What is Confirmation Bias?
Confirmation bias, a cognitive bias, refers to the propensity to search for, interpret, favour, and remember information in a manner that reaffirms our existing beliefs or hypotheses. People exhibiting confirmation bias often ignore or distort evidence contradicting their preconceived notions.
Eight Common Confirmation Biases
Numerous types of confirmation bias exist, but some of the most prevalent ones encompass:
Biased search for information
We tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs. For example, if we believe that homoeopathy is effective, we’re more likely to read articles about the benefits of homoeopathy and less likely to read articles about the lack of scientific evidence for homoeopathy.
Example: I’ve always believed that homoeopathy is effective, so I’ve been reading many articles about it online. I’ve found a lot of articles that say that homoeopathy can be used to treat various conditions, so I’m feeling more confident that it’s a safe and effective treatment.
Biased interpretation of information
We tend to interpret ambiguous information in a way that confirms our beliefs. For example, if we believe our horoscope is accurate, we’re more likely to see patterns in our lives that support our belief, even if those patterns aren’t there.
Example: I always read my horoscope daily, and I’ve noticed that it’s always pretty accurate. The other day, it said that I would have a good day at work, and I did! I think my horoscope is really helpful in giving me a sense of what the day might bring.
We tend to remember information that confirms our beliefs and forget information that contradicts them. For example, if we believe that we’re good drivers, we’re more likely to remember when we drove safely and forget when we made mistakes.
Example: I’ve always thought of myself as a good driver, and I can remember many times when I’ve driven safely and avoided accidents. But I can’t remember when I made a mistake while driving. I guess I don’t focus on the negative stuff.
We tend to hold onto our beliefs even when presented with new evidence contradicting them. For example, if we believe that climate change isn’t real, we’re more likely to dismiss evidence that shows that it is real.
Example: I don’t believe in climate change. I think it’s all a hoax. I’ve read many articles that say that the evidence for climate change is flawed, and I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.
Researchers can sometimes unintentionally influence the outcome of their experiments in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs. For example, a researcher who believes that a certain drug is effective may be more likely to interpret the results of their experiment in a way that supports their belief.
Example: I’m a researcher and currently working on a study to see if a new drug is effective in treating a certain disease. I believe that the drug will be effective, so I’m careful not to let my bias influence the results of my study.
People who are observing others can sometimes unintentionally influence the behaviour of those people in a way that confirms their expectations. For example, a teacher who expects a student to do well in class may be more likely to give that student positive feedback, which can help the student do better.
Example: I’m a teacher, and I have a student who I really believe in. I know he’s capable of doing great things, so I’m always encouraging and giving him positive feedback. I think my belief in him is helping him to reach his full potential.
People’s attitudes can sometimes become more extreme after exposure to information that contradicts their beliefs. For example, if you strongly support gun control, you may become even more opposed to guns after reading an article about a mass shooting.
Example: I strongly support gun control and have always read articles about mass shootings. I become even more convinced that we need stricter gun laws every time I read one. I don’t think it’s safe for people to have so many guns in our country.
People can sometimes see a relationship between two events even when there is no actual relationship. For example, you may believe you are more likely to get sick after seeing a black cat.
Example: I’ve always thought that black cats are bad luck. I’ve never seen any evidence to support this belief, but I still can’t help but think that the cat might cause me accidents.
Tips for Overcoming Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias can have a significant impact on our lives. It can lead us to make bad decisions, hold onto harmful beliefs, and be less open to new ideas. If we want to make more informed and objective decisions, it’s important to be aware of our confirmation bias and take steps to counteract it.
Here are a few tips for overcoming confirmation bias:
- Be aware of your own biases. The first step to overcoming confirmation bias is to be aware of the fact that you have it. Once you’re aware of your biases, you can start to challenge them.
- Seek out information that contradicts your beliefs. Exposing yourself to different viewpoints is important, even if you disagree with them. This will help you to see the world from different perspectives and to make more informed decisions.
- Be open to changing your mind. Being willing to change your mind when presented with new evidence is important. If you’re always right, you’re never learning.
- Think critically about the information you consume. Don’t just accept everything you read or hear as fact. Ask questions about the source of the information, the methodology used to collect the information, and the potential biases of the people who created the information.
Confirmation bias is a common cognitive bias that can significantly impact our beliefs and decision-making. By being cognisant of our own biases and taking steps to counteract them, we can make more informed and objective decisions.