Jan 282014 3 Responses

What the Decline of Duck Dynasty Reveals About Decision Making

Why are Duck Dynasty’s ratings tanking? And how does your answer to that question reveal more about your politics than the facts? (See: Dr. Seuss Said You Are Bad at Decision Making)

Headlines abounded over the weekend about the ratings decline of America’s favorite “reality” television show. I put reality in quotation marks because I do not believe shows like Duck Dynasty are based on any reality. It’s an entertaining show which is clearly influenced by producers and writers.

In the latest sweeps season, Ducky Dynasty lost nearly 2 million viewers leading to headlines like this one from Time Duck Dynasty Takes a Ratings Dive.” While ratings come and go, the ratings drop for this particular show is intriguing because it comes on the heels of controversy. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Phil Robertson made comments about homosexuality which some viewed as controversial and others believed was in line with traditional Christian teachings. The A&E Network suspended Robertson but quickly reinstated him when the Robertson family threatened to end the highly successful show.

The latest ratings are the first indication of the effects of the controversy.

Most assume there are two reasons for the sudden ratings drop:

1. Viewers were turned off or offended by Robertson’s comments and have stopped watching in protest.

2. Viewers were turned off or offended by the A&E Network and have stopped watching in protest.

Which do you believe?

My guess is that you believe the option which most closely aligns with your political or religious beliefs.

Your choice probably reveals little about the facts, but much about your bias.

For those who were offended by Robertson’s comments, the ratings drop is evidence of his bigotry. CNN anchor Piers Morgan tweeted “bigotry doesn’t sell” in reference to the falling ratings. For Morgan, it was obvious the ratings were a sign of America’s rejection of Robertson’s bigotry.

When I saw the ratings, my first thought was, “A lot of Christians have stopped watching A&E.” After the network suspended Robertson, many Christians called for a boycott of the A&E Network.

Yet notice how quickly Morgan and I jumped to the conclusion which fit our bias. Neither considered the exact opposite could be true.

This is called confirmation bias. We are prone to seek out and believe information which confirms our opinions and beliefs regardless of whether the information is true or not. (See: What a Timeshare Presentation Taught Me About Bad Decisions)

In nearly every situation our preconceived notions dictate the information we use and how we use it. Rarely do we actually deal with the facts even when we think we are dealing with the facts. Sadly, this matches arrogance to our ignorance.

With every major decision, confirmation bias must be recognized and combated.

Three ways to combat confirmation bias:

1. Recognize it. No one is immune from confirmation bias. Recognizing that every human is prone to this bias is the beginning of combating it.

2. Be skeptical of quick decisions. On important issues, we should give more weight to facts and stories with which we disagree and less weight to those stories with which we quickly agree.

3. Avoid either/or decisions. By brainstorming other alternatives and having more than two options, we are more likely to look at things critically.

 So what about Ducky Dynasty? Which is it?

Chances are, it’s primarily neither of the answers we considered. While some might be protesting the show and others the network, the ratings drop is probably the normal Bell curve of a reality show. The downward slide of the curve may have been hurried by the publicity of the Robertson interview. The overexposure may have caused the audience to grow weary of the show. Whatever the cause, it is doubtful 2 million viewers are protesting from either side.

More important than Duck Dynasty’s ratings are our decisions. The show can remind us of the danger of confirmation bias. It can prevent us from assuming our opinions are right and can empower us to look beyond our biases.

3 Responses to What the Decline of Duck Dynasty Reveals About Decision Making

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