All entries for Friday 13 March 2015

March 13, 2015

Robust Decision Making

It’s exactly how our classmate Bekzhan articulately said, “After these three days, life doesn’t make sense anymore”. We have been so conditioned to maintain the assumption of neutrality of our opinions and perspectives that we almost always position our biases in the blind spot of our brain. Though some of us are open to our opinions being challenged, while others are not, the first impression we have of our own opinion is that of absolute impartiality. That can never be true. The exercises we underwent in this module, the optical illusions and the tampered statements, demonstrated the two ways in which the brain works, the conscious and the subconscious. Our conscious mind generates an opinion while we make a decision and that opinion seems perfectly rational to us. What we are not aware of is that this opinion is actually under mammoth proportions of influence of the subconscious mental activity. Our thought process takes into account even the smallest experiences and events while generating judgements. We might not even remember these events but they are lodged somewhere in our brain and influence the smallest decisions like your choice for breakfast to relatively larger decisions like your choice of coming to WMG. Our lack of rationale and judgement is more observable in our decisions made by our instinctive system, System-0, and our intuitive system, System-1. System-2, our process based system, is slower and more conscious and therefore makes an effort to eliminate bias and influences on decisions, but this cannot be achieved completely. The heuristics that are almost always in play while decision making are:

Representativeness – based on the likeliness of occurrence of a sample from a population

Recognition or Availability – based on how easily we can relate to or generate examples from our memory pertaining to certain situations.

Anchoring and adjustment – based and anchored down by previous knowledge and experiences

Affect – based on emotional evaluation

The word bias can be compared to white light. It seems very simple and definitive in its meaning but when you pass it through a prism you will get a wide range of distribution of various types of biases that are covered by that single word in everyday life. Every decision we make is impacted by a certain type of bias. There are numerous biases, the main ones of which are:

  • Hindsight bias
  • Confirmation bias
  • Illusion of control
  • Pessimism bias
  • Pseudocertainty
  • The gamblers fallacy
  • Stereotyping
  • Subjective Validation
  • Status quo bias
  • Selective perception
  • Bandwagon effect
  • Ambiguity effect

Cheerleader Effect

And on a lighter note we also have the cheerleader effect also stated by Barney Stinson in ‘How I met your mother’ that basically states that people in group tend to seem more attractive than when viewed individually.

How these biases work in a group are somewhat different as the symptoms for groupthink are different. Groupthink occurs when a group makes faulty decisions as group pressure leads to:

Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to challenge or contradict the group decision

Self-censorship – views different from that of the group are not expressed

Illusion of unanimity – the view of the majority goes unchallenged and so the decision seems unanimous

Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – information that is problematic or may complicate the decision making process is kept behind the curtain

The solution for prevention of most of these biases have been academically developed but, who knows, maybe the developers of the solutions had some biases as well. The conclusion that I have come to is that there will always be a certain level of bias as it is immensely hard to control our subconscious mental activity but we can make an active effort to control our biases and curtail the effects of our previous experiences and knowledge. This will not only help us make robust decisions individually but will also help eliminate groupthink to reach a decision free from bias and objections.

March 2015

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