Saturday, February 9, 2013

Confirmation bias in Mistakes Were Made

A fellow from the local discussion group felt that he and I are engaged in confirmation bias. He linked to an interview of Carol Tavris, co-author of Mistakes Were Made. Perhaps we are, but I'm thinking there is a difference of degree here. Again, this could just be my bias talking, so let's explore that from the interview.

I like this quote from Dr. Tavris: "This is one of the reasons science is so unpopular—I should say is so difficult—because scientists are humans, and scientists don’t like it when their predictions are disconfirmed." Perhaps so, but the point is that the scientific method itself proceeds this way. I'd suggest that the scientists who refuse to accept consciousness are ignoring the rapidly accumulating empirical data, and innovative theories based thereon, against their dissonance. But science marches on. Time will tell which view is better.

I also like the point about buying a car, that in the process of making a decision we are open-minding, weighing various facts. It is only after a decision is made that confirmation bias goes into effect unconsciously (16). This would seem to indicate we consciously deliberated about the choice before unconscious confirmation bias kicks in. This is in light of the question that elicited this answer, as it specifically asked about unconscious choices distinguished from conscious choices. Am I using confirmation bias to interpret what she said here? Or is that actually what she said?

I appreciate the discussion of 21-2 about how we can come to recognize this trait in ourselves and do something about it, how we can overcome this unconscious process. She doesn't come right out and say we do so by consciously becoming aware of it, but that certainly seems what she's saying. She said: "You separate yourself concept from the specific action" (22). Who is the 'you' doing the separating from our bias? Can unconscious processes do that? Again, confirmation bias on my part? Or somewhat accurate?

On 23 she is asked how we can become more aware of our biases and she says to read the book. So let's turn to the book.* She said on p. 226: "Becoming aware that we are in a state of dissonance can help us make sharper, conscious choices instead of letting automatic, self-protective mechanisms resolve our discomfort in our favor." Again, am I engaging in confirmation bias or is that what she herself said?

* I found the quote at Google books preview. When you follow the link there is a search box on the left. I entered the term "conscious" and the quote I pulled in one of the results. Does anyone have the book and can give extended quotes from this section?

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