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Investigating the Relative Susceptibility of Engineers and Geoscientists to Biases and Their Impact on Decision Making

Evans, Kira and Koh, Ren and Fleming, Craig

Engineering Honours Degree, 2013

University of Adelaide


Cognitive biases are deviations between intuitively based decisions and calculated, optimal decisions. They occur when intuition is used to make decisions and the majority of people are susceptible to them. Engineers and geoscientists are two groups who often work together as part of a multidisciplinary team in the petroleum industry. Cognitive biases may be observed in both disciplines; however, the extent to which these biases affect each group may differ. Biases effect perception of uncertainty which affects project economics and in turn impacts project decision making. The study considers the possibility that the way engineers and geoscientists think and process information differs. These differences may affect an individual's susceptibility to bias. The effect of the anchoring, availability and overconfidence biases have been considered.
A survey was developed to test for these biases. It involved basic demographic questions, cognitive reflection test (CRT) questions along with general knowledge questions aimed at testing susceptibility to biases. Respondents were also asked to classify themselves as either an engineer or geoscientist. The analyses of results were based on this classification when comparing the two groups. A quantitative investigation was undertaken to determine the impact of cognitive biases on perceptions of uncertainty. Results of the investigation were analysed to see whether the impact could affect the project economics and hence a typical oil and gas decision making process.
The purpose of the CRT is to predict bias susceptibility. Results found a significant difference between engineers' and geoscientists' responses to the CRT questions. Engineers were found to perform better than geoscientists. The CRT results imply that bias susceptibility differs between groups. However, the same was not found when considering the overconfidence and anchoring biases. The difference between engineers' and geoscientists' susceptibility to anchoring and overconfidence was not statistically significant. Engineers were found to be more susceptible to the availability bias. Results showed that irrespective of classification the relative error associated with the unpacked questions was smaller than that of the packed. Further analysis discovered that employment within the oil and gas industry and risk and uncertainty training effected geoscientists more significantly than engineers. Overall, results showed that both engineers and geoscientists are susceptible to all of the biases considered. The biases were modelled and were found to have significant negative impacts on project economics. It was established that biases trigger a change in decision which results in a loss of potential project net present value.


Australian School of Petroleum



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