Provided by Natalie from Big Happy Life
If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll know that cognitive biases shape our thinking in ways that make us feel surer of the decisions we’re making and the actions we’re taking.
Last week I wrote about the Halo Effect, which is actually a type of confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that supports pre-existing beliefs or ideas. Many of us believe our political affiliations, brand choices, opinions of our colleagues and all kinds of other things are based on rational, fully thought through and evaluated choices. This is hardly ever the case because confirmation bias makes us ignore or forget information that doesn’t support what we already believe and pay close attention to information that supports our beliefs. In other words, it skews our view of reality in favor of our existing beliefs – so we’re even more convinced.
Confirmation bias is one of the most significant contributors to our ability to debate any topic without changing our minds. Think Trump, gun control, education systems, religion, carbs versus fat, you name it. As there’s enough information available to support almost any argument, we all have enough data to confirm what we believe and (as far as we’re concerned) prove our point. Well, maybe not Trump supporters but everyone else (or is that just my own confirmation bias at play?)
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you believe women are bad drivers. You are far more likely to notice any mistakes made by women. You’re more likely to watch funny clips featuring female drivers and when you’re in doubt about the gender of a driver who has committed some error on the road, you’re more likely to assume the driver is female. Although you may see male drivers make mistakes or commit traffic violations, you’re less likely to pay attention, more likely to excuse it as an anomaly and therefore less likely to remember it. Your view remains intact regardless of how many male drivers you see behaving in a similar way to female drivers who prove your theory.
When it comes to Internet use, confirmation bias is one of the cognitive biases that shapes our choice of websites, blogs and resources. Let’s say for example, you’ve decided to eat more healthily and you want to follow a weekly meal plan. You believe fats are good and carbs are the devil. Your online search would likely take you to sites sharing healthy eating tips and plans with the same view. Your ability to find multiple sources of information, all supporting your view would further confirm to you that you’re correct, making you feel more sure that you’re on the right track.
Social media and current advertising is capitalizing on this bias and potentially narrowing our curiosity further. For example, Facebook tailors your feed, showing you things you’ve demonstrated a preference for. By rooting out things you don’t like, your exposure to information that conflicts with what you believe is minimized and you’re even more likely to enter into biased thinking.
This isn’t “bad” thinking but it causes us to make predictable mistakes. When it comes to confirmation bias, the best medicine is a curious mind. Seeking out information that goes against your beliefs in order to test how robust they are in the face of conflict helps you determine whether you’re erring on the side of logical, balance choices or narrower, single-sided viewpoints.
Have you noticed this bias at play in your own life? What difference did it make to your thinking?