Friday, November 19, 2010

tell me I'm right

Another quick hit on the cognitive bias topic; let's talk "confirmation bias", because it's everywhere.

But first, this deck of slides was an early (and robust!) source of inspiration and education for me about cognitive biases.  Be warned, it is a wide and deep resource, and can be a major timesuck for the curious.

So, "confirmation bias".  The wife says that its like the opposite of "buyer's remorse" (if you are unfamiliar with buyer's remorse, go find a few of your friends that spent $500+ on an iPad and ask them how they feel about it now).

The thumbnail is that people commonly seek out "confirmation" of a thesis they hold.  The thesis could be that buying something was a good idea (and so the opposite of buyer's remorse, per my wife), or the thesis could be an idea: "Coldplay is the bestest band EVER".  The way this proceeds, for example:

  1. person hears "Yellow", a single from Coldplay's first album Parachutes
  2. person is overwhelmed by the awesomeness of a ringing D chord
  3. person calls their buddy: "have you heard "Yellow"?  It's awesome, you have to hear it"
  4. if the buddy agrees, everyone relaxes in a warm glow of "Yellow" together
  5. if the buddy doesn't agree, person likely calls a second buddy: "hey, have you heard..."
Confirmation bias afflicts people in every profession and in so many different kinds of situations that once you become aware of the risk of this bias, you will start to see it everywhere.  You may even try to get other people to confirm the presence of this bias...  =)

Don't try to fit the data to the thesis.  If you care about the data, let it say what it says.

Defense wins championships - I know it!  And I can prove it:
just look at the '85 Bears, or the Steelers in the 70s!
What?  The '99 Rams?  The '06 Colts?  Um...exceptions that prove the rule?

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