A few weeks ago, there was a contestant on Jeopardy that made quite a run. She didn’t break any of Ken Jennings’ records, but she certainly set a few records for females on Jeopardy. In fact, Julia Collins now has the record for the longest winning streak by a woman (and also the second longest winning streak — male or female) and the woman to have won the most money on Jeopardy. As it happens, I was lucky enough to see every episode.
Earlier this year, my son was born and one of the ways that helps him to sleep is if I bounce on an exercise ball. Since this can happen at odd hours of the day, I started watching DVR’d episodes of Jeopardy. In fact, I remember the first game that Julia won because she had to beat a Canadian. Anyway, over the course of 5 weeks, I continued to watch Julia handily defeat her competition and then when it was interrupted for the Jeopardy Battle of the Decades, I watched that.
When the regularly scheduled episodes returned with Julia, she was beginning to get some media attention. On the one hand, I thought this was great because she certainly deserved it, but it made it harder for me to avoid spoilers (really? Who needs to avoid spoilers for Jeopardy!?). I started to watch the episode a few hours after it aired on some nights because I noticed that some folks were tweeting about Julia’s streak continuing.
Julia hit her 20th win in a row on a Friday, which meant she got to come back on Monday. It just so happened that I was near the TV on Monday night, so, to avoid spoilers, I watched the episode live. As you already know (either from the title of this post or from knowing), Julia went on to lose that game. After she lost, I laughed to myself, “I shouldn’t have watched the episode live — that’s why Julia lost.”
Now, did you notice the cognitive bias?
The confirmation bias.
To be fair, I didn’t divulge all the information up front, but if you understand the confirmation bias, you’re going to think you have all the information. After watching Julia lose attempting to win her 21st game in a row, I said to myself that because I watched it live, she lost. [Note: of course, you’re going to have to suspend disbelief for a short while as my watching or not watching an episode of Jeopardy is not actually going to cause or not cause someone to win/lose. At this point, it’s science fiction.]
The thing I’m not telling you (nor was I telling myself to have said this to myself then, lest I be experiencing cognitive dissonance), was that I had also snuck a peak at a few of the episodes from wins 16 to 20. That is, even though I may not have watched a full episode live until her loss going for win 21, I did watch some bits of the other episodes live. So, at the conclusion of Julia’s streak, I selectively (though not intentionally) misremembered the number of times I’d seen Julia live and concluded that by my watching live, she lost.