Confirmation Bias & The Availability Error


A set-theoretic illustration of hypothesis tes...

Image via Wikipedia

There are many ways by which we can deceive and delude ourselves, and two of the better known mechanisms for this are the well-established phenomena known as Confirmation Bias and, its partner in confusion, the Availability Error.

Confirmation Bias…

…is a universally human tendency to seek out and pay more heed to information which confirms our views and opinions, and is one of the major reasons why much scientific investigation involves attempts to falsify its hypotheses, at least in principle, when doing so would be more decisive than verifying them in the testing of an idea.

Verifying an idea may occasionally be useful, like finding even one actual example of an alien civilization in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, but in many cases verification alone is so ambiguous, so trivial, that it tells us nothing new and interesting.

Confirmation bias is often evident in our daily lives, and is often seen in our tendency to read, watch, or listen to media outlets which support our ideologies and associate mostly with those who agree with us.

It can be offset by deliberately seeking out information which disagrees with us, and this can be entertaining as well. Personally, I find going on fringe-proponents’ websites interesting, amusing, and educational, and I highly recommend it, because it not only allows exposure to information contrary with my views, but also allows fascinating insights into the thinking and worldviews of proponents, and anything that helps me understand ‘the opposition’ better rather than remaining ignorant of what they are really saying and arguing is a good thing.

It’s far too easy to find data to validate any claim one wants to make if one were to ignore or avoid contrary data and cherry-pick from the unruly mass of information that which seems to support it, especially when the claim is framed in a way that makes it unfalsifiable even in principle, and it is primarily for this reason that this can be so misleading in any systematic search for the truth of a claim.

The Availability Error…

…only makes the above more likely, and is an equally natural tendency to pay more heed, to more easily notice and remember, or that otherwise gets our attention, that data which is more easy to think about and imagine, more vivid, more memorable, more salient to us, and to pay less attention to, even forget, that which doesn’t stand out to us and ‘stick’ in our heads.

This is evident when we derive assessments from information that really grabs our attention and interest rather than being accurate or reliable, and this leads to errors in reasoning such as the hasty generalization and the appeal to ignorance, as well as faulty anecdotal reasoning, such as our propensity to pay attention to testimonials, develop and hold superstitious beliefs, and make sweeping claims about an entire set or class of things from far too few examples of it, which is one way stereotypes are formed and perpetuated.

To make a valid, reliable assessment, it’s a good idea to make sure that the sample used to make a generalization has enough members, and that all members of the population that the sample is taken from are equally likely to be represented.

Anecdotes are useful in science only if they are both true, and representative of the class they are drawn from, and even then they are best suited for hypothesis formulation rather than testing.

Misjudgments of probability are common when psychologically available information is used in assessing something’s likelihood, such as errors in determining the relative chance of accidents in traffic, airplane crashes, shark attacks, and injury or deaths from malfunctioning amusement park rides, all of which tend to be meaningful, vivid, and lend themselves well to visualization.

The availability error is sometimes oversimplified in pop psychology as ‘remembering the hits and forgetting the misses,’ but disconfirming evidence can be memorable as well if it too is more psychologically available, such as losing a costly wager when playing in a casino or when betting on a horse race.

Neither of these tendencies should be taken as a slur against anyone’s intelligence, sobriety, sanity, or integrity. We all do these things, including yours truly. It’s just an unfortunate side-effect of how our brains perform their normal functions. But we can offset this error in otherwise reliable thought processes if not avoid it, like confirmation bias, and I’ll offer a couple of suggestions below:

Try to come up with many explanations for a claim, while looking for alternate views, even opposing ones, and attempting to avoid hasty judgments, for these are often greatly misleading. Try then to think of and test ways to show each of these hypotheses in turn wrong rather than right, which leads to a more fertile understanding, and a more decisive though provisional evaluation.

Try to seek out all of the relevant evidence, time and energy allowing, rather than just that which stands out, or that which most easily comes to mind, since even seemingly unimportant or counterintuitive data can be vital for testing the truth-value of a claim and its attendant hypotheses.

Reference (How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, 4th edition, by Theodore Schick Jr. & Lewis Vaughn – pp. 67-73.)

About Troythulu

I seek to learn through this site and others how to better my ability as a person and my skill at using my reason and understanding to best effect. I do fractal artwork as a hobby, and I'm working to develop it to professional levels, though I've a bit to go till I reach that degree of skill! This is a crazy world we're in, but maybe I can do a little, if only that, to make it a bit more sane than it otherwise would be.

Posted on Monday, 0:02, March 28, 2011, in Psych/Brain stuffs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

Commenting below. No spam or trolling, or my cats will be angry.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Sharmishtha Basu

paintings, poems and thoughts

Realm of Empress Musie

Sharmishtha Basu's poetries

colours and words waltz

Colours and words two muses dancing together

Thoughts

Realm of Musie (my muse)

Marianne Talbot Philosophy

Marianne is Director Of Studies in Philosophy at the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education

La Audacia de Aquiles

El Mundo Visible es Sólo un Pretexto

Optimal Human Modulation

Your Space To Defrag

Words on a blackboard

In a world of poems, words steal love and put it on a blackboard

Math Outlet

Math Resources For Elementary Teachers

Kurt Brindley

status: world series, but only out of a sense of obligation, not interest, brb | music: spoon | mood: /_(' ) -------------------------------------

Author -Carole Parkes

Psychological, thriller, mystery, secrets, betrayal, adoption, romance, poetry, art

Some Bad Plankton

creative outlet plugged in

kvm88

I don't want believe I want to know. - Carl Sagan

Physics and Art

The strange case of Dr. August and Mr. von Orth.

Charlotte Cuevas, Author

Current writing projects: 52 Flashes of Fiction & The 365 Poetry Project: Year 2

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.

Deidra Alexander's Blog

I have people to kill, lives to ruin, plagues to bring, and worlds to destroy. I am not the Angel of Death. I'm a fiction writer.

lalocabrujita

Zingendewoorden

Riley Amos Westbook

A fantasy Author with too much free time on his hands.

Kelsey's Cluttered Bookshelf

My ramblings about books and other random things.

Radhika Mukherjee

Writer. Editor. Dreamer. Eco-Feminist.

The Nerd Nebula

The Nucleus of the Universe for all Nerd Hacks!

The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Sucheta the Scribbler

Random. Purely Random. And then some more...

Eric Ian Huffman

I've come to Write.

Woodland Rambles

A writer, a dog, and miles of trails

A.D. Martin

writing - novels - film - television - video games - other stuff

Sausey is Sexy...

Humor, Dating, Sex, and a Whole bunch of Sause...

bdhesse

A writing WordPress.com site

1 SIGFRIDSSON

ON = TIME

UP!::urban po'E.Tree(s)

by po'E.T. and the colors of pi

Mik Mob's Music Mass

share your favourite tunes with The Mob

Something Like a Storybook

This is where Morgan Bradham shares stuff.

Project i•Am•You

Awareness. Lifestyle. Motivation. Spirituality. Inspiration.

hessianwithteeth

This site is all about ideas

Zebra Humor

The world's biggest collection of zebra jokes!

koniramm

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas

Katzenworld

All about (our) cats. Food, toys and other cat related products

nadiaharhash

living in the shoes of a woman

Ray Jay Perreault

Science Fiction writing about aliens with lives you can relate to.

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

The Wrong Triangle

Obscurum per obscurius | Ignotum per ignotius

Daily (w)rite

A Daily Ritual of Writing

olufunkekolapo's Blog

You are on Olufunke Kolapo's blog...where talent and personality bring forth quality.

Reagent Post

Expanding Perspective and Exploring ideas

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: