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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Cognitive Bias Exposed!

So I grabbed the camera and when out in search of more ladybird beetles. There are a lot of them around now, and I was noticing variations in coloration. I guess you could say I was hoping to confirm with new photographic evidence some half-baked theory or illusion of a theory I had in mind. So, at the onset I was burdened with Confirmation Bias, the tendency to seek and interpret information in a way that confirm's one's bias.

I think I usually get the best results photographing insects when I don't have any sort of expectation or goal in mind, or maybe I'm just suffering from the Clustering Illusion. It does seem like more interesting buggies appear when I'm not looking for anything specific! Sometimes, though, I fall victim to the Illusion of Control, and think just because I have now decided to go photograph a thing the thing must be there. There were no ladybird beetles available to be photographed this particular afternoon in the area in which I was observing.

So, concluding there were no bugs to be seen (the Focusing Effect convinced me: too much emphasis placed on ladybirds, coloring the entire event in failure), I half-heartedly snapped a couple shots of this photogenic mid-autumn decay scene with chewed up salvia leaf and some anisodontea seed pods anyway, so the trip to the backyard wouldn't be a complete waste. In a twisted way, this was the Self Fulfilling Prophecy in action: Aside from this day's emphasis on coccinellids, my primal bias is that bugs are interesting and the
re must be bugs present even if I can't see them right now. By taking these last couple of photos, I have confirmed this bias.

Back at the computer after sundown, I took a look and finally noticed the katydid nymph and a beetle of some sort in this scene, sadly out of focus but definitely there. Selective Perception, where one's expectations effect one's ability to perceive, had actually prevented me from seeing these guys out in the field. That's too bad, because the beetle looks like something interesting. Aha, next time I can venture forth camera in hand in search of this particular unknown beetle . . . or maybe not.

It's a bit disheartening to be confronted with one's own biases, and it's more than a bit scary to have it proven that actually perception (Seeing!) can be blocked by preconceived notions. Check out this list for yourself, and see how many types of fuzzy thinking you are subject to. I guess my personal favorite is the Lake Wobegon Effect: because as everyone knows, I am well above average.

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