Thursday, May 05, 2011

Hot Hands and Reasoning

Jonah Lehrer writes in The Reason We Reason:
"Why, then, do we believe in the hot hand? Confirmation bias is to blame. Once a player makes two shots in a row – an utterly unremarkable event – we start thinking about the possibility of a streak. Maybe he’s hot? Why isn’t he getting the ball? It’s at this point that our faulty reasoning mechanisms kick in, as we start ignoring the misses and focusing on the makes. In other words, we seek out evidence that confirms our suspicions of streakiness. The end result is that a mental fiction dominates our perception of the game.

Here’s where things get meta: Even though I know all about Tversky and Gilovich’s research – and fully believe the data – I still perceive the hot hand. I can’t help but watch the NBA playoffs and marvel at the streakiness of shooters, from Kobe to Rose. (Personally, I’d love to see an analysis of Ray Allen. If that man doesn’t show the hot hand, then it really doesn’t exist.) And I’m not alone in my stubborn skepticism. Red Auerbach, the legendary coach of the Celtics, reportedly responded to Tversky’s statistical analysis with a blunt dismissal. “So he makes a study,” Auerbach said. “I couldn’t care less.”

The larger question, of course, is why confirmation bias exists. This is the sort of mental mistake that seems ripe for fixing by natural selection, since it always leads to erroneous beliefs and faulty causal theories. We’d be a hell of a lot smarter if we weren’t only drawn to evidence that confirms what we already believe.

And this leads me to a fascinating and provocative new theory of reasoning put forth by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. In essence, they argue that human reason has nothing to do with finding the truth, or locating the best alternative. Instead, it’s all about being able to argue with others"

One of the authors of the new study Hugo Mercier comments "The production of arguments is biased--as you describe. But argument evaluation ought to be fairly objective: after all, in many cases you're better off being convinced rather than clinging to false beliefs. One of the commenters suggests "Hopefully at some point winning an argument will become more correlated with having the truth on your side." In fact, this is already the case. When people are in groups and argue about logical, mathematical or factual problems, they robustly converge on the best solution.
If the production of argument was unable to influence other people, it would be pointless. But if listeners were not mostly influenced for their better good, they would not be listening. The evolutionary logic suggests that reasoning can lead us towards the truth, if only we reason with people who disagree with us to start with."

But I still believe in 'hot hand', partly because I have not studied the work of Amos Tversky and Thomas Gilovich and do not know the assumptions involved. It would be also interesting to study these biases in complex cases like the recent death of Osama and what happenned. About Pakistan's knowledge or lack of Osama's whereabouts, two secular people of Pakistani origin seem to have different opinions The curious case of Osama Bin Laden..(Omar). The case may not matter to some but is of importance to many in various decision making processes. The information is incomplete or distorted for security or other reasons. One can expect a whole spectrum of opnions and beliefs on various aspects of the case and I wonder what lessons can be drawn from them about cognitive biases.
P.S. Slate's complete coverage of the fall of al-Qaida's leader.

No comments: