Confirmation Bias


Nobody likes to be wrong, but did you know there are psychological reasons behind why we avoid, resist, and deny being wrong?  We all want to know that we’ve made the right decision; whether it be personal, professional, political, financial, parental or anything in between.  Every day we, humans use our brains to collect and digest all  the information we can, gathering social proof before making decisions, whether it be a purchase, casting our ballot, pulling the trigger or passing judgement. However there are habits of the human brain that tend to interfere with pure logic that ultimately influence our behavior. Among the many psychological phenomena that we humans knowingly or unknowingly experience, one big one comes to mind when I think about making, justifying and sticking by our big decisions. Confirmation bias is a natural psychological phenomena to which we are all susceptible. Ever notice that most of us tend to hang around people who agree with us, and tend to put our time and attention toward those who share the same views and beliefs about the world? That’s confirmation bias at work – the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view. Most of us need not look any further back than the recent presidential election campaigns for examples of confirmation bias, however it shows up in our everyday lives and decisions. We watch, read and follow the media outlets that subscribe to our line of thinking because holding two conflicting thoughts or beliefs just doesn’t feel right to us. Behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner identified this discomfort and insecurity as our aversion to cognitive dissonance. We strive to be logical, consistent and reliable in our beliefs and behaviors, so we seek out confirmation in our environment.  Just think how hard it would be to coexist with others if we were unreliable, inconsistent and illogical – no one would want to be around us!     

On the lighter side, confirmation bias helps us find common ground and connect with others – I’ve seen complete strangers become instant friends over being fans of the same sports team, smokers of a certain brand of cigarettes, supporters of a political candidate, or being the same astrological sign. However the dark side of confirmation bias can keep us very insulated and ignorant because we only surround ourselves with people who think like us, believe what we believe and support what/who we support. Ignoring and dismissing the perspectives that call into question what we believe to be true is dangerous. Of course, the algorithms of Google, Facebook and other social media outlets have created a surge in confirmation bias as they fill our search results and walls with news, people, brands, ads, opinions, and invitations based on what we’ve already liked, shared, or followed.  Social media has taken off as it has because it capitalizes on the human psychological phenomena our brains already used and enjoyed.  We are commonly influenced by confirmation bias when it comes to the groups we join, the products we buy, and the people we support. 

We are only human, but even worse than making the wrong decision is never knowing it because you insulated yourself from the information, people and perspectives different from your own.