Thinking that time is scarce can influence how you evaluate information


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Anne-Sophie Chaxel, associate professor of marketing at HEC Paris, explains how the influence of a limited time perspective on hiring and promotion decision-makers can have a very detrimental effect on rectifying gender imbalance in a workplace


Do you believe you have limited time ahead of you to accomplish your life goals? This may affect how you make decisions in your job, especially regarding hiring and promotions decisions.

The current paper observes the impact of limited time perspective or thinking of time as a scarce resource in life, on the occurrence of a specific bias known to exacerbate the influence of stereotypes on choice.

This bias, called information distortion, is a bias by which decision-makers tend to evaluate information more positively, e.g. information about a candidate, when the information fits their preferences, e.g. an implicit preference driven by a stereotype about the candidate.

The current research shows that limited time perspective increases information distortion. A context in which limited time perspective is particularly salient thereby has implications regarding the way information about minorities in the work place is evaluated. Being aware of the process may help mitigate its occurrence.

What’s new

We all have an inclination to attending to information that supports our views, and avoiding information that contradicts them. Let’s say you are interviewing a candidate for an open position in your company. The type of questions you will ask the candidate will in part depend on whether you wish to hire him or her.

If you are strongly considering hiring this person, prior research has shown that you will tend to look for information that would confirm your views. This bias, called selective exposure to information, is well-documented (see Hart, 2009 for a review).

But that is only part of the story. Not only do we prefer selecting information that supports our views, but we also evaluate information more positively when it supports our preconceived beliefs.

Assume that two potential candidates have a roughly equivalent job experience, but you have a personal preference for one of the candidates over the other ones - for instance, you may have graduated from the same high school. Then research shows that you would evaluate the information provided by the candidate you prefer more positively than for the other candidate.

This “rosy-glow” in information evaluation is called the information distortion bias as you distort your evaluation of incoming information so that it fits your initial beliefs.

Importantly, a recent study (Chaxel, 2015) has demonstrated that information distortion influences how decision-makers process information about candidates in a promotion process, and that a preference as subtle as that of implicit gender for a candidate can drive information distortion. This is therefore key in explaining how stereotypes influence choice.

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) and the measurement of information distortion were used to track the impact of the association between male gender and career on the evaluation of information related to the job performance of stereotypical targets (male) and non-stereotypical targets (female).

When participants had an implicit preference for the male candidate, they tended to evaluate the information about the male candidate more positively, which subsequently biased choice.

In contrast to past research, the current paper did not examine the process by which information distortion occur, and which beliefs may or may not impact its occurrence, but examined whether specific circumstances may contribute to explaining the strength of the bias. Specifically, it examined whether our time perspective may influence information distortion.

The idea is that time left in life may have important implications regarding the way we approach life and therefore make decisions. When we think of time remaining in life as more plentiful, we believe we have time that affords preparation for the future ahead of us. Therefore, we may take more time to make decisions and process information.

If we believe our future is more limited, we may tend to prioritise decisions that are more emotionally meaningful. Accordingly, we may rely more on our existing beliefs, and process new and potentially contradictory information less carefully.

This is part one of a two-part article exploring the influence time perception can have on the decision-making process. Check back tomorrow for part two which will discuss the key findings of the research and how they can be embedded in the workplace.

The full article of the above is published in the September/October 2020 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.

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