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What is Confirmation Bias?

Objective facts, our own thoughts and feelings, and how they mesh.

Our beliefs and opinions are very important to us. They shape our decisions, our personalities, our thoughts, and our feelings. So of course many of us think they are rational and logical since we have lived through the experiences that gave birth to those beliefs.

But many people can quickly fall into the trap of “confirmation bias”.

Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms your previously existing beliefs or theories [x]. It is our tendency to seek out information that supports, rather than opposes, our existing belief system. And, simultaneously, rejecting anything that doesn’t align with what we think or feel.

There are a few types of confirmation bias:

Biased Search for Information

On the same day, you could find 20 articles being in favor of gun control, or 20 articles being opposed to it just depending on how you phrase your search.

If you were to search “Are cats better than dogs?” in Google, all you will get are sites listing the reasons why cats are better. However, if you were to search “Are dogs better than cats?” google will only provide you with sites that believe dogs are better than cats. This shows that phrasing questions in a one-sided way (i.e. affirmative manner) will assist you in obtaining evidence consistent with your hypothesis. [ X ]

Biased Interpretation

People interpret information according to their preexisting beliefs. People accept “confirming” ideas and articles much easier, and are (perhaps overly) critical to anything “disconfirming”. It is human to accept things that already align with our thoughts easier. It can be difficult to challenge our way of thinking at times, even if it furthers our growth. Stereotypes (which are easy for us to remember) can quickly fall into this category.

Biased Memory

Similar to interpretation where we accept similar information easier, our brains are also more inclined to remember the parts we think are most important. Which, arguably, can be subjective. We remember what sticks to our brains better, and that is usually what is more familiar-- whether it is a positive confirmation or a negative disconfirmation opinion.

Social Media is an almost perfect example of how we can easily get sucked into the confirmation bias bubble. You follow the people you align with, social media suggests more of the same people. Even the ads you see become more and more tailored to your tastes and search history the more you use a site. It’s also very easy to unfollow, block, or berate people who oppose your views online.

Tiktok and Instagram are other excellent examples-- Tiktok’s “for you page” is completely tailored for your personal tastes. There could be videos and opinions you would never see because the algorithm doesn’t deem it important to you.

It also becomes a bit dangerous when you get all of your news and information from one specific place, never venturing out of your confirmation bias zone. We become closed off and less inclined to listen to any other point of view.

Even changing the title of a news article can vastly change how we think about the rest of the piece.

It can be difficult to mentally process information that challenges us. Our brain, naturally, prefers the easier way: things that already make sense to us. But the less we challenge our way of thinking, the greater our misunderstandings can be.

“One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases… but people prefer reassurance to research.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

It can narrow our way of thinking greatly, and cause us to lash out when anyone opposes our beliefs. The deeper you fall into your corner of thought, the more defensive you become on the matter. So much so that anyone else’s thoughts, feelings, or beliefs mean nothing at that moment.

It’s important to not become stagnant or closed off in our way of thinking. Read the full article, listen to that friend who may have a different opinion with an open mind (don’t just wait for your turn to start talking), and don’t be afraid to challenge someone else’s views on a matter either!

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you finish an article:

  • Which parts did I automatically agree with?

  • Which parts did I ignore or skim over without realizing?

  • How did I react to the points which I agreed or disagreed with?

  • Did this post confirm any ideas I already had? Why?

  • What if I thought the opposite of those ideas?

There’s more than just blindly following along. Even though it may be an easier option, it hinders any growth you may have as an individual.

If a subject arises that may be uncomfortable and just a simple email, text, or phone call won’t quite do, turn to ZForms! It’s a more formal invitation to the conversation and could be less confrontation than an email that could be misunderstood-- after all, you can’t quite read a tone over text.

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