Most of the time we get into a debate or an argument, we always believe that we are right. Then we go ahead and give evidences that support our opinions and beliefs. If you have ever tried looking into facts and evidences that support otherwise, then well and good, but most likely, that is not what happens, right? Right! This tendency is called “confirmation bias”.
Let us learn more about confirmation bias that affects many aspects in our lives more than we think.
Table of Contents
- What is confirmation bias
- Why confirmation bias happens
- Types and examples of confirmation bias
- Effects of confirmation bias
- Addressing confirmation bias
What is confirmation bias?
Confirmation bias, according to Britannica, is our tendency to look for information or interpret information that is consistent with our existing beliefs. We have this desire for our beliefs to be true and so we end up believing they are true.
With confirmation bias, we tend to ignore or reject information that is not consistent with our beliefs or that doubts them. It degrades our judgment by only favoring and accepting those that confirm our opinions and beliefs. Having this bias also means that we could not perceive circumstances objectively.
Why confirmation bias happens
Confirmation bias is usually unintentional but it happens.
According to Bettina J. Casad, an Assistant Professor from the Department of Psychological Sciences of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, here are some reasons why confirmation bias happens.
- Convenience – Confirmation bias is a convenient and efficient way to process information. With all the overwhelming available information around, we are usually drawn to just interpreting and confining information from our own perspective.
- Self-esteem – People have the tendency to seek positive instances. It does not really make us feel good when we discover that an idea we truly value is not correct, right? Because of this, we tend to seek information that supports our ideas and existing beliefs so as to protect our self-esteem.
- Accuracy – People want to be accurate and correct in order to feel intelligent. Confirmation bias just does the thing by only looking for and interpreting information based on one’s own beliefs.
- Expectations – We can have expectations toward a certain person or situation. More often than we are aware of, we tend to interpret and seek information that will confirm those expectations.
Furthermore, a post at Psychology Today written by Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., an associate professor emeritus at the University of Illinois in Springfield, explained why confirmation Bias happens. Heshmat explains that a person’s desire has a direct influence on one’s beliefs. People are usually driven by “wishful thinking”. When a person has a certain belief and he/she has so far found enough information that would confirm those views, he/she would then stop looking for other information.
Types and examples of confirmation bias
Confirmation bias influences how we gather, interpret, and recall information, which gives us the three types of confirmation bias.
1. Bias on search for information
In this type of confirmation bias, people are drawn to look for information or evidence that supports their beliefs or theories and disregard other information.
For example, you believe that steam inhalation is the best natural remedy for sinusitis. You then go ahead to Google to see if your hypothesis is correct. Unaware of the confirmation bias at work, you type in “benefits of steam inhalation for sinusitis,” instead of something unbiased like “best natural remedies for sinusitis”. Google then supplies you with a list of results that support your belief.
2. Bias on interpreting information
There is also bias in the way we interpret information and evidence presented to us with respect to our opinions and beliefs. We seem to easily accept evidence that confirms our beliefs. We also tend to deny, challenge, and reject information that does not confirm our beliefs despite strong evidence presented.
For example, let us say Person A agrees with the use of vaccines, while Person B does not. Both were asked to read the same two studies – one was about the efficacy and benefits of vaccines while the other one was about the harmful effects of vaccines. After reading both studies, the two persons were again asked for their opinions on vaccines. Both persons A and B still held their original stand and used the evidence from the study that confirmed their stand, disregarding and rejecting those that contradicted theirs.
3. Bias on recalling information
This type of bias explains that people have the tendency to confirm their current beliefs by remembering or recalling selectively. Some propositions say that information or evidence that confirms prior beliefs are stored in the memory while those that contradict are likely rejected, ignored, or not remembered.
For instance, Tina with other candidates were applying for the same position at the ABC company. Tina graduated from the prestigious A1 University, unlike the other applicants. The preliminary hiring officer, Ada, who believes that graduates from A1 University are generally competent recommended Tina to her bosses for the position, citing the strengths of Tina. The problem, however, was that she overlooked that Tina actually had some performance issues with her previous employer.
Effects of confirmation bias
Confirmation bias affects us in many different ways including the following:
- It limits our judgment;
- It prevents us from gathering information and looking at situations objectively;
- It makes us miss important information that may be crucial in decision-making;
- In scientific researches, confirmation bias can manipulate studies that may lead to erroneous conclusions;
- In the medical field, it can cause misdiagnosis as practitioners may tend to seek evidence that confirms a hypothesis and overlook those that would tend to contradict it;
- In court trials, confirmation bias can result in unjust verdicts;
- Confirmation bias can also cause miscommunication and unwanted behavior towards other people;
- It can hamper diversity in companies or groups.
- Confirmation bias can cause anxiety to individuals who have low self-esteem;
- It can result in false optimism or self-deceit; and
- In our times today, confirmation bias can cause the spread of misinformation and fake news.
Addressing confirmation bias
While we are mostly unaware of our biases, there is something we can do to address it and prevent it from happening and negatively affecting our lives, our relations with others, and with our society. Here are some ways to manage confirmation bias:
- Try to be aware of your choices, your pattern of choices, and maybe possible biases;
- Evaluate how you tend to look for evidence and information;
- Expand your sources of information;
- Make sure your sources of information and evidence are credible;
- Try your best to gather and interpret information in a conscious manner; and
- Consider having alternative hypothesis that will help you find information in a more unbiased way.
Other ways to contend with confirmation bias is to try to set your hypothesis and find evidence that you are wrong. If you are in a group setting, always try to encourage discussion and debate.
Confirmation bias may be natural. We might have these tendencies to believe what we only want to believe in. However, knowing that it affects our judgment, our relations, and our society, hopefully, we can find ways to mitigate and fight it. It might not be easy, but acknowledging that such biased tendencies exist, maybe we can learn to listen more of what others have to say and learn to look for and interpret information more objectively this time.