Almost-usable Advice

  1. A simple instruction to “think about alternatives” can promote resistance to overconfidence and confirmation bias. In one study, subjects asked to generate their own hypotheses are more responsive to their accuracy than subjects asked to choose from among pre-picked hypotheses.16 Another study required subjects to list reasons for and against each of the possible answers to each question on a quiz prior to choosing an answer and assessing the probability of its being correct. This process resulted in more accurate confidence judgments relative to a control group.17 
  2. Training in microeconomics can help subjects avoid the sunk cost fallacy.18 
  3. Because people avoid the base rate fallacy more often when they encounter problems phrased in terms of frequencies instead of probabilities,19 teaching people to translate probabilistic reasoning tasks into frequency formats improves their performance.20 
  4. [“promote bias awareness”]
  5. Research on the planning fallacy suggests that taking an ‘outside view’ when predicting the time and resources required to complete a task will lead to better predictions. A specific instance of this strategy is ‘reference class forecasting’,25 in which planners project time and resource costs for a project by basing their projections on the outcomes of a distribution of comparable projects.
  6. Unpacking the components involved in a large task or project helps people to see more clearly how much time and how many resources will be required to complete it, thereby partially meliorating the planning fallacy.26 
  7. One reason we fall prey to the planning fallacy is that we do not remain as focused on the task at hand throughout its execution as when we are planning its execution. The planning fallacy can be partially meliorated, then, not only by improving the planning but by improving the execution. For example, in one study27 students were taught to imagine themselves performing each of the steps needed to complete a project. Participants rehearsed these simulations each day. 41% of these students completed their tasks on time, compared to 14% in a control group.