The Weekly Reflektion 27/2022

The investigation of any incident is influenced by our biases. When we know the outcome, this can affect the way we approach the investigation. In some cases, we are not even aware that we have had an incident, until the events are seen through another perspective.  

Do you let your biases influence your judgement?

Sidney Dekker is a person we listen to and are influenced by. In his book ‘The Field Guide to Understanding ‘Human Error’. Dekker refers to psychological research underlying what influences our understanding of a past situation or incident, and we have taken the liberty to copy the relevant text from the book.

• The hindsight bias. Finding out about an outcome increases the estimate we make about its likelihood. In other words, as a retrospective reviewer who knows the outcome of an event, you exaggerate your own ability to predict and prevent the outcome – while not even being aware of that bias.

• The outcome bias. Once you know the outcome, it changes your evaluation of decisions that led up to it. If the outcome is bad, then you are not only willing to judge the decisions, but also more likely to judge them more harshly.

We are not always aware of hindsight bias, and this gives us more confidence in our own judgement and when the outcome is bad then we judge harshly. This clouding of judgement often gets in the way of a proper understanding of what happened and why the people involved believed that what they were doing was reasonable.

Dekker uses the story of Oedipus and Jocasta from Greek Mythology to illustrate outcome bias. Jocasta was married toLaius of Thebes, and they have a son together. King Laius hears a prophecy from the Oracle from Delphi that that he will be killed by his own son, so he decides to murder his new-born son. He cannot carry out the deed himself, so he instructed his chief Shepherd Menoetes to take the baby to Mount Cithaeron, bind his legs and leave him to die. Menoetescould not carry out the deed and gave the child to another shepherd who delivered him to the childless King and Queen of Corinth. They adopted the baby, and he was named Oedipus. Years later Oedipus was also informed of a prophecyfrom the Oracle from Delphi, that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Fearing this outcome, he left Corinth without telling his adoptive parents why, and travelled throughout Greece. One day he encountered a man blocking his way on a narrow pass at Phocis. After an argument Oedipus killed the man and continued his journey until he arrived in Thebes. The city was being terrorised and the king was dead. Oedipus saved the city, was hailed as a great hero,and took the widowed queen as his wife. They had four children together and the outcome seemed to be pretty good for Oedipus. A third message from the Oracle from Delphi changed the situation drastically. Oedipus was told that the man he had killed was King Laius, his father, and the woman he married, Jocasta, was his mother. Oedipus gouged out his own eyes, Jocasta killed herself and the city of Corinth was struck by a plague. Punishment for their incest. What seems like a satisfactory outcome changed when more relevant information was available.

Reflekt AS