September 20, 2018 | Barb Carr

5 Cognitive Biases that Influence Incident Investigations

Whether we admit it or not, we are constantly under the influence of cognitive biases that distort our thinking, influence our beliefs, and sway the judgments we make as investigators.

Most of us are familiar with confirmation bias (looking for evidence to support a hypothesis, and rejecting any evidence that does not). However, did you know there are over 250 cognitive biases?

Here are five that may be affecting your investigations:

  1. Overconfidence. Yes, overconfidence is a bias even though it doesn’t sound like a fancy psychological term. This can really be a problem with experienced investigators because they know more, and may be more convinced that they are right.
  2. Stereotyping. Expecting a group or person to have certain qualities without having real information about the person. Again, a term that we are familiar with but may not realize we are doing to those involved in incidents. I’m not just referring to gender or racial stereotypes. You can stereotype a person many different ways. Here are some other examples: “She has an MBA. She must be smart.” “He has 20 years in the industry, he must be experienced.”
  3. Choice-supportive bias. When you decide something you tend to feel more attached to your decision, even if the decision has flaws.
  4. Bandwagon effect. Not sure of what to think of an investigation? Take the easy road . . . jump on the bandwagon. The probability of one investigator adopting a belief increases based on the number of team members who hold the same belief.
  5. Blind-spot bias. This simply means that we don’t accept that we could possibly be biased! We tend to notice biases in other people and not within us. We all fall into biases and need to be aware of that.

How do you avoid biases in an investigation? Use a system that doesn’t start with a hypothesis, TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis. Using the guided system, an investigator does not:

  • rely on his/her limited knowledge (no one can possibly know everything!).
  • fit workers into stereotypes that align with our hypothesis.
  • become married to his/her ideas.
  • become easily influenced by others.
  • have to fight his or her biases!

You will learn to use a SnapCharT® to collect information about what happened without jumping to conclusions. Once you understand what happened and identify the mistakes, errors or equipment failures, you will then be ready to analyze why the safeguards failed (find the root causes) without jumping to conclusions by using advanced tools: the Root Cause Tree® Diagram and the Root Cause Tree® Dictionary. This system gets you to think beyond your current knowledge, and decreases investigator bias.

Learn the entire TapRooT® System in just two days. View the upcoming schedule here.


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