Thank you Hugo for the link to your excellent paper and the subsequent exchanges.
It’s a rich source of very interesting material, that I’m sure I’ll be digging into again.
(Although I was a bit deafened by the noise of axe grinding while reading the Open Peer Commentary ;-) )
I understand the point you make about confirmation bias: why would we need it if we are arguing for display?
You propose it would be redundant.
But, I’d suggest that confirmation bias is particularly useful when arguing for display (or more accurately position), rather than from principal.
Indeed, you may be underestimating the extent to which men establish position through argument (rather than displays of running and fighting).
Cognitive bias helps in a “Leader Debate”
What’s most important when arguing for position is rapidly to marshall your “ammunition”.
If you are engaged in a leader debate on a topic with which you may not be familiar you need to be able to find good arguments as fast as you can.
Confirmation bias is a filter that helps us see the useful “missiles” in amongst the dirt and undergrowth.
Additionally, it helps us avoid voicing ideas that would be contrary to the line we are taking.
Nerds, who may have the best ideas, don’t win leader debates if they are too deliberative or too socially awkward at expressing their views.
(And, of course, they rarely get the girl, without the help of a Hollywood script-writer.)
The importance of followership
That leads on to a point Chris Crawford made above: namely the mechanism by which good argumentation skills lead to a favourable selection effect.
The most favourable position from a selection perspective is to be an alpha male.
To be the leader of the pack. But no leader can exist without followers.
Argumentation skills confer on the alpha male the capacity to build followership.
In advanced societies we select our leaders inter alia on the same basis: we tend to favour the decisive over the deliberative.
(Of course not all debates are “leader debates”, but argument can also establish support for the “worthy challenger”.)
Argumentation is a key leadership tool
In many contexts, and I suspect in emerging human society, it’s crucial to have a leader who is decisive and persuasive.
This is not to say that good leaders should be bombastic idiots. Far from it. (But some who get to those exalted positions are - “W” there I’ve said it.)
In my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to see some excellent entrepreneurs.
The skill is to focus the group effort on clear goals, rather than to allow resources to diffuse through endless debate and fruitless false-starts.
This is about clarity of communication, which relies on a coherent narrative or argument.
But the good entrepreneur also knows when to change tack, and she’s able to redirect the team towards this new goal that everyone supports.
The entrepreneur must therefore be able to marshall a completely new narrative and to sell it to her followers.
(Of course, argumentation is not the only way leaders win and encourage followers - emotional skills are also crucial - but the argumentation helps.)
A final thought
As a final thought, I’ve occasionally caught myself taking a stance that reflects my personal feelings for an interlocutor.
I’m minded to argue for my friends, even if I’m ambivalent about their proposals.
And, I find myself occasionally arguing against something of which I am a natural supporter, because I’m arguing with someone I don’t particularly care for.
And I’m far less willing to admit defeat than I would be if arguments weren’t as much, if not more, about “face” rather than “fact”.
In other words, my choice of argument is socially contextual.
I can’t cite sociological studies that confirm my behaviour as normal rather than aberrant, but I’m willing to bet money that I am not alone. :)