Confirmation Bias

Understand confirmation bias, and how it affects your thoughts and the decisions you make each day.

  • Published: 2020-11-27
  • Updated: 2020-11-28
  • 5 min read
Learning Objectives
  • Understand what confirmation bias is.
  • Understand how confirmation bias affects your thinking.
  • Learn how to mitigate the effects of confirmation bias.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to selectively seek out, ignore, interpret, and remember information that supports a preconception (beliefs, opinions, theories, etc.). It’s known to be one of the most common cognitive biases that influence our thinking, and subsequently, our actions and behavior.

Confirmation bias can be thought of in four main ways:
  1. Seeking out (and increasing the importance/significance of) information that confirms ones preconceptions.
  2. Ignoring (or minimizing the importance/significance) any information that contradicts ones preconceptions.
  3. Interpreting information in a way that confirm ones preconceptions.
  4. Remember only the information that supports ones preconceptions.

Examples of Confirmation Bias

Here are several examples of how confirmation bias could influence the various aspects of daily life:

Personal Preferences

John visits a coworkers house for a birthday party. They’ve prepared Indian chicken curry, which he thought tasted quite awful. It was their first time preparing it but he didn’t know that, and just assumed that all chicken curry tastes that bad. Now anytime John visits an Indian restaurant, he completely ignores the chicken curry, since he remembers how bad it tastes.

Social Interactions

The first time we meet someone new, we develop a certain profile of what kind of person we think they are. These initial ideas become the preconceptions which we continue to strengthen through later interactions. When Samantha first met Nathan, he kept fidgeting and nervously looking around. Assuming he was shy and awkward, Samantha began to see him like that. In fact, Nathan could have been worried about his father who was having surgery in the hospital, but Samantha didn’t know that, and now she has an incorrect assumption of what kind of person he is.

Self Perception

A person with low self esteem might view the fact that their message hasn’t been replied to as some fault of their own. They might think, “He’s ignoring me because I’m annoying” or “She’s not replying because she’d rather talk to someone else.” In contrast, someone who’s confident in themselves will just assume that the person they sent a message to is busy and can’t reply at the moment. It’s a single situation, but based on the preconception they have about themselves, their outlook becomes different.

Political Affiliation

Someone who prefers one presidential candidate or political party will seek out and find multiple faults in the opposing candidate or party, and by doing so, will strengthen their belief that their choice is the correct one. On the other hand, they’ll find some justification or completely ignore it when presented with the faults of the political party or presidential candidate which they support.

How to Manage Confirmation Bias

Here’s a short process on how to mitigate the effects of confirmation bias and think more clearly.

1. Develop Understanding

The first step in managing your confirmation bias is to understand what it is and exactly when and in which ways it can distort your thinking. You also need to understand that even though you’re now aware of it, it’ll continue to affect you.

Although it’ll continue to affect you, since you now know about it, you’ll have the opportunity to deal with it (unlike someone who doesn’t even know it exists).

2. Become Flexible

You’re not likely to change something that you don’t want to, especially your thoughts, the things you believe, and opinions you hold. If you always assume that your way of thinking, and all of your thoughts, are correct, then you won’t have any reason or desire to change in order to think more clearly.

It’s necessary to understand and accept the fact that your preconceptions could be wrong, and always be open to the possibility of changing them. None of your preconceptions should ever be set in stone.

It’s also necessary to be more focused on thinking correct thoughts (thoughts which are nearest to reality and truth), than thinking what you feel is right or what you want to be right.

3. Question Your Thinking

Understanding and accepting the fact that your preconceptions could be wrong, you need to continuously question them, especially the ones that could have a big impact on your life. Unless you question them, you’ll never know if they’re correct. From now on, whenever you can, you need to question your thoughts.

Before retaining something as the truth, examine it from multiple angles. Don’t accept it just because it’s what you feel is right, or it’s what you want to be right. Become detached from the outcome, only attached to finding what is most likely to be correct.

And even after you’ve accepted it to be the most likely truth, you always need to stay open to the possibility that it could be wrong. Then, if more information is presented, you’ll need to reexamine your preconception once again.

Here are some questions you can ask:

Review
  • What is confirmation bias?
  • How does confirmation bias affect your thinking?
  • How can you manage confirmation bias?
Takeaways
  • Confirmation bias is the human tendency to selectively seek out, ignore, interpret, and remember information that supports a preconception.
  • In order to better manage the negative affects of confirmation bias, you need to:
    • Understand exactly what it is, and when and how it affects you.
    • Have a flexible mindset, always open to the possibility of being wrong.
    • Question your preconceptions and look for the most likely truth.
Exercise
  1. Give a real life example of confirmation bias.
  2. Write down three preconceptions you have, then think about them from the opposite point of view, as if you truly have the opposing view.
Reflection
  • Where in your life could confirmation bias have skewed your view on a certain topic or situation?