You’re not so smart. And if you need proof, read on about confirmation bias.

Okay, I’m not looking for a fight, but in an industry loaded with geeks, let’s be honest–everybody’s an Einstein.

Or at least dresses like one.

Come on, I’ve been to GDC. There’s nothing like a convention hall teeming with unbridled geekery to reveal what’s at the core of our industry.

So it’s no surprise on video game development teams there’s no shortage of passionately voiced opinions. That 9 AM stand-up can be like discussions on a Reddit thread.

But here’s something to consider: What if all those opinions are not a matter of right or wrong, or even (gulp) knowledge, but are a matter of something else–like a lifetime of assumption?

What if what you hear from the programmer in thick black-framed glasses at the end of the distressed communal table is not in fact ‘fact’, but confirmation bias?

But the guy is a certified code warrior, right? He invented that app that–well, we don’t remember what it did, but he flipped it 50 million on his 13th birthday.

Here’s the rub: Even a super-geek can fall victim to this insidious symptom.

What is confirmation bias?

Kevin Hendzel, on his blog Word Prisms, states about confirmation bias:

“It’s deadly in scientific research because it drives well-meaning and quite dedicated researchers to interpret evidence in a way that’s unwittingly partial to existing beliefs or theories, which skews results, blocks valid conclusions and often points in the wrong direction.”

Oh, that’s wrong, I mean that’s plain wrong. Scientists! We count on them! How can they fall victim to this?

con·fir·ma·tion bi·as

noun

The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.




Charles Lord, Lee Ross & Mark Lepper wrote:

People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. They are apt to accept “confirming” evidence at face value while subjecting “disconfirming” evidence to critical evaluation, and, as a result, draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings. 

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 37(11), Nov 1979, 2098-2109.
Now you understand the comments section of the internet. Thank you. But we have a different concern here.

Imagine you and your team are in the middle of an incredibly complex video game production.

The scrums are no fun, the sprints needs splints and agile is just a dream. In other words, pretty much industry-standard. But another manager’s nightmare is loose. The information you get is not accurate, or turns out not quite the full story, something is off, and the production veers out of control no matter how many state-of-the-art management software platforms you deploy.

Is the faulty intel the result of confirmation bias?

How can you tell?

Is there a test you can apply to your process to weed out the broken, erroneous or misinterpreted data?

Not a test, but there is confirmation of confirmation bias.

Watch this:

Okay, that wasn’t too hard. But it was a spiffy example of following rules no matter what, and in the experiment, Peter Wason, an English psychiatrist, demonstrated people are biased towards confirming existing beliefs.

Why are people that way?

Wason concluded they focus on the cost of being wrong, rather than following scientific methods to reach a validated conclusion. People have a natural inbuilt fear of embarrassment. Have you ever done a piece of creative work and twenty people say it’s great, and one person says it sucks? Which opinion lingers?

Wason demonstrated instead of trying to falsify a hypothesis, people try to confirm a hypothesis.

Wason used the same test as is in the video. And the results were the same too.

People made a rule then couldn’t bring themselves to break it. In the video, people looked confused the rule wasn’t their rule!

They were wrong. People don’t like to be wrong. Hence, confirmation bias, which can be a frantic hunt for facts to support their wrongness.

And another link of this chain; you find what you want to find, or see what you want to see;  a twist on this is one’s person’s history becomes another person’s conspiracy theory.

What does this have to do with video game development?

It’s something to keep in mind for any business management, something to understand.. The wrong decision in business can be the last decision a company makes. Commitment to a strategy, tactic, plan, or even a product, in the face of evidence things are not going all that great, becomes a business Hail Mary. Personal belief, misleading personal experience, or worse of all, a manager afraid of being wrong can be a lethal dead-end for any business or production.

Do you have any examples to share of how confirmation bias might have messed up your development?