What is this strange thing called “predictive confirmation bias”?
It’s a cognitive error that tends to make us think and act in a way that fits our prior beliefs. It’s a shortcut that makes us save time, so we don’t have to evaluate evidence all the time. And sometimes this really helps us being efficient.
However, who hasn’t heard of misconceptions when we talk about cigars?
For example, you might have been told that Connecticut shade wrapped cigars are mild, that maduro wrapped cigars are sweet, that a tight draw delivers off-flavors, and so on…
What might happen is that you light a Connecticut shade wrapped cigar, you immediately decide that the cigar will be mild, and it will deliver those same aromas that you have encountered in another Connecticut shade wrapped cigar you smoked in the past. So, even if the Connecticut shade wrapped cigar that you are smoking is very different from what you know, you might ignore the evidence that it is, for example, strong in nicotine and that it doesn’t display the herbal aromas you expect.
A similar situation might happen when you note a slightly tight draw before lighting a cigar. You might be immediately disappointed by the expectation that the cigar will not be good and you will need to toss it. This might happen in spite of the fact that you might just need to adjust the cut of the cigar, or that you’d better not hold the cigar tight with your teeth, as this and your saliva likely contribute to a tight draw. You might also expect off-flavors, whereas, if you relax and smoke slowly, the cigar might be a great opportunity of sensory discovery.
Another example is when you read or watch a review stating that the cigar is great. When you light it, even if the cigar is giving you no satisfaction, you keep saying it’s good because that’s what you heard. If you have not chosen to be on a full trial and error process, or if you are not one of those cigar lovers who want to try any new cigar they hear about, regardless of whether they like it or not, this can be extremely disappointing.
This is not to say that there are no mild Connecticut shade wrapped cigars, or that there are no tight draw cigars, or that reviewers only publish high ratings and positive reviews.
This is just to say that it is often much easier to smoke the words we read and hear about some aspects of a cigar than to give it a fair chance.
How does that happen?
There is a paradigm in psychology, which is now proven as false. It’s the stimulus-response, according to which our brain does nothing until it’s presented to the stimulus and processes it. The opposite is true: instead of the brain passively waiting to react, it is constantly predicting incoming sensory input.
Why is the predictive confirmation bias so recurring?
It makes us feel good to confirm our own assumptions, even if they are wrong. In addition, when we are with other cigar lovers, conforming with a popular belief requires less energy than questioning it. Also, most of the times, we are not aware of our biases and it is therefore more difficult to avoid them.
What can you do about it?
- Gather facts and question what other people say about a cigar. Try to not to take as granted all that other individual smokers conclude, even if they are much more experienced than you are. Although “experience” is often referred to as the number of years someone has been smoking cigars, it’s the level of focus that makes the true experience. There are many beginners who can describe a cigar in a much more authentic way than seasoned smokers. We witness this among the people who enrolled in A Cigar Tasting Course.
- Focus on the cigar you are smoking and let your mind come up with what it actually delivers as you are smoking it. It’s probably easier for panelists in training to pay attention to this very common bias than for other cigar lovers, but it is not impossible. Many leisure smokers are able to critically think when they smoke their cigars.
- If you encounter some sensation that does not fit into your prediction, you have a prediction error. You can update your predictions for the future. That’s called learning.
- Taste is subjective and personal and the best you can do is respect it. Imitating other people’s taste is the best way to step away from your own judgement, freedom of choice and, above all, the pleasure you can get from a cigar.