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Cognitive Biases: Kevin McCaffrey at DFTB18


This talk was recorded live at DFTB18 in Melbourne, Australia. With the theme of ‘Science and Story’, we pushed our speakers to step out of their comfort zones and consider why we do what we do. Caring for children is about acquiring scientific know-how and looking beyond a diagnosis or clinical conundrum at the patient and their families. 

Kevin McCaffrey is a paediatric intensivist at Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. In this great talk, Kevin challenges our preconceptions, cognitive dispositions to respond, and biases, if you will, and asks us to look beyond the man in the skirt.

We’ve all been to morbidity and mortality conferences and said, “I would never have done that”. That is bias – blindspot bias. So, open your eyes to some of your biases and become more open-minded.

In decision-making and problem-solving, cognitive biases play a significant role, often influencing our perceptions and judgments without us even realizing it. Kevin McCaffrey’s captivating talk at DFTB18 delves into the fascinating realm of cognitive biases, shedding light on how these mental shortcuts impact our thinking processes.

Understanding Cognitive Biases

At the heart of McCaffrey’s presentation lies the concept of cognitive biases—our brain’s inherent tendency to process information and make decisions using mental shortcuts that can lead to errors and inaccuracies. These biases are ingrained in human nature and influence our decision-making in various aspects of life, from work to personal relationships.

McCaffrey introduces the dual process model, a framework proposed by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, which explains how humans make decisions through two different systems: Type 1, which involves intuitive and automatic thinking, and Type 2, which entails deliberate and analytical thinking. Both systems are susceptible to biases that can distort our perceptions.

Common Cognitive Biases

McCaffrey highlights a vast array of cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and the fundamental attribution error, among others. These biases often work together, affecting how we process information and make judgments. Cognitive biases are not confined to certain situations but are a pervasive aspect of human thinking that influences everyday interactions and decisions.

The Kilt Experiment: Unveiling Biases in Real Time

To demonstrate the power of cognitive biases, McCaffrey introduces the “kilt experiment.” He prompts the audience to explore their thoughts and biases about this unconventional attire. He highlights the various cognitive biases that people might unconsciously engage in while assessing his choice of clothing. Our biases can shape our interpretations of even the simplest situations.

Clinical Relevance of Cognitive Biases

Diagnostic errors account for a substantial portion of misdiagnoses, and cognitive biases are often at the root of these errors. He encourages healthcare practitioners to be aware of their biases and challenges them to introspectively analyze their decisions.

Healthcare professionals should be proactive in reviewing their decisions, seeking information that contradicts their initial hypotheses, and questioning their biases. When done properly, retrospective case analysis can provide invaluable insights into the cognitive biases that might have influenced the decision-making process.

Navigating the Complex Landscape of Biases

In a world filled with cognitive biases, awareness and conscious effort to counteract them are vital. Kevin McCaffrey’s thought-provoking talk at DFTB18 served as a reminder that biases are an inherent part of human cognition, impacting both personal decisions and clinical judgments. By understanding and addressing these biases, we can strive for more accurate decision-making, improved patient care, and enhanced problem-solving skills in various domains of our lives. So, the next time you make a judgment or decision, take a moment to reflect on the potential biases at play and challenge yourself to think beyond them.

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