this matter, as all data has a bias? 

Fundamental to a decision-making role based on data is to demand that we recognise bias and try to remove bias; however, I am now thinking that if we remove the bias, we assume there is no trauma, and therefore, everyone will be rational.  Yes, there are some big ugly assumptions in that statement, but the purpose here is about the flow of challenging thinking and not academic rigour to prove something we already know. 

In removing the bias, we ignore that bias feeds trauma and that equally, trauma feeds bias; a decision made without this context has no coupling to the reality of the situation.  The alternative is that we live with the bias in our data, known and unknown; however, we don't know if the analysis for this person in this situation reflects/ fuels/heals their bias/ trauma or not.  

Therefore, the framing of removing bias is not valid; equality, a framing that recognises bias, is not valid as it cannot represent the individual.

Houston, we have a problem. Do we have to reframe bias?

I am all up for understanding bias, but it has become more evident to me that in my thrust to be curious about bias, I have to accept that I am going to have to operate in a dynamic feedback loop, and it will uncover/ reveal trauma.  Revelling trauma or bias crosses the creepy line.  The creepy line is a very subjective idea and is different for everyone.  When I published “My Digital Footprint” back in 2009, I wrote a lot about the creepy line where data collection can be the same, but how you present the data back to the user will either add value or unnerve them.  But to know what a user will accept, you test the user's concepts of a creepy line continually to find out when what you are saying becomes unacceptable and back off — deep personalisation.  The creepy line and the concepts of privacy are deeply interlinked.  Privacy is linked to perceptions of risk, and risk acceptance or adversity equally links to trauma and bias.

Bias, trauma, risk and privacy matter at both levels, macro and micro, but that is a big rabbit hole where we get into identity, but I am interested here in decision-making.  

What I am left questioning is whether understanding bias is the right thing to do. Conceptually should we spend more time understanding if this bias feeds something OR if this bias is fed by something OR both?  Would both provide new insights to help us give the user better choices and make better decisions, or are we edging toward influence and control and, in doing so, remove agency?

 CEO Take Away

Trauma and bias are critical to decision-making. In the board room and leadership executive setting, should we unpack bias and ignore trauma?   Bias is easy to talk about, trauma remains “unsaid” - I am not even sure if we assume.  The point is, can we use bias as a proxy? Knowing that many CEO’s and founders are driven by trauma, is understanding bias going to take us to a place that will be easier or more difficult to talk about how we make decisions?

Worth reading CEO childhood trauma, social networks, and strategic risk-taking


Further reading