Guest Author - Tracy Webb
The reality of the mind is of constant interest to many. How we think and make decisions seems to be a natural rational occurrence, however, there seems to be an in-built mechanism that directs us to making the wrong decisions.
Confirmation bias ‘is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses’ (Wikipedia). We are driven to make decisions based, not on the evidence in front of us, rather on the information that confirms what we already know.
We find all the evidence we need to support our theory, even when other evidence that does not support it is available. This becomes important if you are in charge of making top level decisions that affect others on a huge scale. For example; financial decisions can lead to a crash in the economy.
Our past thoughts and actions about anything becomes a blueprint for how we deal with similar situations at other time. We check back in our data banks and re-run the same process we used before. In the same way, when we are faced with a situation that seems familiar, we will look for the familiar aspects and piece them together and come up with a scenario that fits.
In every case we believe that what we did was correct, and feel good about it. It may feel like good about ourselves, and confirmed our understanding of the situation and acted accordingly. However, acting accordingly is going to depend on your past experiences and expectations of the situation you are dealing with.
I recently saw an example of this on Horizon (BBC1), where some government agents were given a test task to determine the likely criminal group that would carry out a threatened bomb attack in the New York City.
They were each given all the information they needed, including two possible suspects. They reviewed all the information carefully and made their decision. In view of the past history of both suspect groups, they all identified the same group as being the most obvious suspect since they had previously carried out similar attacks.
Within the group of agents tasked to this was one person from the outside who knew nothing about either groups, or their previous history. All he had to go on was the information he had been presented. Every agent chose the same particular group, while the outsider could see clearly that it was in fact the other group who would be responsible for such an attack.
It does make me wonder how many decisions that have been made were actually rational and reasoned, as opposed to being familiar and made to fit into our confirmed beliefs about them. Also makes me question the nature of reality since we all live in a world that we are making fit into our beliefs about it, therefore, making it up as we go along.