Writer: Vedant Kumar
Peter Wason, an English psychologist, coined the term "confirmation bias," which he defined as the propensity for people to prefer information that supports or confirms their ideas or values while entirely omitting and/or rejecting information that contradicts those beliefs. (“Why Do We Favor Information That Confirms Our Existing Beliefs?”) Other labels for it include "cherry-picking" and just insisting on going to the lengths necessary to win a debate.
For example, imagine that a person believes left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people. Whenever this person encounters a person that is both left-handed and creative, they place greater importance on this "evidence" that supports what they already believe. This individual might even seek proof that further backs up this belief while discounting examples that do not support the idea or contrast it completely (Cherry, 2022).
The propensity to consciously ignore or discard opposing viewpoints tends to prevent one from approaching a subject holistically. Such biases can be devastating, whether they are for professional or personal reasons. If a person is affected by them from a young age, they may find it difficult to accept criticism when they start working or when they make friends with people who hold different opinions, which can result in failed relationships and mental stress. The propensity for them to surround themselves with "Yes" men may also be an anticipated reaction to ensure that the illusion remains unfulfilled while they avoid interacting with others who hold opposing views.
As per research, people exhibit confirmation bias because they are pragmatically calculating the costs of being incorrect rather than conducting an impartial, scientific investigation. Confirmation bias has been linked to poor judgment in a variety of political, organizational, financial, and scientific contexts. (“Why Do We Favor Information That Confirms Our Existing Beliefs?”) These biases can preserve or reinforce views in the face of contradictory data and contribute to overconfidence in personal opinions.
Filter bubbles, also known as algorithmic editing, are commonly used in social media to show users just material they are likely to agree with while hiding competing viewpoints, which amplify confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias can have a detrimental impact on one's memory since it seeks to change happenings that transpired to fit the person's narration in order to ensure that their belief remains unwavering. It can also lead to conveniently forgetting certain events.
Even scientific research is susceptible to confirmation bias, and ecological studies usually never take this into account. This notion can be illustrated by the fact that for many years it was widely believed that insect herbivory was greater in tropical areas. (Kozlov et al.) The hypothesis that tropical records may have overestimated community-wide losses of plant foliage to insects due to confirmation bias was tested in a study by comparing the data collected blindly (when the observer was unaware of the research hypothesis being tested) with the results of non-blind studies (when the observer knew what results could be expected).
When assessed using a blind method, the average loss of woody plant leaf area to defoliating insects in Brazil (1.11%) was considerably less than the loss observed in non-blind research, both original (5.14%) and published (6.37%). (Kozlov et al.)
In non-blind studies, plant species with higher-than-average levels of herbivory were chosen for the study, which led to an overestimation of the community-wide losses of plant foliage to insects.
Hence why, in both our personal and professional lives, it can be incredibly difficult to overcome confirmation bias. No one loves to acknowledge they are mistaken; instead, we search for proof that the course we are doing is the correct one. When combined with other psychological biases like the overconfidence bias, Gambler's Fallacy, Fundamental Attribution Error, etc., it can be much more damaging.
Simple techniques to overcome confirmation bias include:
We all should be aware of signs of confirmation bias, and similar psychological biases to cut cancer at its roots.
We should seek out contrasting perspectives and should be willing to change our minds in light of new evidence, even if it means updating or even changing your current beliefs
Unfortunately, confirmation bias affects all of us. Even though we think we are quite objective and just consider the evidence before drawing judgments, it's likely that some bias will tint our judgment. It's really challenging to overcome this innate predisposition.
However, if we are aware of confirmation bias and acknowledge its existence, we may attempt to identify it by cultivating an interest in opposing viewpoints and paying attention to what others are saying and why. While we still need to be mindful of avoiding confirmation bias, this can help us see problems and beliefs from a different angle.
Cherry, K. (2022, November 10). Why do we favor information that confirms our existing beliefs? Verywell Mind. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-confirmation-bias-2795024
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Dissociative amnesia disorder: Symptoms, treatments, and more. Medical News Today. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/dissociative-amnesia#types
Healy, P. (2016). Confirmation Bias: How It Affects Your Organization | HBS Online. [online] Business Insights - Blog. Available at: https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/confirmation-bias-how-it-affects-your-organization-and-how-to-overcome-it.
Cherry, K. (2020). How confirmation bias works. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-confirmation-bias-2795024.
Kozlov, M. V., Zverev, V., & Zvereva, E. L. (2014). Confirmation bias leads to overestimation of losses of woody plant foliage to insect herbivores in tropical regions. PeerJ, 2, e709.
Available at: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.709