Overcoming Confirmation Bias

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Overcoming Confirmation Bias

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“You say my teeth are severely worn down, but I think they have always looked like that.”

“You say that I have cavities because of my diet, but my family just has soft teeth.”


‘Confirmation bias’ refers to our tendency to search for -and favor- information which confirms our beliefs, while we simultaneously ignore or devalue information that contradicts our beliefs.

As dentists working with patients, we are at risk of allowing these mental short-cuts to override good decision-making and therefore undercut our patient’s health if we fail to counterbalance this bias.

We see this happen all the time. We examine a patient, describe and/or show the issue to them, maybe even get them to agree to do something about it, and then they fail to follow through.


Often this happens when confirmation bias kicks in…they eat lunch later in the day and nothing hurts…their spouse tells them at dinner that they can’t see anything wrong…they know a friend who recently had a bad dental experience over a similar issue.

We are all a bit mentally lazy, and consequently it is almost unnatural for us to formulate a hypothesis and then test various ways to prove it false. Instead, it is far more likely that we will form a lazy hypothesis based on previous experiences, opinions of influential others, cultural influences, or unsupportable fears and seek out information which supports it.

Bob Barkley brilliantly developed a system which effectively allowed him to finesse his way around confirmation bias. He called it Co-discovery, and it was based on the truth that what an individual learns for them-self is always much more powerful and influential than anything they are told.

Yes, it took more time for Bob to do it that way, but it led to an agreement to proceed with proper care much more often than not, and it is “yes” that moves people toward greater levels of health.

Bob Barkley spoke to this issue brilliantly when he said, “No greater risk of failure can be run than that of attempting to use traditional patient management procedures in a health oriented restorative practice. Examining and treating a patient’s mouth without prior attitudinal development is an error of omission for which the dentist pays handsomely with time, energy, stress, and money.”

Paul A Henny, DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, @2017

Read more at www.codiscovery.com

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