What is Confirmation Bias ⁉️
It is the tendency to interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, beliefs and convictions. Whenever we encounter objective facts on an issue, we tend to look at them through the lens of our own beliefs. As a result, we see and overrate where the two intercept. The bias is strongest for emotionally charged issues or when we are searching for desired outcomes. Wrapped inside popular narratives, cultural beliefs and family values, a confirmation bias often gets passed on for generations.
Psychologist Peter Cathcart Wason, who coined the term “Confirmation Bias”, left us with this fun little hypothesis rule discovery task. Let me see if you can do this:
What is the rule behind this sequence of numbers: 2, 4, 6 and what comes next?
Think of the next number and the rule that you formulated in your mind before going ahead.
Okay, like you, I also guessed the next number to be 8. After understanding how I fell a prey to confirmation bias here (don’t worry, we’ll get there), I asked this to a friend of mine, he also answered 8.
Rajat: Can you also complete the sequence further?
Sumit:10, 12, 14 and so on, right?
Rajat: All true.
Sumit: Aha! What was the challenge in this one? Pfft..
Rajat: Can you also tell me the underlying rule that you applied here?
Sumit: Well, of course the next number is (previous number + 2).
Rajat: No, this rule is not the one using which I made this sequence. The rule here is that the next number is greater than the previous one.
Sumit: 😅 Oh, I should have tried asking about some more varied test cases before jumping onto a rule.
What we see here is that as soon as Sumit saw the sequence, he assumed a rule in his mind, which is fine. But what he didn’t bother to do was to attempt to disprove his assumption and consciously look for discomforming evidence, confirmation bias in action
If you think about it, our opinions, our acumen everything is a result of years of selectively choosing to pay attention to that information only which confirms what our limited mind already accept as truth.
As Warren Buffet says:
What the human being is best at doing, is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.
Learn from Charles Darwin
If the word ‘exception’ crops up, prick up your ears. Often it hides the presence of disconfirming evidence. This is what Charles Darwin, the man who gave this world the Theory of Evolution used to do:
Whenever observations contradicted his theory, he used to take them very seriously and note them down immediately. He knew that the brain actively ‘forgets’ disconfirming evidence after a short time. The more correct he judged his theory to be, the more actively he looked for contradictions.
Confirmation Bias in Religious and Philosophical beliefs
In our stories, we talk about a person who believed in God, prayed to him/her and got success ultimately. We never hear stories about a person who prayed to God daily, but failed in life and committed suicide or the one who never prayed and got all the more success. We as believers, often tend to ignore the other side because it does not align with our beliefs and philosophies.
Any counter arguments by atheists are disregarded and dismissed, substantiating how powerful is the confirmation bias.
The atheists should also not take pride here, you are also not escaping here. If the believers see God and his actions everywhere, you also don’t see them anywhere. Both the parties are biased in their own ways!
Self-help and get-rich-quick books are further examples of blinkered storytelling. Their shrewd authors collect piles of proof to pump up the most banal of theories, such as ‘meditation is the key to happiness.’ Any reader seeking disconfirming evidence does so in vain: nowhere in these books do we see people who lead fulfilled lives without meditation, or those who, despite meditation, are still sad.
News on the web
The Internet is particularly fertile ground for the confirmation bias. To stay informed, we browse news sites and blogs, forgetting that our favoured pages mirror our existing values, be they liberal, conservative or somewhere in between. Moreover, a lot of sites now tailor content to personal interests and browsing history, causing new and divergent opinions to vanish from the radar altogether. We inevitably land in communities of like-minded people, further reinforcing our convictions – and the confirmation bias.
Axeing beliefs that feel like old friends is hard work, but imperative.
- Confirmation bias | Definition, Background, History, & Facts | Britannica
- Examples and Observations of a Confirmation Bias (verywellmind.com)
1. Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses.
2. Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.
3. People display this bias when they gather or recall information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way.
4. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
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