Confirmation Bias: Myths of Youth and Age

A common statement is that younger people are more mentally flexible and amenable to new things than older people. This statement is on the same level as that blacks have rhythm or any other racist statement.

Yes, you can find young people who are doing new things and old hidebound people who refuse to change, but there are also hidebound young people and older people doing new things.

Why has this statement been given such credence? I think that it is confirmation bias.

Naturally, young people will tend to do things new to them. After all, they have not done so much yet. What sort of thing will they pick? I suggest that there is tendency to get into an area that is not already filled with competitors.

Jo[e] Youngperson gets into something and that is about all Jo[e] is doing. Sam[antha] Olderperson is already doing things and may simply add one more thing.

Walk down a commercial street that you know. You will readily notice any new businesses. It is rather harder to notice that an older company has just added a new product line.

I think that rather than pitting youth against age, that they should work together. Sometimes, a younger person comes up with a great idea, perhaps based on some material that he recently studied. (He is more likely to have recently studied.) Other times, the idea is only new to him and is thoroughly known already.

This might be due to the idea having already been developed. I have come up with ideas myself, that later, I saw had already been developed and much more fully than I did. (After all, many other people had worked on it.)

It may be because it is a bad idea that looks good at first glance. In a newsgroup on database theory, newcomers frequently presented an idea (Entity-Attribute-Value) and were quite effusive about it. Many of them took it rather badly when it was pointed out that it was an old idea and why it was a bad one. (There is a reason why the elders say not to eat the white berries, but go ahead if you insist.)

Between the two groups, which really should be just one, we can come up with genuinely good ideas and implementations. If we spend our time disrespecting each other, it will not happen nearly as often as it should.