Shea, B. et al
A recent study of undergraduate behavior stood out for the uncanny match between its hypothesis and the published results, delighting the researchers who designed the experiment. The study focused on confirmation bias, the tendency for a person to interpret evidence in a way that confirms their existing beliefs. The prescient hypothesis? That confirmation bias is less prominent among students who have studied psychology.
Lead researcher Dr. Ian Dackson says the inspiration for the research came from a watercooler dispute with colleagues from other departments.
“The argument really made me question my own assumptions. Does studying the mind really put you above the human foibles we all share?” Dackson asks. “It turns out? Yes.”
The results were predicted so precisely that it prompts the question: was the study worth doing in the first place?
“It’s all about gathering good data,” said Dr. Dackson. “You have to be careful about holding to a certain standard of quality. For example, one of our grad students brought forward some surprising results. The data she collected showed no statistically significant distinction across undergraduate majors. So I did a little digging, and it turns out she conducted some of her surveys near the Poli Sci building. And what do you think her undergraduate minor was? Political science! Just as I expected. This is exactly why it’s so important to control for bias.”
Naturally, Dr. Dackson had to toss the bad dataset. But what about the rest of the surveys?
“The rest of our grad students were very assiduous. I saw them collecting responses a few times myself as I left the lecture. As a matter of fact, I think that was the week we covered cognitive biases.”
Asked if even a single data point challenged the study’s predictions, Dackson replies, “Not that I can recall.”
After such tidy results, it’s hard to imagine a future for this line of questioning. Dackson disagrees.
“I do think further study is needed,” he says. “If we measured a difference at the undergraduate level, imagine the effect of graduate coursework. A doctorate of psychology must be the least biased of all. My next paper will prove that, I just know it.”