Beware the Confirmation Trap

“Man is the only kind of varmint who sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.”

-John Steinbeck

TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about the confirmation trap. Confirmation bias, also known as the confirmation trap, occurs when we procure data and information that aligns with our beliefs and ignore that which runs counter to our arguments.

“The confirmation trap occurs when we procure data and information that aligns with our beliefs and ignore that which runs counter to our arguments.”

The ability to recognize bias is essential for survival. To be cognizant that we are strongly attracted to our own beliefs and that these biases, left unchecked, increase our vulnerability for errors needs to be constantly addressed. Bias in opinion is easier to detect and correct; however, confirmation bias – when we actively seek out information to back our preconceived beliefs is dangerous!

“The ability to recognize bias is essential for survival.”

 

How do you avoid the confirmation trap?

How do you escape the fallacy of searching for information that propagates an erroneous echo chamber?

There are three strategies you can employ that are effective at liberating you from this trap.

1. Be a cynic. Act like a doubter. Question as a skeptic. Question both the quality of the data and the validity of the source. Those that know me, come to recognize that engagement by means of doubt is something I value dearly. I believe that the ability to question is essential for the overall health of the individual and the common collective. Worthwhile societal contributions are commonly created by this process of questioning and conflict.

“The ability to question is essential for the overall health of the individual and the common collective.”

2. Plan how you acquire your data or information. This strategy tends to apply more towards your professional tasks but I recommend you plan your data gathering ahead of time. In the medical and scientific literature, we describe this as a priori endpoints and outcome measures. The act of specifying analytical methodology before you start looking at the results minimizes haphazard and scattered conclusions.

3. Two sources are better than one. When in doubt, have multiple sources. Few strategies are as simple, yet as effective, as having multiple trusted sources to ascertain the validity of the information you are analyzing. As I have mentioned here on the Sunday Surgical Scrub before, never rely on just one source for any meaning analysis.

 

MEDICINE & MACULA: My new book, Decision Diagnosis: Seven Antidotes to Decision Procrastination, is now available on both Kindle and as a paperback.

My sincere thanks for making it an Amazon best seller in multiple categories and countries!

 You can find it here.

 

GRATIS: Whenever I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to drive my kids to school, I always remind them to ask one good new question each day. Then, I ask them to look for holes, fallacies and inconsistencies in the answer they get back. Always be on guard for the confirmation trap!

 

My best to you,

David Almeida

david@davidalmeidamd.com

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