November 17, 2023 | Emily Pritt

Strategies for Unbiased Incident Investigations

In incident investigations, uncovering the truth behind an event to prevent its recurrence is crucial. However, our minds are susceptible to various cognitive traps, such as confirmation bias. This mental pitfall can significantly affect the objectivity and effectiveness of an investigation. This article will explore confirmation bias, its implications in incident investigations, and how the TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis methodology can help overcome it.

Confirmation Bias—What Is It?

Confirmation bias is a well-documented psychological phenomenon in which individuals favor information confirming their beliefs or values. In incident investigations, this bias can manifest when investigators unconsciously seek out, interpret, and remember information that aligns with their initial hypotheses or assumptions while disregarding conflicting evidence. This can lead to critical factors that contributed to the incident being overlooked.

The webinar below, led by my colleague Barb Carr, provides detailed information on cognitive biases, including confirmation bias.

How Confirmation Bias Impacts Investigations

It’s common for people to unconsciously interpret incomplete or ambiguous evidence in a way that aligns with their existing beliefs. This interpretive bias can have a significant impact on the accuracy and impartiality of the investigation, leading it away from a thorough and objective analysis of the incident. Here are a few examples of how this can happen during investigations:


Confirmation bias can manifest in incident investigations in subtle and unconscious ways. Investigators may filter information driven by the need for cognitive consistency and the desire to validate their initial hypotheses. This filtering process can cause them to selectively focus on data that supports their preconceived notions while neglecting or downplaying evidence that contradicts their established beliefs. This biased selection of information not only shapes the direction of the investigation but also influences the conclusions drawn from the collected data.


Investigators are prone to confirmation bias, which can impact their recollection of information. Memories are not fixed and can be influenced by personal interpretation and reconstruction. This can result in investigators only remembering details confirming their beliefs while ignoring or forgetting evidence contradicting them. Such biased recall can undermine the investigation’s integrity and hinder the adoption of effective preventive measures.


Confirmation bias can lead investigators to quickly settle on a particular cause, undermining the investigation’s objectivity and increasing the likelihood of misidentifying the root causes. Misattributing the cause of an incident can lead to misguided corrective actions that fail to address the underlying issues, perpetuating the risk of recurrence. Therefore, avoiding confirmation bias and considering multiple perspectives must ensure an unbiased investigation.

The TapRooT® Approach

It is crucial to overcome confirmation bias to conduct effective incident investigations and prevent similar events from happening in the future. To achieve this, organizations must adopt methodologies that specifically address cognitive biases. This will lead to objective, thorough, and accurate investigations that will enable organizations to create a culture of continuous improvement and enhance safety measures in the long term.

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis is a systematic and proactive methodology designed to help organizations identify and eliminate the root causes of incidents. Developed by System Improvements Inc., TapRooT® provides a structured approach that mitigates the impact of cognitive biases like confirmation bias. Here’s how TapRooT® tackles this issue:

  1. SnapCharT®: TapRooT® begins with creating a SnapCharT®, a visual representation of the incident timeline. This tool helps investigators objectively map out the sequence of events without prematurely assigning blame or settling on a specific cause.
  2.  Root Cause Tree®: The Root Cause Tree® is a hierarchical tool that guides investigators through systematically analyzing the incident. By categorizing causes based on their nature, the Root Cause Tree® prevents investigators from fixating on a single hypothesis and encourages the exploration of diverse possibilities.
  3.  Corrective Action Helper®: TapRooT® includes a Corrective Action Helper® to assist investigators in developing effective corrective actions. By addressing the identified root causes rather than symptoms, this tool ensures that preventive measures are targeted and comprehensive.

Learn Effective Interviewing & Evidence Collection Techniques

If you want to improve as an investigator, I highly suggest attending a course, which includes the book developed by Barb Carr & Mark Paradies.

I’ll co-teach with Barb at the 2024 Global TapRooT® Summit in a 2-day pre-summit course on this topic on April 29-30, 2024 at the Horseshoe Bay Resort near Austin, TX.

  • Learn how to preplan and prepare to document investigations with ease.
  • Use a SnapCharT® efficiently as a planning tool for evidence collection.
  • Work in teams using a systematic process to collect information,
  • Learn how to best label, collect and record evidence.
  • Learn how to conduct an initial site visit.
  • Participate in mock interviews practicing the TapRooT® 12-Step Interview Process.

Course Guarantee for Effective Interviewing and Evidence Collection

Attend this course, go back to work, and use what you have learned.  If you don’t feel you improved your evidence collection and interviewing skills, just return your course materials and we will refund the entire course fee.

TapRooT® Book 7 – Evidence Collection and Investigative Interviewing

In Summary

Confirmation bias is a common cognitive trap that incident investigators can fall into, and its implications can be far-reaching beyond just the immediate consequences of an event. When investigators tend to favor information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs or initial hypotheses, it can obstruct the path to a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the incident.

TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis methodology stands out by acknowledging the existence of cognitive biases and actively countering them. This helps in promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement, which is vital for the growth and development of any organization.

Feel free to contact me or follow me on LinkedIn for more TapRooT® RCA content.

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Investigations, Root Cause Analysis, Root Cause Analysis Tips
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