Awhile back, I wrote the following about Prevagen, that memory drug commercial. They keep running it when I’m watching television, and it irritates me to no end. No doubt, I’m suffering from frequency illusion, or Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

After you read this blog entry, you will suffer it, too! ;-)

Vocabulary Clarification - Frequency Illusion

When you learn something new, it stays fresh in your mind. You start paying more attention to it than other things since your brain has decided this is important. Then, confirmation bias (ugh!) kicks in, and your mind searches for this newly learned information to confirm your new knowledge. You notice every instance of it, but the reality is, it’s not appearing more…you are noticing it more.

A fun trick might be to teach someone something new, then see if that’s all they focus on for the next hour. Too much fun. Anyways, you can imagine what a pain it is to become aware of how bad anecdotes are, then have to put up with television commercials that appeal to you using anecdotes.

Back To Prevagen

Every time I see Prevagen commercial on television, I’m intrigued. Wouldn’t it be neat to have a drug that could magically restore my memory? No longer would I reach for a word and have it just out of grasp. However, the scientific consensus reveals this miracle memory restorer leaves a lot to be desired.

These Prevagen commercials, like others that appear on television, are an appeal via anecdotes. It’s the old trick of getting a dentist to advertise toothpaste, or a pharmacist to recommend an over the counter drug that may not be effective at all.

Personal Experience Can Lead You Astray

Today, I ran into Melanie Trecek-King’s Facebook post (be sure to check out the comments, too), where she writes:

As critical thinkers, our goal is to use evidence to decide what to believe. And as such, we need to be skeptical of anecdotal evidence for several reasons.

The article she lists is worth reading, Four Ways Your Personal Experience Can Lead You Astray. In the article she writes:

Anecdotes are personal experiences that are used as evidence for a claim. Our brains jump to conclusions and assume the experience is a good indicator of what’s typical and even that events are due to causation. Vivid and emotional stories are often particularly convincing and memorable.

Many people think that anecdotes are a sure-fire way of knowing what’s true. Indeed, it can be quite difficult to convince someone that they might be wrong.

But anecdotes are infamously unreliable.

Confirmation Bias

How do you push back against confirmation bias? How do you stop it from hijacking your brain? Here are a few ideas I found interesting:

  • Question your motivations. This is a great one that reminds me of Crucial Confrontations. Why are you doing this? What’s motivating you? Are you emotionally invested?
  • Consider Opposite POVs. What’s an opposite point of view, and what’s the reasoning behind it? I remember hearing the guest on the Thinking Clearly podcast recently explore this idea. Their guest shares how they do it at the Army War College, which involves writing five bullet points torpedoing their perspective. Dig deeper into opposing perspectives and write them out.
  • Get feedback from others. Be transparent about your thinking process and what conclusions you came up with. Sure, you may look stupid, but better to look stupid to a few folks than to the world. Of course, if you’re a blogger, being transparent (and wrong) is part of the fun…one of the reasons people don’t really blog, they just “publish” information and pieces that people agree with (or not).
  • Engage in systematic disconfirmation. You may have read this blog entry I wrote systematic disconfirmation but if you haven’t, check it out. You are on the hunt to find credible evidence and data that goes against your existing belief. Since confirmation bias is about finding information that supports your belief, this process is the exact opposite.


You know, I want there to be a memory-enhancing drug. Like almost everyone I know, when I reach for a word sometimes, it doesn’t show up or appear right away. I’ll be sitting on the couch or exercising, and “Wham!” the word I was reaching for in a conversation shows up with a jolly “I’m here! Aren’t you happy?” But the truth is, I’m NOT happy.


Can you imagine if Thor stuck his hand out for Mjolnir (the hammer) and it didn’t show up right away?