Confirmation Bias – Meaning, Definition And Examples
Lipika was the only person with a degree from an Ivy League school at her organization. Not only her manager…
February 11, 2021 | 7 mins read
Lipika was the only person with a degree from an Ivy League school at her organization. Not only her manager but also her coworkers were in awe of her and had high expectations from her. Within a month of joining, her manager asks her to take over an important project. Lipika is unable to meet her deadlines and it surprises everybody at the office.
Do you think it was Lipika’s inability that prevented her from meeting the project’s requirements? Or was it her manager’s high expectations that led her to bite more than she could chew?
Not only Lipika’s manager but the entire organization fell victim to the confirmation bias. Their first impression of Lipika was primarily based on her academic background, which heightened their expectations.
Confirmation bias needs to be addressed and challenged as it has the potential to affect our thoughts and decisions. Let’s see what it means and effective ways of tackling it.
Why is it that humans are constantly reminded of thinking critically and reasoning logically? We are often asked to separate opinions from facts while judging different situations. It’s because we have a tendency to process information in an illogical and biased manner. Our minds take shortcuts, distorting thought processes, therefore affecting decision-making and information processing.
Mental shortcuts are a result of a constant supply of information. The human mind is often impatient when it needs to carefully process every piece of information. It leads to various types of cognitive biases that we navigate in our everyday lives—consciously or unconsciously. One such bias is the confirmation bias, commonly studied in cognitive psychology. It’s the tendency to process information that supports one’s existing beliefs, rejecting or overlooking any relevant information.
Confirmation bias psychology suggests that we don’t perceive information objectively. We tend to pick out bits of information that confirm our existing beliefs or prejudices. This type of bias is motivated by wishful thinking—when we form beliefs that confirm our views. It prevents us from gathering more information because the evidence gathered so far confirms our preexisting beliefs.
Confirmation bias not only impacts how we gather information but also influences the ways we interpret and recall information. Sometimes, we remember details in a way that reinforces our attitudes. Confirmation bias psychology manifests itself in three ways:
Imagine that you’re a parent, who has recently watched a movie on the rising number of child abduction cases in India. Your research confirms that India is unsafe for children and you should take additional measures to protect your child. Confirmation bias affects the way we seek information i.e., the way we collect and analyze data.
Sometimes, we see the things that we want to see. Confirmation bias affects the way we consume and process information differently because it favors our beliefs. For instance, you purchase a pair of shoes that your favorite social media influencer has been promoting for the past couple of weeks. Once you get those shoes delivered, you realize that they aren’t as attractive as your influencer made it look on their profile.
Confirmation bias has the power to affect our memory. It influences the way we store and interpret information in our minds. Personal views can change memories as well. For instance, if you had a terrible experience at your previous organization because of an uncooperative manager, you’re likely to discredit the entire organization everywhere you go. One bad experience has the power to affect your overall perspective.
Confirmation bias encourages us to favor or give weight to information that supports our beliefs. Similarly, we give less weightage to information that contradicts our beliefs. For instance, if your friends ask you to cut down on caffeine, you may not listen to them. But if the same advice comes from a friend, who is also a doctor, you’re more likely to act on it.
Confirmation bias is most notorious for affecting decision-making abilities. It’s also known as cherry-picking or whatever it takes to win an argument. Here are some examples of confirmation bias that highlight its setbacks.
You’ve probably come across WhatsApp forwards that are fake news and media in disguise. Sensationalist headlines and false claims often spread because of confirmation bias among readers. Their preexisting notions against something or someone is an easy catalyst of false news. People hardly check for the credibility of these sources and spread misinformation easily.
Students need to submit a year-long thesis during the final year of college. Everyone comes up with a hypothesis and they work toward collecting data and analyzing it so that they can confirm that hypothesis. By doing so, students gather data that can be interpreted easily in a biased manner. They lean towards data that confirms their beliefs. If they want to conduct an impartial and objective study, they should try to prove their hypothesis wrong.
Confirmation bias can pose a huge problem at the workplace, especially when it comes to navigating professional relationships. If managers or team leaders feel a certain way toward an employee, they are likely to act or behave differently with them. One employee may be treated better than others because the manager has the same alma mater as the employee.
We show confirmation bias because it protects our self-esteem. It helps us seek out information that validates our beliefs and world views. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves and confirmation bias acts as a catalyst. This is why we gather information in a biased manner, making it extremely challenging to overcome confirmation bias.
There are two forces driving confirmation bias psychology:
We try our best to avoid finding information that may prove us wrong or go against our previously-held beliefs. We ignore or avoid the information that is contradictory to our opinions and favor information that aligns with our perspectives.
We tend to confirm our beliefs by seeking out information that proves us right. We find evidence to support existing claims. For example, when certain stereotypes get confirmed, you continue to act in a biased manner.
When people hold two or more contradictory beliefs, it leads to cognitive dissonance—a form of psychological distress. Confirmation bias helps minimize cognitive dissonance through challenge avoidance and reinforcement seeking.
We fall victim to confirmation bias because we tend to jump to conclusions. To avoid being susceptible to this bias, we need to change the way we gather and process information. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.
They say, “half knowledge is a dangerous thing”. If you want to process information more objectively, read the whole story. Understand multiple perspectives before you formulate opinions about something.
Always look for credible sources that support the information. You should always try to prove your hypothesis wrong, instead of confirming it. The more contradictory information you find, the more objective your research will be.
Be mindful when gathering and analyzing data. You don’t want to miss out on crucial aspects and generate false claims.
Confirmation bias is extremely challenging to overcome in workplace settings because people are afraid of vulnerability and transparency. Nobody likes to admit that they’re wrong, especially when you’re a team leader. Here are some ways to combat confirmation bias in the workplace and increase overall effectiveness:
When conducting surveys, make sure that you ask objective and not leading questions (that directs someone towards an answer). Craft unbiased questions and make someone vet them before you circulate them.
Confirmation bias often impacts the recruitment process as hiring managers prefer like-minded candidates that immediately fit into their organizational culture. While that seems like a good thing, you often end up with echo chambers with minimal diversity in thoughts and ideas. It’s time you rethink your hiring process and make sure that you ask objective or unbiased questions.
Whether you’re making decisions independently or as a team, ask a third person to play the devil’s advocate. By doing so, you get an outsider’s perspective; you’re likely to gain a deeper insight. Possible contradictory opinions will make you rethink and re-evaluate your project ideas or plans.
Moreover, when someone from your own team provides contradictory viewpoints, keep an open mind and listen to them. Find ways to manage differing viewpoints and provide everybody the opportunity to speak up.
No matter how much you continue to identify and tackle confirmation bias, you won’t be able to get rid of it. You need to accept its inevitability and make peace with the fact that some cognitive biases will always influence your thoughts. However, you can minimize its effects and keep a check on yourself from time to time. Practice critical thinking and analyze situations from multiple perspectives before jumping to conclusions.
Harappa Education’s Thinking Critically course will help you connect the dots through a careful selection of data, insightful observations and detailed evaluation. The Ladder Of Inference will teach you how to process information more carefully. The Mental Models framework will guide you in thinking through situations and simplifying information to evaluate it more efficiently. The CAFE Framework will help you ask relevant questions to gain deeper insights. Don’t let your biases overpower you again!
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics related to the THINK Habit such as What is Critical Thinking, List of Cognitive Skills, Halo Effect Psychology & Analytical Thinking to think clearly and rationally.