Sometime we pride ourselves in making informed choices.
Informed Choice – The process of choosing from options based on accurate information and knowledge, aka The Truth.
Sometimes we might call ourselves neutral when making this informed choices/decision. To achieve that however, there must not be any bias. Neutral means that anything better than neutral, we see as good. Anything below neutral, we view as bad.
However, no one can ever be absolutely sure where the neutral point is. Factors that affect a person perception of neutral is family background, influence of the world, and forming bias.
This post is all about what I feel is the most important bias that surrounds us.
(Note: I’m not someone who like to conform to authority or bias and is someone who really wants to think my options clearly so I’ve thought through this subject years ago, especially during my youth years. I encourage you to view my opinion logically. This is merely my opinions over the years, doesn’t have to be the absolute Truth.)
Consider the following story…
(similarity to any person is purely co-incidental) (refer to reference)
Marcus wants to lose weight. So he selects a particular diet and check his progress every morning.
If he successfully shed a few kilos, he will give a pat on his own back and consider the diet a success.
If he gain a few kilos, he will attribute it to the normal fluctuation of this diet and will forget about it.
For months while Marcus was at this diet, he was in the perception that the diet is working and that he indeed shed a few kilos (in which it is gain back, making his weight constant).
Marcus was under an influence of CONFIRMATION BIAS.
Confirmation Bias – A tendency to interpret new information in a way that it is compatible with existing beliefs. A process in which we filter out any incompatible views and saying “YAH, THATS RIGHT” to the ones that supported our views.
According to Aldous Huxley (2013), facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored.
This is a dangerous practise in thinking. Especially in Business where one need to make an informed business decision.
An example is when a team of executive came out with a business strategy and celebrate at any sign that make the campaign a success, while sign of failure is ruled as exception case and very quickly, was turned the blind eyes every time the disconfirming evidence of a success surfaces.
The following is an excerpt from a book
A professor presented his student with the number sequence 2-4-6. They had to calculate the underlying rule that the professor had written on the back of a sheet of paper. The student had to provide the next number in the sequence, to which the professor would reply ‘fits the rule’ or ‘does not fits the rule’. The students could guess as many number as they wanted but could try to identify the rule only once. Most students suggested 8 as the next number, and the professor replied: ‘Fits the rule.’ To be sure, they tried 10, 12 and 14. The professor replied each time: ‘fits the rule.’ The student concluded that: ‘The rule is to add two number to the last number.’ The professor shook his head: ‘That is not the rule.’ One shrewd student tried a different approach. He tested out the number -2. The professor said ‘Does not fit the rule.’ Seven?’ he asked. ‘Fit the rule.’ The student tried all sort of numbers, -24, 9, -43… Apparently he had an idea, and he was trying to find a flaw in it. Only when he could no longer find a counter example, the student said: ‘The rule is this: the next number must be higher than the previous one.’ The professor turned over the sheet of paper, and this is exactly what was written down.
While most student was only trying to confirm their theories, this resourceful student tried to find fault with his. Consciously looking for disconfirming evidence.
Whether what your view about people is, be it ‘人之初性本善’ (people are inherently good) or ‘人之初性本恶’ (people are inherently bad). You are bound to find daily proof to support your point of view.
People who are do-gooders are simply doing so to confirm their views. People who are doing evil are simply doing so to confirm their world view. I have seen a documentary that show the poor side of US where all the Black reside in poverty community.
To them, their view about surviving is to deal drugs. People who don’t, die of poverty, people who do, manage to barely make a living.
These evidences form their belief. Individually, most of them are nice people (I mention individually, because in group, there come another psychology rule that governs their behaviour. I.e. Social Proof, Mob/Herd mentality. But their a heavy topic for another day)
Before you continue on with the post, and to make a point, do this experiment.
Fortune teller, astrology, horoscope all work under the same principle of being very vague.
This short snippets shows how people pick up confirmation bias.
Generally, you would pick up evidence that support the point of the fortune teller, astrology, horoscope, zodiac, economist.
Self Help and Get Rich Quick Books are further examples of this storytelling.
To prove their point, they will look for examples to support their case. Things like, ‘Meditation is the key to Happiness’ or perhaps Yoga (please do not bash me up for that, bff. Its no doubt just a good stretching exercise :P).
When in fact, there are countless others who do those and do not achieve Happiness.
Or have you ever consider the story of successful people as a Survivorship Bias. Which mean that your odd of following exactly someone course of action and succeeding is extremely small but you consider it to be a viable way since they survive, and they stands up from the crowd (of thousands who failed).
I’m not trying to be negative and say you will not succeed. I’m simply saying, the best chance for you is to work on your strength and not seek to try to do something that is not you, just because someone is doing it and succeeding.
The media outlet we choose, especially on the Internet also outline a particular bias and that it constantly strengthen bias. I couldn’t imagine how bias people who constantly visit Roy blog will be.
Towards the view on God
There lies a time in my youth where I consider the confirmation bias based on views toward existence and the working of God. Many of us find look at our lives and see miracles by God and God/Jesus appearing in their dream.
For this touchy issue, I need clearly define what interpretation on Miracles is and on the fact that no one really know the absolute Truth.
1) Of course, you can be very conservative and broad and say, each and everyday you live is a Miracle. It’s a miracle that the earth weren’t 1m closely to the Sun that we will be burned to ashes. You can say that a Pre-Destined Plan by God is a Miracle.
However, what I mean by Miracle in this case is Divine Intervention by God. The only exception to this rule is in isolated mountain village where miracle is needed. That’s why I don’t like it when Believer being accused by non-Believer for confirmation bias on the subject on Miracles. Or the appearing in dreams stuff.
2) I seek to be neutral, understanding both end of the spectrum. The good and the bad, but there will be still a small chance that I may be subjected to Confirmation Bias due to my up-bringing and the influence over the years by family and peers. So I can’t tell you I’m absolutely RIGHT on everything.
Only God knows. The absolute Truth. However, I believe that God’s standard in neutrality is something we can’t fully comprehend as its either GOOD or its BAD, no room for grey area. Grey Area = Bad. If you really think about it 😛
It is just human nature that we all have some loyalty to our existing opinions/views, and it would be silly to change our mind every time a new idea comes along. But it doesn’t seem right to distort the evidence by confirmation bias.
To avoid it, we’ve got to want to avoid Confirmation Bias. Both Believer and non-Believer have to want to know the truth more than strengthen their existing view. I don’t suppose we will ever achieve it perfectly, but as a christian, I think we need to be open to new truths (dis-confirming evidence, I don’t mean other doctrine). Questions and doubts can be the gateway to new understandings 🙂
(Old habit die hard… here are the references I look into when writing this posts)
Belsky, G., & Gilovich, T. (1999). Why smart people make big money mistakes–and how to correct them: lessons from the new science of behavioral economics. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Dobelli, R. (2013). Beware the ‘Special Case’. The art of thinking clearly: better thinking, better decision (). London: Sceptre.
Evans, J. S. (1989). Bias in human reasoning: causes and consequences. London: Erlbaum.
Gilovich, T. (1993). How we know what isn’t so: the fallibility of human reason in everyday life. New York: Free Press.
Hatfield, E. (2013, November 21). Christians, atheists and confirmation bias. Is there a God. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/belief/christians-atheists-and-confirmation-bias/
Levine, R. (2003). The power of persuasion: how we’re bought and sold. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.