Friday, January 6, 2017

Taking on cognitive bias in 2017

Image by Geralt via Pixabay.

With a slew of fake news controversies behind us and a new year ahead, here’s an idea for a New Year’s resolution: Think about how you might be wrong.

Behavioral economist Richard Thaler made this suggestion last year in a podcast interview. In it, he discusses a number of cognitive biases (or mistakes in memory, reasoning, or evaluating information due to previously held preferences and beliefs) that affect our decision making. Among them was confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek out and quickly believe information that supports what we already thought to be true.

According to Thaler,
“One of the reasons we’re overconfident is that we actively seek evidence that supports our views. That’s true of everybody, that’s part of human nature, so that’s one reason we’re overconfident; we’re out there looking for support that we’re right. We rarely go out of our way to seek evidence that would contradict us. If people want to make a New Year’s resolution, it would be to test their strong beliefs by asking what would convince them that they were wrong, then looking around and seeing whether they might find some evidence for that.”
Confirmation bias is only one of many ways our own thought processes can interfere with our critical thinking skills, and it's worth thinking about how these factors may change the conclusions we reach.

For more information on cognitive bias and related topics, check out this fun, Mental Floss graphic or the library resources below.

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