“The DNA is a Match”: Confirmation Bias

Podcast

We have more information at our fingertips than ever before… but this doesn’t mean we’re making better decisions. From DNA analysis to political debates to fantasy football, our desire to confirm our beliefs skews how we interpret the data in front of us.

Dive deeper

Are you making the best choices for your Fantasy Football league? Learn more about “The mistake almost everyone makes in fantasy football” (and how to avoid it) at ESPN.

Have you ever taken a personality test such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? You answer a list of questions, and in the end you get four letters that seem to describe you to a “T”. Here’s the problem: these letters apply to lots of people. But like weekly astrological predictions, when we read these general descriptions confirming our own personality or experiences, we don’t realize that they would seem equally real to everybody. And as we keep reading, we keep confirming – ignoring imprecisions and delighting in the accuracies. Personality tests are fine when they’re just a fun activity, but we can run into issues when we use them as a hiring and promotion tool. Read more at the New York Times.

The sequence 2, 4, 8 follows a rule. Can you figure out what it is? Try to outsmart the confirmation bias with this demo from the New York Times.

“Imagine a business considering launching a new product. The CEO has an idea for the ‘next big thing’ so he directs his team to conduct market research to explore its feasibility. The team then carries out surveys, focus groups, and competitive analyses with this in mind.” Can you see the confirmation bias at work? Here’s three tips on how to avoid it from Patrick Healy and the Harvard Business Review.

“We all have a few people in our social media networks who share ridiculous things [… b]ut most of us have also encountered well-informed, sane people who share articles that are blatantly incorrect propaganda. Why does this happen?” Read more in Jeff Stibel’s “Fake news: How our brains lead us into echo chambers that promote racism and sexism” (USA Today).

Warren Buffett is one the most successful investors in history. His secret? He “acknowledges that even his decisions could be swayed by [confirmation bias] – an important first step – and then gives voice to opinions that contradict his own.” Read more about how to think (and invest) like Buffet from Forbes.

“It’s easy to assume that presenting factual information will automatically change people’s minds, but messages can have complex, frustrating persuasive effects […] It turned out that climate change skeptics – whether politically conservative or liberal – showed more resistance to the stories that mentioned climate change. Climate change themes also made skeptics more likely to downplay the severity of the disasters. At the same time, the same articles made people who accept climate change perceive the hazards as more severe.” Read more from Professor Ryan Weber’s “Extreme weather news may not change climate change skeptics’ minds” at The Conversation.

References

Dror, I. E., & Hampikian, G. (2011). Subjectivity and bias in forensic DNA mixture interpretation. Science & Justice, 51(4), 204-208.

Wason, P. C. (1960). On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12(3), 129-140.

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175-220.

Taber, C. S., & Lodge, M. (2006). Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 755-769.

Bodell, L. (2016). Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution. Routledge.

Credits

“The DNA is a Match”: Confirmation Bias was created and developed by Olivia Kang, Kirsten Morehouse, Evan Younger, and Mahzarin Banaji. Research and Development Assistants for this episode include Moshe Poliak and Megan Burns. Outsmarting Human Minds is supported by Harvard University, PwC, and Johnson & Johnson.

Narration by Olivia Kang

Sound Editing & Mixing by Evan Younger

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Artwork by Olivia Kang and Megan Burns