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Confirmation bias and decision making


Screenshot 2018-03-15 20.11.53.png"Confirmation bias" is the tendency to gather evidence--even in an objective search--that supports the beliefs that one already has. This type of bias has certainly been at the center of the promulgation of "fake news" that is passed on without examination on social media. "See?--I told you so!" might be a comment accompanying a link with a bit of case-building regarding which set of "facts" is correct. 


In business decision-making, confirmation bias can cost a company significant amounts of money, as it jeopardizes Decision Quality, or DQ. The 6 factors of DQ can each be warped by preconceived ideas and desires, as well as prematurely truncating each process when one is happy with input that concurs with those preconceptions.


The six DQ factors are:

  • Information
  • Values
  • Alternatives
  • Reasoning
  • Frame
  • Commitment

Humans are not "wired" for DQ--rather, "we are wired to make judgments quickly and intuitively which works well for many situations but also results in predictable distortions." Overconfidence is a particularly insidious factor in bias. Nevertheless, being aware of the possibility of confirmation bias and overconfidence can help decision-makers avoid a classic programming problem, GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). The "garbage in" includes faulty or insufficient inputs to a decision-making making algorithm which then leads to flawed results.  


Source: "Overconfidence and confirmation bias in business decisions," by Barbara Mellers and Carl Spetzler with Hannah Winter, Strategic Decisions Group webinar, University of Pennsylvania, January 17, 2018.

Follow up:

  • Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test.  There are several sections of this test--some of which pertain to current political and business situations, and with social media. Discuss your results.
  • Cite 3 examples where you or individuals with whom you have interactions have fallen into the confirmation bias trap.