Steven Martin as intelligence analyst

As I was writing about Shiloh’s food bowl aversion last week, I began thinking about hypothesis generation and some of the flaws that can occur when it’s not done properly.  I got to a point where I turned to Mrs. TwShiloh and said, “Hey, he really hates bowls.”  That reminded me of this :

So, where to begin?  When Navin first notices the oil cans springing leaks he can think of no other alternative to the hypothesis that the can must be defective.  A few seconds later, when his boss points out the shooter on the hill top, Navin, demonstrates a common analytical trap.  From Richards Heuer’s Psychology of Intelligence Analysis:

New information is assimilated to existing images.

This principle explains why gradual, evolutionary change often goes unnoticed…A fresh perspective is sometimes useful; past experience can handicap as well as aid analysis. This tendency to assimilate new data into pre-existing images is greater “the more ambiguous the information, the more confident the actor is of the validity of his image, and the greater his commitment to the established view.

Upon pointing out the shooter on the hill, Navin incorporates that into his pre-existing understanding of the world.  So, the original problem (in his view) was with the cans and with the addition of the gunman he still can’t avoid the focus on the cans.  Therefore, the gunman must be shooting at the cans.

As Navin runs around the gas station, he thinks he’s getting conformation to his hypothesis (‘There are cans in there, too!’) so he doesn’t feel like he’s got to contemplate other explanations.  His plan of action (avoid cans) is therefore geared towards a misunderstood threat and doesn’t do anything to mitigate the dangers to himself.  Had the ever helpful Mr. Hartounian not pointed out that it was Navin was the target, you get the impression that Navin would keep trying to twist the facts in knots in order to conform to his hypothesis.

So, the lesson? Don’t be a jerk, of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s