Decision making and bias

Last week I went to  ‘The Art & Science of Clinical Problem-Solving’  by Professor Sanjay Saint. It was a great presentation, interactive and engaging, and despite (as well as?) being pretty much the only non-clinician in the audience I learned a great deal.

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While I’m not involved in any clinical decision making, there’ plenty of decision making that goes with my job, and even more that goes with life – and insight into the amount of bias, conscious or not, that comes with each decision, and the process of coming to a decision can be a huge advantage.

Now I wont go into all the possible forms – there’s Wikipedia, postgraduate qualifications and books aplenty on this. The forms that Prof Saint focused on were:

  • availability bias
    when we just don’t have enough information, yet we might make a decision/come to a conclusion anyway. Sometimes this is because we’re feeling pressure to take action, but it might be because we’ve already decided what we want to do and just want to get on with it, despite subsequent information perhaps warning against it.
  • anchoring bias:
    that we pay too much attention to one piece of information (likely to be the first piece of information we receive), and then this skews our decision making from here on. (this is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell in a nutshell)
  • confirmation bias
    when we only look at new pieces of information as evidence to confirm our first conclusion.
  • premature closure
    that when we come to a conclusion we stop hearing new information, which might otherwise require us to change position, or to at least reconsider our first conclusion.
  • framing effect
    This is how we come to a conclusion based on how the information is presented, rather than on what the information is.
    We can use this to our advantage (particularly when we want someone to do something they might be otherwise reluctant to do), but you have to know what will ring the other persons bell if you want it to work.

I’m afraid to say that I know myself well enough to know that I often fall into the trap of several of these – and that I don’t spot (or ignore)  at the time and fail to work harder against my natural tendencies….. but maybe with the next decision I make it will be different, eh?

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