Confirmation Bias at the Symphony

Ottawa National Arts Center Orchestra photo

I just got back from a concert at the National Arts Center in Ottawa. It was the NAC orchestra led by Pinchas Zukerman. More details here.

When we got to our seats, I noticed that we were sitting next to an Asian-looking couple. What immediately popped to mind was “Oh yeah, not surprising, classical music is relatively popular in Asian culture right now” because of some articles that I read about how Asia is training more classical musicians than anywhere else, and that “Western” classical music might have a brighter future there than in this hemisphere.

But that was just confirmation bias.

If I had really wanted to look at this more rationally, a good start would have been to find out what portion of Ottawa’s population is of Asian origins, and then to look at what portion of the concert’s spectators was of Asian origins. I don’t know these numbers, but it might very well be that there were less Asians in the room as a percentage than their ratio of the local population. This could mean a lot of things, like that people of Asian origins who don’t live in Asia anymore aren’t more likely to be classical music fans than the general population, or that age is a bigger factor (lots of white hair in the room) than cultural background. Etc.

Bottom line, just remember to check for confirmation bias often. You get better at catching yourself with time, and someday it might help you avoid a bigger mistake than having an inaccurate belief about Asian culture and classical music.

See also: Rationality.

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