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Jumping to conclusions bias

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Jumping to conclusions bias is an actual real name for a psychological state. Unfortunately I can’t find any tests online to direct you to so that you can measure your own bias, but I can tell you about a test called the “beads in a jar test” that I saw on the television.

Recently my partner and I were watching a BBC programme called “how mad are you?” in which psychiatrists subjected a mixed group of normal people and people with diagnosed psychiatric disorders to a variety of tests, to see whether they could figure out who had what disorders. The idea was to demonstrate how blurry the lines are between psychiatric disorders and regular personality types. They certainly demonstrated this well during the course of the series.

In this particular test, the psychiatrists were searching for jumping to conclusions bias because it is a known feature of schizophrenia. Schizophrenics and individuals suffering from delusions, for whatever reason, tend to leap to conclusions based on very, very little evidence.

One might suggest that this may simply be a feature of how the delusions are interpreted, for example, if someone hears a voice in their head, someone with jumping to conclusions bias might assume the voice is God, whereas someone without jumping to conclusions bias might assume they are hearing a voice and employ informal CBT techniques to suppress it, thus avoiding acting on the voice, and escaping diagnosis.

However, because there is such strong evidence of this reasoning bias in people with delusions, it is more than likely that there is a very real, very direct link between jumping to conclusions bias and schizophrenia and other delusional states. This cognitive style is thought to actually form part of the fundamental process of developing and maintaining delusional beliefs.

So anyway, the individuals were set the following test: in a jar there are eighty red or blue beads. Twenty of them are one colour, and sixty of them are another colour. The task is to tell us whether there are more blue beads or more red beads in the jar. We will hide the jar and pull out coloured beads one by one, and you stop us when you feel you know the answer.

At this point my partner and I shared a joke with each other that we would probably wait for twenty one coloured beads of either colour to be pulled from the jar, as this would absolutely confirm which colour was in the majority.

The sneaky thing was, the psychiatrists weren’t pulling the beads from a jar, but from a standard sequence of beads laid out in a tray. The beads appeared quite evenly, being red, blue, red, blue, until eventually there were three beads of the same colour in a row, at which point most of the participants took a decision.

One woman, however, decided on the first bead.

My partner and I sat there with our mouths open and both declared “that’s nuts!”

The woman in question did not turn out to have schizophrenia, just a very strong jumping to conclusions bias. When questioned she could not really explain why on earth she had made this rash choice. It didn’t seem irrational to her.

Unfortunately, people with jumping to conclusions bias are simply not aware that they are, well, jumping to conclusions. I suppose at this point one could invoke the saying “there’s such a thing as being so open minded that your brain falls out.”

A lot (most?) of the people I encounter on the internet seem to be prone to jumping to conclusions too swiftly. I don’t know whether this is just because of my former association with WAPF, who have, sadly, mutated into a bit of a bonkers CAM organisation in recent years, and are as a result attracting people with extreme thinking styles. This thinking style makes me fairly uncomfortable because my own style is so cautious.

The moral of the story is: make sure you are really sure about what you are saying. Look before you leap. Being prone to delusional thinking makes you a bad scientist. Slow down. Do the job properly. Try to be more self-aware of your shortcomings. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.


Written by alienrobotgirl

23 December, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Posted in Psychology