Confirmation bias (A guide)

Confirmation bias is the tendency to intercept new evidence as consistent with one’s existing beliefs.

It is the tendency to search for, favor, interpret, and recall information that corroborates or affirms one’s prior belief system.

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that humans use in their daily lives and it is a systematic error of inductive reasoning. 

We like to believe that our thoughts and opinions are rational, logical, and unbiased.

But in reality, all of us are susceptible to confirmation bias. The information we believe to be true might not necessarily be true.

We tend to seek out information that affirms our existing beliefs, which perpetuates these beliefs and dissuades us from changing them.

We use confirmation bias in our everyday lives.

For example, imagine that Rosa believes that people who like dogs are smarter than those who do not like dogs.

She will seek out information that supports this idea.

Even if evidence comes up that refutes this belief, she will ignore it and continue to find information that confirms the belief that dog lovers are smarter. 

What causes confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is caused by the influence of desire on beliefs.

When people have the desire for a certain idea or concept to be true, they will seek out information to confirm those existing beliefs. 

Confirmation bias is an error because the individual usually stops gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views of that individual.

People tend to ignore or reject information that casts doubt on their beliefs. 

Are there any groups of people more prone to confirmation bias? 

All of us are susceptible to confirmation bias. Anxious individuals are especially susceptible because they already view the world as dangerous.

For example, if you have a phobia of spiders, you will seek out and pay close attention to all the information that shows the harmful nature of spiders.

Sadly, due to confirmation bias, you probably will not search for evidence that spiders are harmless and just mind their own business. 

There are several other examples of highly anxious individuals using confirmation bias to confirm their beliefs.

One example is a person who is highly sensitive to being ignored or judged by others.

This person will constantly monitor for signs of people not liking them and exhibit a bias toward all the negative information about how that person is acting.

Because of this, any behavior, even if it is neutral, will be interpreted as negative. 

Can confirmation bias be dangerous?

Confirmation bias is a form of wishful thinking, self-deception, and false optimism.

This can be dangerous in many situations such as drunk driving.

Someone who had three or four drinks might feel confident that he can drive safely. 

Self-deception often numbs us from the harsh realities of life such that driving after a few drinks is not that dangerous or eating “just one” French fry is not that fattening.

Confirmation bias shields us from actually gathering objective evidence from all angles and thinking through our beliefs and decisions. 

Can confirmation bias be seen as a positive thing in our everyday lives?

Confirmation bias can be a positive thing in some cases. Positive thinking when dealing with an illness such as cancer may be beneficial for defeating the disease.

However, positive thinking has not been proven to be beneficial for diabetes or ulcers.

For fighting cancer, there is some evidence that believing that you will recover helps reduce your stress hormone levels and thus gives the immune system and modern medicine a better chance to work. 

Can we get rid of confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is a natural human tendency that requires active strategies to reverse.

Humans are prone to believe what they want to believe, and it feels counterintuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our beliefs.

Instances of disconfirming our beliefs are more powerful in establishing the truth because these require actively looking for evidence to disprove our thoughts, ideas, and opinions. 

The best thing to do is be aware of your own confirmation bias.

If you set your hypothesis and look for instances to prove yourself wrong, you are heading in the right direction.

This is an example of self-confidence; you can look at the world objectively without needing to look for instances that feed your ego. 

How is confirmation bias avoided in everyday life? 

Questioning witnesses to a crime scene is one example where confirmation bias should be prevented.

In this case, it is imperative to obtain information from each witness independently before they are able to discuss their testimony with others.

This prevents unbiased witnesses from influencing each other. 

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about confirmation bias:

1. What is an example of confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that humans use in their everyday lives.

We tend to favor information that confirms our preexisting beliefs.

For example, if you hold the belief that left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people, you might actively seek out this information and focus on your friends who are left-handed and also creative to support your preexisting belief.

2. What is confirmation bias in psychology?

Confirmation bias is a concept in psychology and cognitive science that describes the tendency to seek out, search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs. Confirmation bias often leads to errors. 

3. Why is confirmation bias important? 

Confirmation bias is important because it leads people to continue strongly believing information that is false.

It causes people to give more weight to information that supports their beliefs rather than taking true evidence into account. 

