The term confirmation bias may seem familiar. We may have heard about it in an intro psychology course or read about research conducted on the subject, but not many of us pause to consider how much of a role confirmation bias actually plays, not only in our daily lives, but when we make some of our most important decisions and actions.
Confirmation bias, also known as confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency of human beings to more readily believe, or favor, information that coincides with their already formed beliefs. Francis Bacon said that “it is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives,” and this is the perfect summary of confirmation bias. We have all experienced a time when we find ourselves excited by information that confirms our beliefs, while brushing aside information that does not coincide. This is the result of confirmation bias. This effect is also exacerbated when it comes to topics that are emotional or beliefs that have been long-standing.
This mode for understanding the world, while a simple part of human nature, can be endlessly dangerous. Not only when it comes to dealing with others, but when it comes to relying on our own judgment and opinions when making important decisions in our own lives.
Here are some ways confirmation bias affects us and how we can catch ourselves from falling into the bias trap:
Biased information search
The reason confirmation bias can be so deadly to a human is because, according to this principle, we tend to look only for information that supports our pre-held beliefs. Call it selective search. This means that, not only could we be biased about the information we do get a hold of, we may completely sidestep vital information in the first place, just because we are subconsciously ignoring everything that doesn’t fit in with our beliefs. If you’re not sure this applies to you, think about an issue that you feel very strongly about. Do you regularly look for articles that support or refute your opinions?
Bias in interpretation
Not only are we biased when it comes to taking in information, we are also biased in how we interpret any information we receive. We all know that any fact can be easily interpreted from completely different angles. One person might look at statistics about rising instances of rape and conclude that women are more mistreated and disrespected than ever. A person with a different viewpoint might look at the information and conclude that women are more protected than ever, because these instances are being recorded. Understanding how facts and data can be skewed depending on personal beliefs and opinion is hugely important when making our own decisions based on limited facts, especially when information is being reported through other parties.
While confirmation bias surely affects the way we associate with one another and interpret the world we live in, one of the most important reasons to understand and recognize confirmation bias is in the relationship we have with our selves. Knowing why we believe the things we do and catching ourselves when we may be skewing information to feed our own preconceptions is an important part of growing as an individual and a citizen of the world.
This has been a guest post by blogger Maria Rainier.
A lifelong conversationalist and born writer, it was only a matter of time before Maria Rainier became a full-time blogger. Now she spends her time blogging about trending higher education issues such as the online degrees vs traditional degrees question and the values of distance learning. Please share some comments with her.