How our Cognitive Bias Distorts Reality

Cognitive bias is the way we tend to process and perceive information through our own likes and dislikes which creates a distortion of reality. It may be a way of good thinking on the surface, and may appear rational, but gets in the way of logical thinking.

Favouring our existing beliefs and opinions

One of the 180+ biases that affect our logical thinking is the confirmation bias. Confirmation Bias is the tendency to draw to details which favour our existing beliefs and opinions, while ignoring any other information. The term confirmation bias was coined by English cognitive psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason (1924-2003) in the context of an experiment he reported on in 1960. in a series of psychological experiments he suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs.

Later work re-interpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people’s conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way. However, even scientists can be prone to confirmation bias.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in political and organizational contexts.

Failing to keep up with current trends

Bias affects even the best companies, consider Kodak and Fujifilm. Kodak was once the Apple of its day. Founded in 1880, it was famously known for pioneering technology and innovative marketing. Until the 1990s Kodak was commonly rated as one of the world’s five most valuable brands, owning 90% of the market for film and 85% of the market for cameras. Like Kodak, Fujifilm also enjoyed a near-monopoly in its home market of Japan, but in the 1990s owned just 10% market share in the U.S. Today, Fujifilm has an estimated market cap of around 19 billion and in 2012 Kodak announced Chapter 11 bankruptcy; Kodak’s share price went from $60 in 2000 to $40 in 2001, to $10 in 2008, and under the $1 threshold by the end of 2011.

In short, Kodak failed to keep up with current trends in the marketplace and thus became obsolete; the movement towards a more digital age made Kodak’s technology outdated in the minds of the modern consumer. Kodak and Fujifilm both forecasted a trend towards a more digital age for photography but Fujifilm was the only one to reinvent itself in order to survive. Kodak even developed and built one of the first digital cameras in 1975, but the product was dropped for fear that the camera would destroy their existing photography market share. In other words, despite overwhelming evidence, Kodak convinced themselves that their market share was untouchable and that digital photography was not going to become mainstream. The result was a slow, incremental demise that began when the digital market flourished.

Conclusion

The availability of a great deal of information could protect us from the confirmation bias; we could use information sources to find alternative positions and objections raised against our own. If we did that and thought hard about the results, we would expose ourselves to a valuable process of objections and replies. The problem is, though, there is too much information to pay attention to all of it. We must select, and we have a strong tendency to select according to what we believe and like to believe. People need to reject falsehoods being fed to them is by confronting uncomfortable truths.

“Fact-checking is like exposure therapy for partisans, and there is some reason to believe in what researchers call an affective tipping point, where ‘motivated reasoners’ start to accept hard truths after seeing enough claims debunked over and over.” – Emma Roller, “Your Facts or Mine?” The New York Times, October 25, 2016

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