Heart Trumps Head: Limiting Emotion and Bias in Decisionmaking

Successful management of a claim or case, whether plaintiff or defense, requires logical analysis.  The essence of the tort and worker’s compensation systems is monetizing injury and allocating responsibility for payment.  Essentially, claims and cases are just a fight over money, over who should bear the cost of a particular illness, injury, or condition.    In a perfect world, we would analyze cases carefully and assign value dispassionately and with the rational precision of Mr. Spock.  Unfortunately, ours is not a perfect world.  We are not perfectly rational and emotion often infuses how we analyze and manage claims.

Human beings, though possessing remarkable cognitive capacities, are creatures of emotion.  And no matter how hard we try, we cannot divorce emotion from reasoning.  This presents particular problems for those of us in the medico-legal world because we are asked to administer, defend, and prosecute claims using pure, objective reason while being almost biologically incapable of doing so.  For example, in our system of risk perception, instinctive reaction moves faster than conscious thought, “The system is set up to be fast rather than smart.  Our brains are hardwired to feel first and think second.”  Not only that, but “in those cases where the outputs from the two processing systems disagree, the affective, association-based system usually prevails.” (full paper can be downloaded from linked site). 

So what do we do given that, “no matter how hard we try to reason carefully and objectively, our brains are hardwired to rely on feelings as well as facts to figure out how to keep us alive?”   For starters, it helps to acknowledge that our decision making is less rational and objective than we think.  We want to analyze claims with as little emotional response as possible.  In making decisions, we should strive to push reason forward so that the quick-response, emotional system does not dominate and overpower more deliberate, rational thought.  We can implement strategies to give the conscious, rational part of our brain more influence over our decisions:

When analyzing and managing claims, taking a few simple steps to slow down and let reason come to the fore can help minimize the role emotion and bias plays.  And the clearer we think, the better we are at analyzing liability, causation, and the nature and extent of injury.   


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