Confirmation bias often leads us to bad decisions. It happens because people generally look for or interpret information in a way that supports what they already know.
The phrase “confirmation bias” was first used in a 1977 paper by Mynatt, Doherty, & Tweney.
There are 3 types of confirmation bias:
- Biased Memory
- Biased Interpretation
- Biased Search For Information
So, how can you identify it, and what steps can you take to reduce your confirmation bias?
How To Reduce Your Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is a natural human tendency to seek out and interpret information that confirms our beliefs. It can lead to bad decisions and missed ideas.
These are 10 practical ways to reduce confirmation bias:
1. Be aware of your own biases.
The first step to reducing confirmation bias is to be aware of our own biases. Everyone has biases, and they can be influenced by our upbringing, our experiences, and our social environment.
Once we’re more aware of our own biases, we can start to take steps to mitigate their influence on our thinking and decision-making.
Here are some tips to help you know when you are under confirmation bias:
- Challenge your assumptions. Don’t just accept your assumptions as true. Question them and see if there’s any evidence to support them.
- Seek out feedback from others. Ask people you trust to give you honest feedback on your biases.
- Take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed in a given situation, take a break from the situation and give yourself time to calm down.
- Identify your triggers. Ask yourself, “What things trigger me strongly?” Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to develop strategies for coping with them.
- Talk to someone you trust. Talking to a friend, family member, therapist, or counselor can help you to understand your emotions and to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Pay attention to your emotional reactions. When you feel a strong emotional reaction to something, it’s a sign that your biases may be at play. Try to take a step back and analyze your reaction objectively.
When you are feeling strong emotions, you may be more likely to focus on information that confirms your existing beliefs and to ignore or discount information that contradicts your beliefs.
You may also be more likely to make impulsive decisions that you later regret.
2. Seek out information from a variety of sources.
The more you know, the less your confirmation bias.
One of the best ways to reduce confirmation bias is to seek out information from a variety of sources, including those with opposing viewpoints.
This will help you to see the issue from different perspectives and to consider all of the available evidence before forming an opinion.
Here are a few tips for seeking out information from a variety of sources:
- Read and listen to news from different outlets. Don’t just rely on one news source or on news sources that confirm your existing beliefs.
- Follow people with different viewpoints on social media. This will expose you to different perspectives and ideas.
- Read books and articles by authors with different viewpoints. This is a great way to learn more about different topics and to challenge your own assumptions.
3. Be critical of the information you consume.
Don’t just accept information at face value. Be critical of the sources and the evidence that is presented.
- Social media post: “Question everything.”
- The smartest comment: “Why?”
Here are a few tips for being critical of the information you consume:
- Consider the source of the information. Is the source credible? Are they biased?
- Evaluate the evidence. Is the evidence strong? Is it up-to-date?
- Look for alternative explanations. Are there other possible explanations for the data or the findings?
4. Be open to changing your mind.
If you’re presented with new information that contradicts your existing beliefs, be open to changing your mind.
It’s okay to be wrong.
Here are a few tips for being open to changing your mind:
- Be willing to consider all of the evidence. Don’t just dismiss information that contradicts your beliefs.
- Try to see the issue from different perspectives. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has a different viewpoint.
- Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. It’s okay to change your mind if you’re presented with new evidence.
5. Talk to people with different viewpoints.
Talking to people with different viewpoints can help you to see things from a different perspective and to challenge your own biases.
Here are a few tips for talking to people with different viewpoints:
- Be respectful. Even if you disagree with someone, it’s important to be respectful of their opinion.
- Be open-minded. Try to listen to the other person’s perspective without judgment.
- Ask questions. Ask the other person to explain their viewpoint and why they hold it.
6. Be mindful of confirmation bias in your critical thinking.
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. It involves gathering information, evaluating evidence, and forming conclusions.
Confirmation bias can interfere with critical thinking by preventing us from considering all of the evidence and by leading us to make bad decisions.
Here are a few tips for being mindful of confirmation bias in your critical thinking:
- Be aware of your own biases. Everyone has biases, but it’s important to be aware of how they might be influencing your thinking.
- Seek out information from a variety of sources, including those with opposing viewpoints. This will help you to see the issue from different perspectives and to consider all of the available evidence.
- Be critical of the information you consume. Don’t just accept information at face value. Evaluate the sources and the evidence that is presented.
- Be open to changing your mind. If you’re presented with new information that contradicts your existing beliefs, be open to changing your mind. It’s okay to be wrong.
7. Use evidence-based reasoning.
When making decisions or forming opinions, use evidence-based reasoning. This means weighing the evidence for and against different viewpoints and drawing conclusions based on the evidence.
Here are a few tips for using evidence-based reasoning:
- Look for multiple sources of evidence. Don’t rely on just one source of evidence to support your opinion.
- Evaluate the quality of the evidence. Is the evidence strong? Is it up-to-date? Is it relevant to the issue at hand?
- Be aware of your own biases. Try to avoid letting your biases influence your interpretation of the evidence.
