You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

When you hear a story about how something went wrong while sailing, diving, shooting, or in whatever context; we tend to make immediate judgements, even if we think we have tried to avoid doing that. We delve into our own previous experiences. Then, we match up the elements of a situation with our own experiences. Next we find some similarities. Finally, we fill in the unknown variables based on what we have experienced ourselves. That is confirmation bias. It’s normal, but, it causes us to stop thinking over a situation because we have made up our mind what happened. That’s when we miss the opportunity to learn more and grow.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Your Shoes

Whenever reading about an incident, and questioning the decision of the person in charge; it’s easy to doubt or criticize their actions.

It could be they suffered from confirmation bias and made a fast decision.

Or, it could be that your own confirmation bias is keeping you from fully understanding what happened to them.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Experience or Bias

Over the years while sailing, sometimes I find I have made a fast decision based on all my years of experience.

Those decisions are made based on a slew of factors, some of which I can barely explain at the instant of the decision. Since I’m the one it’s happening to, and I have all the information available, I also must avoid a hasty judgement based on a previous experience that does not fit this situation. That’s how confirmation bias might derail my solution.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Primary Source

In history, you learn early that information from a primary source is more reliable than secondary or tertiary.

An incident told in great detail by a person who was there can include those additional facts and details that changed the direction of the solution to the situation.

Confirmation bias can happen due to insufficient information, or, information that varies wildly from account to account.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Sailing Is Dynamic

When something happens when you are sailing; there are hundreds of variables, and those variables keep… varying!

The wind, the current, the position of the boat and sails and traffic – it all changes constantly while the situation is evolving.

Therefore, often, there is not a solution that covers the same situation when the variables change. Sailing is dynamic, and so are incidents.

Confirmation bias is rampant in boating incidents because only the people who were there have the entire picture.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

A Developing Story: Choose the Culprit

Read each of these, and decide what should have been done. Then read the next and see how your confirmation bias changes drastically at each new detail that you learn about the event.

  1. You ran aground. (Stop – fault? Solution?)
  2. You ran aground. The marina channel needs dredging. (Stop – fault? Solution?)
  3. You ran aground. The marina channel needs dredging. A microburst shoved you to the leeward side of the channel. (Stop – fault? Solution?)
  4. You ran aground. The marina channel needs dredging. A microburst shoved you to the leeward side of the channel. A novice helmsperson was at the wheel. (Stop – fault? Solution?)
  5. You ran aground. The marina channel needs dredging. A microburst shoved you to the leeward side of the channel. A novice helmsperson was at the wheel. Your main sail was up. (Stop – fault? Solution?)
  6. You ran aground. The marina channel needs dredging. A microburst shoved you to the leeward side of the channel. A novice helmsperson was at the wheel. Your main sail was up. Because your engine had failed. (Stop – fault? Solution?)

    The contributing factors at every level change the acceptable or expected response to the crisis. Unless you know all the details; it’s really hard to fill in the blanks and “guess” what went wrong and what should have been done.
confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Other Primary Sources

For a full evaluation of an incident, you will need to read through several accounts in order to hear from each person involved what happened.

You can count a video as a primary source, since it allows you to witness firsthand what happened.

Photos can give you more information – 1,000 words’-worth – and allow you to see more facts.

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

Variables Make All the Difference

Many variables that influence the outcome of a situation might not be apparent in initial reports or stories.

If you added a time pressure to the situation above; that could change your perception of the possibility of the emergency as well. Maybe someone wanted to be back at the dock in the marina at a certain time, otherwise, the boat would have been sailing in clear air and water when the micro burst hit.

Time constraints, financial constraints, peer pressure, inexperience, and other aspects not mentioned could have made a situation change.

If someone experienced had been at the helm in the situation above; might it have been different?

Perhaps someone was trying to wait before filling the boat with fuel, and they ran out, and that’s why the engine quit. A financial constraint.

And you thought the person in the situation ran aground because of their polarized glasses. Cock your head like a cockatiel and say, “Confirmation Bias!”

confirmation bias, You May Be Guilty of Confirmation Bias When Analyzing Accident Reports

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