Sometimes I feel like I hear this term too often. I realize it can easily explain away a lot of things that are not as they appear but if used to often we can fail to recognize important trends in things as well. As a mechanic most of my life I feel like it was one of the most important tools in my box when it came to preventive maintenance. I feel like trends are often dismissed prematurely.
No. It really isn’t. In fact, 99% of what is wrong with modern medicine can be attributed to it. It’s the easiest and most common form of bias available, and anyone who isn’t checking their judgments for it is making a grave mistake.
We might need you to explain exactly what confirmation bias means when you use the term. To be honest, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of it being used to argue against implementing an engineering-based set of actions.
Confirmation bias says that if I expect sugar to be linked to increased rates of alzheimers, I’m going to crystal clear remember all the times that one alzheimers patient ate sugar, regardless that their average sugar consumption may well have been less than the average person eats.
What that has to do with mechanical engineering, I have no idea.
You really don’t.
If you don’t yet realize how important it is, and how easily our brains fall into this trap, then you don’t hear it nearly enough.
Trends are often dismissed prematurely because of confirmation bias.
If you’re having trouble accepting a trend, then it’s very possible that there are some strong counterexamples in your memory that unfairly tip the scales. You notice the counterexamples, and those strong memories are given undue weight. This means you dismiss the trend unjustly because of how easily the counterexamples popped into your head. A mechanical system like a car doesn’t involve any ideological hang-ups (no one claims that the Bible told them they don’t need oil changes), but nevertheless it’s still very easy to fall into the trap. It wouldn’t surprise me that you missed some of these mechanical trends because of a preconception that they were wrong, and this preconception caused you to misperceive the issue.
More generally, we run into situations where we have strong preconceptions about the way we expect the world to work. And in these cases, our natural instinct – yours, mine, and everybody else’s – will be to dismiss the significance or even the existence of the trend, because we have a ready supply of counterexamples sticking out in our memory. We will dismiss an obvious trend by citing random examples from our lives that we happen to remember. Human observation is anything but objective. We really, truly don’t tend to notice what we don’t want to notice.
This very OP is yet another potential example.
There is an unbelievably strong trend here that you’re resisting, a human mental foible backed by copious psychological evidence, and you aren’t accepting it… because why? A few random counterexamples are making themselves heard inside your head, and you’re choosing to listen to those mental examples that you remember instead of looking at any studies. Notice how you don’t cite in the OP any of the examples where confirmation bias was supposedly used “too much”. You don’t have any details in your head that go against your idea. Your offered details related only to your personal memory.
That’s not a sure thing but it certainly fits the pattern.
Honestly, I think you only notice when it’s used improperly, and don’t notice when it’s correctly not used; it just seems like it’s used too often, for some reason or another.
Confirmation bias, sampling bias, context bias, and related phenomena are possibly the most important characteristics of human perception.
Human brains are very, very bad about perceiving the the world outside of a very limited scope literally within arm’s reach and not even then.
Your brain is always trying to find patterns and trends and create stereotypes, because that’s what it’s evolved to fi, but for the vast world of factual knowledge, it is almost 100 percent wrong.
To truly see the world as it is, to understand it, to actually learn facts, you have to diligently practice fighting your brain’s instinct to find patterns, trends, etc.
So, no. It’s not overused. More likely it’s vastly underused.
To put this into perspective: I try very hard to apply a filter to adjust for confirmation bias to every action I make. Every decision I make, I think, “Okay, are we sure we’re not just confirming what we think we know here and ignoring the misses?” And I still get caught up on it regularly. That’s how pervasive confirmation bias is. It’s a fundamental part of how we view the world, and if we don’t watch out for it, it will eat us alive.
Humans are almost 100% wrong about patterns that we notice? That is very hard to believe. How do we get through the day being so wrong about everything all the time?
Because for the most part seeing mistaken patterns in data about the larger world—most of which is outside our immediate sensory experience—doesn’t affect our individual ability to survive, but it does make us use fallacious assumptions for stereotypes or policy decisions.
Because the people in charge of very important things - medicine, law, technology even business, tend to have years of education and high intelligence that allow them to get beyond this simplistic and crude pattern making. Most of us are not ever in charge of anything very important, and thank goodness for that.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding you. As an example, I have noticed a pattern where, if my whole household has a shower in the morning, I will run out of hot water later in the day (our hot water heater only comes on at night). I haven’t kept a tally of how often this happens. I haven’t timed people’s showers. It’s a strong impression I have. Do you think I am almost 100% likely to be wrong about this?
If someone is a mechanic and think they notice that (umm, I know nothing about cars so bear with me) people with worn tires often have worn brakes as well, do you think they are almost certainly wrong about there being a correlation?
Those are the kinds of physical, mundane, immediate situations within literal arm’s reach in which pattern-finding works fine. They aren’t the kinds of situations that lead to broad stereotyping based on insufficient data.
That’s partially why it is so difficult for the human brain to understand when pattern-finding is inappropriate. Because on a day-to-day basis it seems like common sense to rely on that facility.
But when you use that pattern to create stereotypes for situations that for the most part take place outside your immediate physical experience, if you aren’t vigilant about confirmation bias or sampling bias, then yes, you are pretty much guaranteed to reach conclusions based on faulty reasoning close to every time.
Is the OP an outgrowth of confirmation bias?
Usually confirmation bias hppens to me in steps. First I notice a trend. Then The obvious things they have in common will pop out at me. I don’t assume a correlation at this point but I do tend to look harder trying to establish where a correlation is happening.
We had a company one time that was going through cluthches and transmissions like crazy. Most of the drivers at this company were very sloppy dressers, and generaly didn’t seem to take very good care of themselves. The interiors of the trucks were filthy and they tended to drive the trucks until they stopped. My first assumption was that they were hiring a bunch of unproffessional bums.
Upon closer examination I found the bulk of the problems actually were due to management.
They were hiring guys for less money who were older and usually partially disabled and afraid of loosing their jobs. They would not allow them time for maintenance. On top of that they were forced to crowd the parking lot so tight that they often could not get between the vehicles to release brakes so had to drag them out. This was causing clutch and drive line problems which often resulted in tranny problems as well.
I am a nature lover and pay a lot of attention to the urban wildlife. Over a period of 60 years I have seen the populations of various animals fall and grow, some disappeared, some I have never seen suddenly start appearing and become common sights. It is always fun to try and identify the trends as they seem to be happening. Some trends like the disappearance of the western spadefoot appear to be straight forward, all the ponds are gone. The disappearance of the little sparrow hawk and the shrikes, all the fields are gone. The near dis appearance of the recently common red tail hawk seems to be comming from more competition for perigrines, sharpshinned hawks and cooopers hawks as they have just recently reappeared and are fastly re establishing themselves. All these theories are based on confirmation bias and may have no merit whatsoever but I consider them to be starting points.
A safe following distance is 4 seconds, but you don’t need that much because you are an experienced driver.
keep that in mind the next time you drive past a 5 car pile up and see all those teen drivers exchanging info.