Prestige Bias and Luck

Quite a few times on this blog I have acknowledged the tremendous amount of luck I have had all the way through my career, not least that the opportunity which led to my current position in Maynooth came up when exactly when it did, but another thing that has played a role has been privilege, defined not only in terms of race and social class but also educational and institutional background. Those of us who have benefitted from this are often blind to its influence, preferring to think we achieve things purely on merit. I was reminded of this by an interesting paper on the arXiv by Brian Skinner, which has the abstract:

One of the major benefits of belonging to a prestigious group is that it affects the way you are viewed by others. Here I use a simple mathematical model to explore the implications of this “prestige bias” when candidates undergo repeated rounds of evaluation. In the model, candidates who are evaluated most highly are admitted to a “prestige class”, and their membership biases future rounds of evaluation in their favor. I use the language of Bayesian inference to describe this bias, and show that it can lead to a runaway effect in which the weight given to the prior expectation associated with a candidate’s class becomes stronger with each round. Most dramatically, the strength of the prestige bias after many rounds undergoes a first-order transition as a function of the precision of the examination on which the evaluation is based.

You can read the full paper here. The author acknowledges the role that blind luck played in his own career but also develops a simple mathematical model of prestige bias. It’s an interesting paper, well worth a read.

2 Responses to “Prestige Bias and Luck”

  1. I would like to quote the following from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_inheritance_theory#Model-based_biases

    Model-based biases result when an individual is biased to choose a particular “cultural model” to imitate. There are four major categories of model-based biases: prestige bias, skill bias, success bias, and similarity bias.[5][59] A “prestige bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are seen as having more prestige. A measure of prestige could be the amount of deference shown to a potential cultural model by other individuals. A “skill bias” results when individuals can directly observe different cultural models performing a learned skill and are more likely to imitate cultural models that perform better at the specific skill. A “success bias” results from individuals preferentially imitating cultural models that they determine are most generally successful (as opposed to successful at a specific skill as in the skill bias.) A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual based on specific traits.

  2. Since studies have repeatedly shown that, all else being equal, tall people earn more, are more successful sexually, and generally belong to a privileged class, why are there no movements to make people aware of this bias and establish methods to combat it, for example having a quota for short people when hiring?

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