8. Be mindful of your emotions.
Our emotions can influence our thinking and decision-making. Be mindful of how your emotions might be affecting your judgment.
Here are a few tips for being mindful of your emotions:
- Pay attention to your emotional reactions. When you feel a strong emotional reaction to something, it’s a sign that your emotions may be in control. Try to take a step back and calm down before making any decisions.
- Identify your emotional triggers. What are the things that tend to trigger strong emotional reactions in you? Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to develop strategies for coping with them.
- Seek help if needed. If you’re struggling to manage your emotions, talk to a therapist or counselor. They can help you to understand your emotions and to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
9. Be humble.
No one knows everything. Be humble and recognize that you might be wrong.
Here are a few tips for being humble:
- Be open to new information and new perspectives. Don’t just dismiss information that contradicts your beliefs.
- Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. It’s okay to be wrong. No one is perfect.
- Be willing to learn from others. Everyone has something to teach us.
10. Be patient.
It takes time and effort to overcome confirmation bias. Be patient with yourself and don’t get discouraged if you slip up from time to time.
Here are a few tips for being patient:
- Celebrate your successes. When you notice that you’ve been able to overcome confirmation bias, take a moment to celebrate your success. This will help you to stay motivated and to keep working on improving your critical thinking skills.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a part of the learning process. If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just learn from it and move on.
- Seek support from others. Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues about your goal of reducing confirmation bias. They can offer support and encouragement.
By following these tips, you can reduce confirmation bias and make better decisions.
Why Do Humans Have Confirmation Bias?
Confirmation bias is when people look for information that confirms their beliefs, and interpret evidence to show how things support their beliefs, while ignoring any data that doesn’t.
1. To handle large amounts of information
Every day and even every minute, our brains get bombarded by limitless amounts of information from our environment. Confirmation bias is a quick and efficient way to process that large data.
If we were to make an unbiased decision, we would have to objectively analyze every piece of information. That is impossible. Therefore, we only search for information to support our preconceived notions so that we can reach a conclusion.
2. To reduce cognitive dissonance
Another reason for confirmation bias to exist is to reduce cognitive dissonance (a state of mental conflict, when you hold two opposing views or beliefs, like the Stoics, are happy people! v/s the Stoics are always talking about death, how can they be happy?).
To keep the dissonance levels low, people use confirmation bias to ignore the knowledge that opposes their beliefs and find proof that confirms their beliefs.
3. To protect one’s self-esteem
According to Casad, 2019, people are vulnerable to confirmation bias to guard their self-esteem and prove their views are right. So, they seek knowledge that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.
We often fall victim to this. We talk about our support to a political party as they are good, and we defend them even when their scandal becomes public. It’s our self-esteem that we’re protecting first because those words (“These are good guys.”) came out of our mouths.
Research papers on confirmation bias
- Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology.
- Lord, C. G., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: The effects of prior theories on subsequent reasoning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(6), 2098-2109.
- Klayman, J., & Ha, Y.-W. (1987). Confirmation, disconfirmation, and information in hypothesis testing. Psychological Review, 94(2), 211-228.
- Battaglio, R. P., Belardinelli, P., Bellé, N., & Cantarelli, P. (2018). Behavioral Public Administration ad fontes: a synthesis of research on bounded rationality, cognitive biases, and nudging in public organizations. Public Administration Review.
A Confirmation Bias Story (Example)
Now we’re going to place you inside an imaginary story. It didn’t happen in reality. Please play along.
It started with you stumbling upon a marvelous idea that you believed would help people get over a painful problem in their lives. You knew instinctively that the people out there were desperately missing it. You just have to get it out of your mind and build a real-world version of it. So, off you went.
Eleven months later, your painstakingly designed product didn’t even sell twenty units. You’d made sure there was a media blitz at launch, and even gave its ads a good run for the last two months.
It was a visionary product, as any innovator could endorse. Strangely, nobody wanted it.
So, you take a gulp of fresh air and finally decide to kill the campaign and stop the bleeding. Hurt, you sit down and begin questioning yourself.
- Were you building a product for a problem that didn’t exist in the actual world?
- Did you ever ask even one of your prospective customers if they actually wanted it?
- Were you building a solution to a need-gap that you realized after a sudden insight?
- Did you think you were right because your friends, and everything you read on the internet, said you were right?
The simple truth is this. You cannot sell something to people that they never want to buy.
Maybe you can fool them once, but they will pay you back by running down your business and your reputation. They will avoid you if you are friends.
The way the consumer thinks and behaves is quite different now. You can’t tell them anymore, “This is what I believe in, and I know this is what you want.” No, they know what they want better than you.
Here comes the next batch:
- Were you trying to sell to people who actually had no shred of interest in you or your product, but you found it out later?
- Did you believe they’ll make instant an emotional decision to buy your product the moment you bring it out because all your analysis and data said so?
- Did you think you’re the next Steve Jobs who could live his entire life proving that people don’t know what they want until you show them?
Let’s get this right. Those were the questions you should have asked yourself before you went into the tunnel without a flashlight.
Researched and reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy — medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher.
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