Organization for the Advancement of   
Interdisciplinary Learning
Positive Test Strategy:

When someone uses the positive test strategy they are prejudiced towards confirming their
speculations.  The positive test strategy is a common cognitive error that, according to
psychologists, is used by people all of the time.  This tendency biases us toward confirming
our ideas by making us seek out cases that support our hypotheses and disregard cases
that question them.  

I never liked the superstring theory despite the fact that it is accepted by the majority of
theoretical physicists as the precursor to the grand unified field theory of all sciences. M
Theory, String Theory, Membrane Theory-  I never accepted any of these facets of the
superstring theory nor the theory itself.  I never thought that the construed math that
underlies these theories, or the evidence for them (or lack thereof) adequately supports the
existence of “superstrings.” I personally thought that the refined foundation constructed by
Einstein, Newton and others was marred by this inelegant construal.

The moment that I came across a new article that offered an interpretation of superstring
theory I was convinced that it would be mindless. I was curious enough to read it though. At
the time, as you can tell, I was very biased against anything related to the theory and I
expected nothing intelligent or insightful from this article. As I read the article I not only
disagreed with the content, I was also harshly critical of the author’s writing style. I thought
that the work was not only devoid of scientific accuracy but poorly written as well.

A few weeks later I attended a lecture that did an excellent job of explaining the superstring
theory. I realized that many of the reasons that I did not like the theory came from the fact
that I did not understand it.  I left the auditorium fascinated. I was much more accepting of
the theory and wanted to find out more.

When I came home I encountered the article that I had read a few weeks back.  I was then
so intrigued that I had to read it again.  After reading it the second time I liked it so much
that it seemed to me that it couldn’t be the same article that I had read a few weeks prior.
Not only did I like what it was saying, this time around, I even liked the author’s writing style.
This may have been due to the fact that I understood the subject much better and was thus
able to read into the author’s intent.

The reason that I did not like the article the first time is because I was biased against it and
articles like it. This stereotype that I held against superstring theory kept me from
appreciating it.

This is an example of the positive test strategy as defined by cognitive psychology.  
Because I expected the article to be bad, I interpreted it to be bad even though I normally
would have liked it.

The positive test strategy is a human tendency that scientists must be well aware of. Often
experimenters are accused of being so biased towards their own hypotheses that they do
not properly consider alternative hypotheses. This encourages them to collect faulty data
and disregard factors that might disprove their ideas.  Can you see how such a tendency
might affect a non-scientist’s ability to be objective?

It is important for everyone to use introspection and an objective approach to problem
solving in order mitigate the self serving effects of the positive test strategy- and other
heuristics like it.

Objectivity: noun
A judgment or decision based on observable phenomena and unbiased by emotion or
personal preferences.