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Transforming echo-chambers and availability bias into useful analytical tools

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Cognitive biases are a result of our brains trying to simplify information and help us understand the world around us. However, these can lead to distorted thinking and can be detrimental to our analysis. On most social media platforms, cognitive and behavioral studies are used to engineer algorithms that push your buttons and make you stay connected longer. Ever tried to spend only two minutes on youtube? Impossible, right?

A large part of what makes those services so addictive is that they tap into various psychological effects.

One of them is called the “echo chamber”. Echo chambers have a bad reputation. In most cases, it is deserved. This is because eco-chambers create an environment in which a person exclusively encounters content that aligns with their beliefs or opinions. Echo-chambers are found in all social media platforms, where algorithms tend to feed you what you want to hear. While it is not always rooted in bad intentions, it has a tendency to give you too much of what you want. After a while, you get exposed to only content that attracts you and that you look for, creating ‘echo’. In turn, this mechanism feeds into a type of cognitive bias called the “confirmation bias”. This is the tendency that we have as humans to look for things that comfort us in our beliefs. In this way, echo-chambers not only reinforce these beliefs as true, but also prevent the person from considering differing or alternative ideas. And since the internet is the internet, you can definitely find a page (or multiple ones) that comforts you into believing anything.

That’s where another psychological phenomenon comes into play: the availability bias. It basically means that you tend to believe the things that you see more of. When trying to make predictions about a current situation, the availability bias will, for instance, make you weigh more in your analysis the information and examples that you have seen more of, and more recently. A simple example of availability bias at work :

A majority of people in the U.S. think that the chances of dying as a result of a shark attack are greater than those of dying by being attacked by a dog. In reality, dogs kill about ten times more humans a year in the U.S. than sharks do. However, because deaths caused by dog attacks are rarely reported on the news and shark ones are, people have a tendency to believe that what they see more of, is what there is actually more of.

From there, you can see the downspiraling effect : you have a tendency to look for things that you believe (confirmation bias) and since the algorithm feeds you more of that, you end up seeing it everywhere and seeing it even more (availability bias).

However, it does not have to be all bad. Once we are aware of those mechanisms, there are several things we can do. For instance, you can build a good and healthy habit of trying to disprove your ideas instead of validating them, challenging the confirmation bias You can also build opposition echo-chambers, exposing yourself and trying to really understand the other side of a position (for more details on how to do this, refer to point six of our ‘7 tricks to anticipate better’ post).

At Bakboka we built a system that incorporates both availability and echo chambers in our analysis to improve the accuracy of our predictions. To do so, we look at the type of information and analysis that our ‘best anticipators’ use in their predictions, and with this we create an opposition echo-chamber. Then, we expose the rest of the players to this echo-chamber. We hence create a positive availability bias by exposing people to ideas that have been proven useful to anticipate accurately.

This way, instead of being exposed and reinforced in your own position, you are being exposed to information that has been proven valuable to get an edge on the future. Since everybody can follow the moves of the best, the system has a tendency to get better and better.

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