Apophenia, unconscious bias and reflexivity in nursing qualitative research
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Buetow, S. (2019) Apophenia, unconscious bias and reflexivity in nursing qualitative research. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 89, pp. 8-13.
Nurses routinely engage in pattern recognition and interpretation in qualitative research and clinical practice. However, they risk spontaneously perceiving patterns among things that are not meaningfully related. Although all people are prone to this cognitive bias of "apophenia", nurses may be at increased risk because they commonly produce or at least use qualitative research that can be highly interpretive. Qualitative researchers have been silent on the risk of apophenia and hence on exploring how attention to apophenia could help to indicate and manage such unconscious biases. Therefore this conceptual paper suggests how, in disciplines like nursing, researchers could attend to and use reflexivity on signs of possible apophenia to help bring unconscious biases to awareness. Within safe communities of professional practice, the researchers could cooperate with trusted peers to reflect on how and why they may each perceive patterned phenomena from different perspectives. If one reason is that the researchers, for example, appear to exhibit particular unconscious biases, then dialogue could help them to become aware of, and reflect on the biases. This expansion of researchers' consciousness of bias could inform the management of apophenia and enhance the quality of qualitative research and modern nursing practice.