Progression Bias Found to Be A Key Part of Decision Making

ON2019-05-07TAG: ShanghaiTech UniversityCATEGORY: School of Entrepreneurship and Management

Recently, Assistant Professor Zhou Haotian at School of Entrepreneurship and Management published an empirical article titled “Conflating Temporal Advancement and Epistemic Advancement: The Progression Bias in Judgment and Decision Making” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Every decision-making process requires decision-makers to identify the values of choices and estimate its consequences. To be prudent, people often conduct several inquiries before making a final decision. For instance, patients may consult different doctors to arrive at diagnosis; scientists repeat the same experiment procedure to see if they could replicate the study. If two doctors arrive at different diagnoses, or if two experiments yield different results, how does the patient or scientist make a decision?

In ten experiments, Dr. Zhou and his collaborators, Li Xilin and Jessica Sim, found that people tend to expect the finding of a later inquiry to be closer to the truth, an effect referred to as progression bias. Results show that participants were more convinced by a second blood test than the first one and when there are two footage of the same crime scene from different angles, participants seemed to be unduly influenced by the result of the second footage. In this research project, people’s susceptibility to progression bias was examined and demonstrated in various hypothetical settings including crime investigation, health examination, antique appraisal, product evaluation, ethical judgement, etc. It suggests that progression bias, though irrational, is rather prevalent. 

Dr. Zhou Haotian and his collaborators explain that progression bias mainly stems from the misapplication of sequential inquiry schema. Usually each successive inquiry is conducted in light of lessons from the previous one; thus it is rational to believe more in the findings of later inquiries than the earlier one. However, when there is no meaningful difference between two inquiries, people still overgeneralize and treat temporal advancement as a signal of epistemic advancement. Zhou and his collaborators suggest that one can reduce such bias through financial incentive, accountability and training. 

Zhou Haotian studies human judgement and decision making and has published in several top journals in the field. He is the first author and corresponding author of this article. ShanghaiTech University is the first academic institution.