4. How do you avoid confirmation bias?

There are ways to avoid confirmation bias.

These include looking for ways to challenge what you believe, seeking out information from a range of sources, as opposed to sources that support your existing beliefs.

You can also consider situations from multiple perspectives and discuss your thoughts with others.

Do not be afraid to expand your ideas and beliefs.

Try thinking for yourself and asking good questions so that you can see situations from all different angles.

5. How does confirmation bias occur?

Confirmation bias occurs because of the direct influence of desire on beliefs.

When people really want a certain idea or concept to be true, they believe it to be true by seeking out relevant information. 

6. Is confirmation bias a fallacy?

Confirmation bias is a logical fallacy because the information sought out is not necessarily true, it just confirms a person’s preexisting thoughts and beliefs.

7. What is the difference between confirmation bias and belief perseverance?

Confirmation bias is a concept in psychology and cognitive science that describes the tendency to seek out, search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs.

Belief perseverance, on the other hand, is a state when a person refuses to change his or her beliefs even when these beliefs are proven to be wrong.

8. How does confirmation bias affect decision making?

Using investing as an example, confirmation bias leads investors to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs and ignore information that refutes these beliefs.

The investors’ perceptions and decision making will be affected by this because they will likely invest in something that supports their ideas, rather than the morally or scientifically correct option. 

9. Who coined the term confirmation bias? 

Peter Wason was an English psychologist who coined the term “confirmation bias” in 1960.

10. What is the opposite of confirmation bias? 

The opposite of confirmation bias is known as disconfirmation bias.

However, this can also be considered a form of confirmation bias. 

11. How can the effects of confirmation bias be minimized?

An action you can take to prevent the tendency of confirmation bias is to actively search for contradictory evidence for any of the beliefs you hold.

This helps you form a more balanced opinion of any issues at hand.

Another action you can take to prevent confirmation bias is to discuss a single issue with four or five different people to gather as much evidence as possible. 

12. What are the two main types of bias?

A bias is the intentional or unintentional favoring of one group or outcome over another.

The two main types of biases are selection bias and response bias. 

13. How do you avoid confirmation bias in research?

To avoid confirmation bias in research, there are many strategies you can employ such as identifying ambiguity, asking “why?”, reading from all angles, hiring an outsider, and reviewing and spot checking. 

In this blog article, we discussed how confirmation bias is something that all humans experience.

We also went through examples of confirmation bias and how it can be surmounted. 

Want to learn more about confirmation bias?

Try these recommended readings! 

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

This book by David McRaney is an entertaining description of how we as humans constantly delude ourselves.

When we decide which smartphone to purchase or even which politician to believe, we truly think that every decision we make is rational and based on logic.

McRaney discusses how wrong that is, and reveals how every decision we make, every thought we contemplate, and every emotion we feel comes with a story we tell ourselves to rationalize them.

This book has short chapters that cover issues such as learned helplessness, selling out, and the illusion of transparency, and has been described as being “like a psychology course with all the boring parts taken out.” 

The Bubble of Confirmation Bias (Critical Thinking about Digital Media) 

This book explores the ways in which the social media bubble encourages confirmation bias and how to combat it.

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to interpret, remember, and actively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

In our world today, social media is a growing feeder of confirmation bias because we tend to surround ourselves with a “bubble of like-minded people.”

If you want to learn how to prevent confirmation bias from social media as best as possible, then this book is for you. 

Focus On: 100 Most Popular Cognitive Biases: Cognitive Bias, Dunning–Kruger Effect, Confirmation Bias, Pareidolia, Psychological Projection, Hawthorne … Hypothesis, Self-fulfilling Prophecy, etc. 

This book is made out of collections of the most informative and popular Wikipedia articles to help you gain a detailed understanding of common cognitive biases that we as humans suffer from in our everyday lives. 

Confirmation Bias 

Ivanna Baranova debuts her outstanding poetry in this must-read collection.

She discusses evidence, existence, and resiliency in an attempt to move past the beliefs that plague all human beings.

Desire, affect, anger, healing, feminine conditioning, racialization, and Latinx diaspora are some of the emotions and experiences described in this collection of poems. 

References

What is Confirmation Bias?Psychology Today. April 23rd, 2015.

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