Jan 31, 2013

Confirmation Bias

I went to an excellent presentation by New College of Florida Political Science Professor Frank Alcock. He talked about how polarized our politics is today, although contended that is about the same as in the past.

He talked about Comformance Bias. 

From Wikadpedia

Conformance Bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) which is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information
selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way

The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about current political issues, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.
Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situ ations).

A series of experiments in the 1960s suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs. Later work re-interpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people's conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishful_thinking
and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way.

Who does this sound like?


And maybe some of you.

Professor Alcock said that smart people are the worst, which is us. We are confident that we are smart and know the truth and can easily search the internet for good looking web sites that prove our point.

Of course none of us do that. Much.