Thursday, August 27, 2009

More on Confirmation Bias

For a few months I’ve been doing my best to lose a little bit of weight. I’ve basically just been eating smaller potions and walking on my lunch hours. The biggest motivator that I have is that my new office has a small workout room with a scale. I’ve made it a habit of starting the day off by checking my weight and recording it. In order to make sure that my results are meaningful I always measure under the same conditions. It’s always dressed for work at 6:45am and having only had a small breakfast. I even make sure that I don’t have my phone or any change in my pockets to be sure that the results aren’t artificially skewed.

Tuesday I had something to do after work and I didn’t want to show up in my AT&T uniform so I wore a nicer shirt and some different shoes. As I walked to the scale I realized that the results may not be accurate. I didn’t know if my outfit was heavier or lighter than what I usually wear. Just before I stepped on the scale I recognized that I was about to fall victim to my own confirmation bias. If the scale had read a little lighter than the day before I was ready to accept that as evidence of my diet and exercise was working. However, I was also fully ready to accept that if I was a little heavier that it was not my fault, it’s the differences in my wardrobe. As soon as I realized this I refused to step on the scale.

I bring this up again because lately I’ve seen far too many examples of people accepting information that supports their opinions and then wholesale rejecting any evidence that goes against it. Comments on blogs that accuse the blogger of a political bias while ignoring posts on the same blog that are highly critical of the same party. Family members who accept that a quack treatment works based on one example while ignoring the multiple times the same treatment did not make them feel better. Church friends using archaeological evidence to support their belief in the Book of Mormon but refusing to even read counter evidence.

It’s natural to cling to what makes us comfortable. Unfortunately it may not be the best thing to do. You’re not going to get accurate results if you can’t accept all of the evidence. If that’s the attitude that you have when you approach an issue just do as I did. Don’t even step on the scale. Same holds true on any other issue. Be aware of your biases and do your best to make sure they don’t influence your decisions.

1 comment:

  1. Everyone is in danger of falling prey to CB; it is just more embarrassing when I as a bare-knuckled skeptic wander off the path. Ben Franklin said: "There are no greater liars in the world than quacks——except for their patients." And me, when I am looking for evidence to corroborate my hopes, my in-too-deep-to-back-out-now investments, or my prejudices.