Monday 29 December 2014

Human Bias - Distraction

There are certain biases that distract us, whether we are considering evidence from our own original field observations, a written description, or images taken in the field.  These include tendencies towards anchoring or focalism on certain aspects of an identification at the expense of others and to have our attention drawn to dominant stimuli.  We are liable to be influenced by contrasting evidence, be it in life, or based on documented evidence.  A decoy can throw the identification and that decoy might be an artefact posing as a field mark for example.  The curse of knowledge, our tendency towards subjective analysis based upon our existing knowledge, may work similarly for or against a correct identification, whether it is based on a field observation, or based on analysis of a description or images.  Bare in mind though that while we may be very familiar with a species we see every day, we may never have written or read a description of it, or seen a photograph of it in flight.  There may be an illusory correlation made between objects or subjects just because they exist in the same space.  The next-in-line effect may be a form of memory distraction where a person in a group has diminished recall for the information they heard directly before and after they themselves spoke.  Another is the part-list cueing effect, where being shown part of a list of items makes it hard to retrieve the other items from memory.  Pareidolia is a human tendency to create patterns where they don't exist.  Once again a well placed image artefact may be mistaken for a field mark if we try hard enough!

Some of you may have seen this video before.  Please try to pay attention...

Okay so our brains are not wired to be able to pick up on everything all at once.  This makes the challenge of identification in the field all the more difficult.  Surely though, when faced with a set of digital images we wont be so easily fooled.  The next time you are presented with a set of images for analysis I encourage you to write down your initial impressions and what prompted them.  Then write down your analysis in the order in which you analysed the images, the tools and techniques you used and what conclusions you reached during the process.  This may provide you with an insight into how your own cognition works and if you are led to progress identifications in a certain way.

This is the first of a number of postings looking at different types of cognitive biases.  As I approach an end to the series I hope to compile a simple tool that we can use to circumvent cognitive bias to keep us on a path to the correct identification of birds from digital images.

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