In the 1970s, two psychologists proved, once and for all, that humans are not rational creatures. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky discovered “cognitive biases,” showing that that humans systematically make choices that defy clear logic. From these biases, one bias in particular — confirmation bias — might be especially difficult to overcome, according to a new study that sheds light on how human brains can trick us into getting things wrong.
What is confirmation bias?
Confirmation bias refers to the tendency of human beings to search for and favor information that confirms their beliefs while simultaneously ignoring or devaluing information that contradicts these beliefs. It is not natural for people to formulate a hypothesis and then test various ways to prove it false. Instead, it is far more likely that they will form one hypothesis, assume it is true and only seek out and believe information that supports it. Most people don’t want new information, they want new ways to validate old information.
How is related to machine learning and data analytics?
In predictive modeling and big data analytics, confirmation bias can drive an analyst towards seeking evidence that favors an initial hypothesis. For example, the analyst might frame survey questions in such a way that all answers support a particular point of view. Interpretation of information can also hold a bias. Two analysts can review the same data, but select different aspects of the data to support each of their individual preferred outcomes. Because people tend to remember information that reinforces the way they already think, memory also plays a part in confirmation bias.
Let me put this way, my dear readers say you traveled to Frankfurt and you think there are a lot of green mercedes cls on the road. Every time you see a green mercedes cls, you feel like your idea is confirmed. Every time you see any other car, it doesn’t devalue your belief. So even if green mercedes cls were a below average combination of car and color, you would never realize it. For your eyes , they’re everywhere. You saw three this week. You don’t remember seeing a single white mercedes cls on the street because you weren’t looking for them.
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How is confirmation bias in real life?
Scientific American provided an experiment within their article to prove how confirmation bias affects individual political beliefs. The double-blind experiment was conducted by Drew Westen at Emory University. The study took place during the election season of 2004, with George W. Bush running on the Republican side and John Kerry running on the Democratic side. In his study, he took an MRI of 30 males — half of the males claimed to be strong Republicans and the other half claimed to be strong Democrats. They listened to statements from both candidates during the study and had to state their thoughts on the candidate’s statements. The study proved that the Republicans were more critical of Kerry’s comments and Democrats were more critical of Bush’s comments.
However, can the standing man rely on this study alone to prove the correlation? The study resulted in different emotional waves getting triggered in the brain, depending on which candidate the male-favored. This study is not enough to prove the correlation between politics and confirmation bias because it only sampled a small group of people. Also, everyone has different sets of beliefs. Are all of the people in this study as strongly opinionated as they say they are? Drew Westen did not report what kind of statements that were listened to for his experiment. Were one candidate’s statements more persuasive compared to the other? Western conducted the experiment in a systematic manner, but the number of his subjects is too small in order for this study to be evidence that confirmation bias is found in politics. The way in which he could improve this experiment would be to increase and vary the number of subjects that partake in the study.
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