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The Role of Bias in Wisdom

An excerpt from our upcoming book Wisdom in Buddhism

This selection is from the chapter Eight Forms of Bias in our Thinking

1) Early or Anchoring Bias

When we hold a hypothesis and begin to seek information to confirm or deny its validity, there is a strong tendency to believe any early data that tends to confirm our hypotheses. That is to say that we might ‘anchor’ our evaluation on the early data. The danger is that we don’t continue in the search for more information, believing that the early results will be the same as later results. While it may be true that more research may confirm what we’ve already discovered, it’s not a lock.

For example, not long ago, my wife and I bought a car (a Honda Odyssey, to be exact) and I immediately recognized that one of our early anchors was the ability of that vehicle to hold framed paintings that were up to 4’X6’. My wife is not only a psychotherapist, but a talented painter as well. The value of that single piece of information outweighed the odometer reading, price, engine condition, perceived trustworthiness of the salesperson, etc. It was the anchor from which all other data was related. Now, it so happens, that the other data was also positive from our point of view and we ended up purchasing that vehicle.

In the 2017 US presidential election, early election poll results tended to discount a possible win by Donald Trump, over Hillary Clinton. All the election reporters and political analysts, with their whiteboards, chalkboards and computerized graphics were hard pressed to find any way that Trump could win. Even conservative news networks were being reserved about a possible Trump win. Hell, even Trump admitted he didn’t think he’d win.

The early data from the closed voting stations were suggesting a Clinton win, and some reporters were ready to call it a Trump camp loss. This is an example of early or anchoring bias. Of course Trump went on to win.

In the presidential election of 1948, the now famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline which screamed “Dewey Defeats Truman,” proved to be embarrassingly wrong. The newspaper, relying on expert opinion from their Washington correspondent Arthur Henning and early results from closed voting stations on the east coast, went to press with the incorrect call for their first edition. The error was corrected in the second edition of the day, but the original was still out there, reminding everyone of the importance of waiting until all the votes were in .

Like American baseball legend, Yogi Berra said, during the 1973 pennant run, “It ain't over till it's over.” In this case, his team came from behind in the series to eventually win the division title.

How can Early or Anchoring bias be overcome?

Be mindful that not all the data has yet been reviewed. Avoid making rash choices where all the data is not available. In the example of my wife and I purchasing the vehicle, we might have set multiple anchors, such as; maximum price, maximum odometer reading, maintenance costs, tire condition as well as the ability to transport 4’X6’ paintings. Where all conditions we met, then a ‘buy’ decision might be made. We might have assigned a numerical value to each anchor, such as 5/10 for price or odometer reading and only give the ‘buy’ decision if the total score was, say, 75 or higher.

#EdwardHorner #DeweydefeatsTruman #PresidentDewey #1948USpresidentialelection #Wisdom #Buddhism #Biasindecisionmaking

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