Cognitive science

Confirmation bias

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so    —MARK TWAIN

What is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is a general tendency of people to favor or to be receptive to information that confirms their previous understanding of the subject matter. They look for the evidence they would expect if their hypothesis were true, rather than what to expect if it were false; this naturally makes them to ignore the opposing view.

This type of bias can be observed when one gathers, remember information or be receptive to information interpret selectively in a subconscious. This bias is also re-enforcing due to such nature.

We should not feel bad about being a victim of confirmation bias as it is a natural human tendency, but overcoming our confirmation bias is probably one of the best things you can do to improve your world view and reduce polarizing opinions and conflicts.

Outcomes of confirmation bias

Re-enforcing nature of confirmation bias can makes our views extreme, resulting in conflict. In such cases people with opposing views interpret new information in a biased way, their views can move even further apart. This is called “attitude polarization”.

Effected by confirmation biases we prone to think we are right and we find friends and from groups to agree with us. Confirmation bias brings in issues like overconfidence therefore poor decision making ability. This bias effects organizations, politics and law, religious viewpoints, in finance, in physical and mental health, self-image and even in science. Stronger our opinions are, the more we ignore sources of information that challenge our view. Conservatives are less likely to read liberal source of news, which alienate groups or individuals even farther.

The emotional aspect and re-enforcing aspects of confirmation bias can make polarizations extreme. This makes people to use ambiguous evidence and explain is as it fits their argument losing objectivity. It is observed that disagreement can become more extreme even though same evidence is presented to both the parties.

How can we avoid confirmation bias?

To start with, one must be aware of the phenomena of “confirmation bias”. This awareness is the first step to protect one against this bias.  Paradoxically, the best way to check if one is affected by this bias is to look for neutral source of information that challenges your opinion.

Once we are aware of these phenomena, we should always try to acquire accurate opinion by e.g. being the devil’s advocate and argue in both sides, collect information from liberal news group and finally listen to the opposing point of view with an open mind.


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