Biases 1 - Confirmation Bias

We are in control

There is a main reason why OhFool has been created (except of sharing my beautiful drawings) - to share how little we know about how our mind works - or putting it differently - “what a fool I am”!

And there is a thing we’re not aware of, having a great effect on many aspects of life (friends, success, beliefs, money) - and that’s what is called as Cognitive Bias.

A Cognitive Bias

So what is this thing? Wikipedia to the rescue!

Wikipedia definition
A Cognitive Bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment… may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality

[My Definition] So biases are “properties” of how our brain works, that influence our behaviour. The saddest thing about them is that… we’re not aware of them at all! So we may think that our thoughts are our own, or our actions are results of conscious decision - but the truth is they might be not…

Other things about biases that make me sad…

  • some of them are with us since we’ve been born - we have no control over them
  • some of them are learned from environment throughout our life - we have no control over them

Why bother?

If you’ve never heard about biases, it means you can live you life just fine for decades, without thinking about those abstract hings, so why bother?

Because biases influence our decision - and our behaviour influences our decisions, and those influence other people in our environment.

  • There are biases showing how our bad judgement influenced last project to fail.
  • There are biases showing how we can be manipulated to overpay for our new property.
  • There are biases that explains how new ideas can be shown in a way, that makes it more probably for us to accept them
  • There are biases that are just hurtful towards others…

So in once sentence - we might lose money, position, project and friends, so we might as well want to know why that happened!

The Nobel prize goes to…

There is one fact that confirms (funny, you’ll get it after finishing the article 😀) the theory of how important biases are, especially the cognitive ones.

One of the most famous researcher - Daniel Kahneman - who has spent large amount of time learning about cognitive biases - received a Nobel Price on 2002 in ECONOMY.

Prize motivation
…for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty

Yes… knowing about biases might be useful 😁

Confirmation Bias

Let me introduce the first bias - Confirmation Bias.

General idea is simple - we have a natural tendency to search for, interpret or favour facts that confirm our personal beliefs or values.

This post is taking a bit long, so let’s jump into examples.

Girls cannot handle emotions at work

Imagine drinking a coffee at our job. Having a casual conversation about “why the IT domain is occupied mostly by man.” The topic quickly diverges towards correlations between management positions and gender.

Your colleague says “I just think that women should not have managers roles. They are just too emotional”. You immediately recall Alice - a manager from your last company - she once run out of a meeting crying.

Yes - your mind easily finds proofs of a theory based on your experience. Those might be just a single memory, you don’t consider the context of that situation, you don’t recall her other skills and her personality.

You suddenly accept the theory as general truth as the example easily comes as a confirmation to the theory. Why should we dig deeper into this topic or why should we argue that this theory is just your colleague’s opinion, if we already have a proof available in our memory, right?

Social media

Social medias like Facebook develop algorithms that makes us stay on the site longer. So what they do, is that they filter things on our timeline and show us posts we’ll probably find interesting, or you’ll agree with them (for example political content). This is sometimes called “filter bubbles” - they just show us materials/opinions matching our personal bubble.

We see that majority of people share our opinion, so we’re probably right about a topic. But that’s a false feeling, as we’re being shown that on purpose - we just see things that match our mindset and opinions. This shows how we’re naturally getting confirmation for our opinion, forgetting that it’s just because we’ve been classified as a part of Bubble XYZ.

We search for what we believe in

COVID is the “new” thing around us - and we might care about it or not. But our Google query might depend on our first view on the topic!

If we don’t like the social distancing idea (because we just don’t like it), we’ll probably google proofs of COVID being a global conspiracy, or we’ll be looking for posts saying it’s just an exaggeration or an artificial panic.

If we believe that it really might be a global health crisis and people are in danger, we will probably google about “flattening the curve” to learn more about it.

What is funny - we’ll find opinions confirming our beliefs no matter on which side we are (well, Google filters the results for us to fight “fake news” so…)

Programming Languages flame wars

An example from my favourite IT world? Ever met a programmer who hates a programming language… just because? Take JAVA as an example - depending on what our opinion is - we’ll google for blogposts proving how JAVA sucks or how great it is.

And we’ll always confirm that we’re right! That’s why programming languages wars will never end 😀

/images/2020-05-17/java-fast.png /images/2020-05-17/java-slow.png

Can we control it?

So can we control the Confirmation Bias? Well “YES” and “NO” 😀

“NO”, because it is how our brain works - that’s our natural tendency. That’s how our mind digests proofs of theories.

“YES”, because we’re lucky to have a thing called prefrontal cortex! It helps us in rational thinking, it might stop our natural tendencies. So when stop ourselves consciously, seeing some thought in our mind. At this moment we can ask ourselves: “why do I think like that?". That’s the moment we can influence our beliefs.

So now that we know that Confirmation Bias exists, there is a chance we’ll spot it just in time. Then we can decide - should I query “java is slower than Golang”, or should I google more neutral query, like “java golang performance comparison”.

Final thoughts

Why I think confirmation bias might be important? We generally admire our logical thinking capabilities - and this bias shows that our logical thinking is often “biased” (aka “influenced”) by our subjective opinions.

That’s what can make us stuck to our opinions, believing that they are true. Spotting that we’re being influenced by a confirmation bias can make us more open-minded. Without it, we might be shutting down opportunities to learn from others. Think about it, when having a messy argument with friends or colleagues over a certain topic next time. Cheers!

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