Personal experiences with confirmation bias

Aug 23, 2013 · 4 min read

Throughout different stages of my life, I have observed my own personal experiences of confirmation bias. The confirmation bias exists when people use evidence to confirm their own beliefs but they ignore or omit any disconfirming information that could contradict these beliefs. The confirmation bias is also known as the selective bias because of this reason, whereby people often neglect any contradictory information that could disprove their convictions.

My mother came to visit me last week and she called attention to a confirmation bias that I have been observing for years but have never took the time to notice it. We were walking out the front door to leave for dinner downtown, and my mother looked outside and noticed the heavy rain falling. She stopped me and said that if I did not bring a raincoat and hat I would catch a cold without a doubt. I have heard that phrase a million times before, but had never viewed the statement as a confirmation bias. I had always attributed the sayings to old urban legends that parents used to scare their children into doing what they are told to do.

After catching a few colds after playing in the rain, I had only supported my mothers’ claims. Nevertheless, this was a clear example of a confirmation bias. In the example of catching a cold in the rain my mother attempted to look for evidence that was consistent with a prior hypothesis. The prior hypothesis in this situation was that you are bound to catch a cold if you went outside without a raincoat. By looking at research that confirms her opinion, my mother exhibits the confirmation bias in her decision making process. In this example catching a cold is the previously held conviction and getting wet is the confirming information.

However this example also ignores any contradictory information against this belief. The conviction does not address the other times and seasons that you can catch a cold. People catch colds in the middle of the summer when the weather is dry and there is little rain . Furthermore, if it is true that wetness or feeling cold causes a person to catch a cold, then we should catch a cold every time we take a cold shower or go swimming in a pool. Although these instances might have been seen by a person who uses this confirmation bias, people often ignore disconfirming information when we already believe in our own views.

As a result my mother did not test her assumptions on what she thought was true because she believed she already had the evidence needed to confirm her beliefs. More importantly, this example shows how the confirmation bias only operates in environments that support a favored hypothesis. This is a significant problem related to the bias because it shows the fundamental flaws in a conviction because all information is not collected and addressed. To correct this bias, extensive research can be done to attempt to disprove my mothers’ beliefs. Although many confirmation biases are caused by laziness and desire to prove a hypothesis, I believe the confirmation bias of hoaxes and legends stems more from a person’s background and cultures.

Another bias that people often use is the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error exists when people attribute the personality of specific individuals rather than the structure of the organization in the role it has to play in a company’s success or failure. This bias emphasizes that a person’s actions have more to do with their innate personality than the environmental or social forces that could be acting on that person. People have a strong tendency to attribute behavior to character traits rather than structures. The error is also known as the robust error where people downplay the role of situations and system.

The fundamental attribution error is a bias that I recently observed when my best friend’s parents opened up a restaurant. My best friends’ parents opened up a restaurant about three years ago and I have watched their business closely over these past few years including working in the restaurant as a bus boy. It is a very nice restaurant which attracts very affluent customers, but the restaurant relies too heavily on the abilities of its employees instead of developing a good organization. Their restaurant has been primarily focused on developing a ‘star system’ instead of a functional group of talented employees who could work together. The restaurant employs two world class chefs, and a host of attractive waiters and waitresses. My friends’ parents had adopted a star strategy believing that this was the best approach because organizational outcomes were generally not as successful as individual outcomes.

Having worked in the restaurant, it is evident that a better organizational structure is needed. The waiters and waitresses are not trained for their own specified roles and there is often overlapping between the workers. The speed of taking the order, cooking the food and serving the customer is rather slow for a restaurant of this stature because the two chefs work independently. It would be beneficial for the efficiency of the restaurant if one chef was allotted the seafood, whilst the other chef cooked on the grill.

The fundamental error is predictable in this situation because the stars receive more attention than the system. Nevertheless a person must focus on not only the quality of the individuals but also how they are organized and how well they work in the structure. The implications for my friends’ parents are to focus on finding the right people and putting together the right system. This can be achieved through assessing the strengths and weaknesses the restaurant already has, and the limitations that can be anticipated in the new organizational structure.


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    Young djedi in training. The story of a kid from Bermuda.

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