How To Stop The Confirmation Bias
So how can we think clearly? The first step is to understand the mind’s favourite games and tricks. Let’s start with the confirmation bias.
The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when we unconsciously search and favour information that confirms a pre-existing belief or hypothesis. This bias is best explained through some examples.
Imagine that you’ve been saving up money for the past couple of months, and you can finally purchase your dream car. You drive out of the dealership stoked. To your dismay, when you drive home you see the same model car every few minutes. “Strange”, you think to yourself before continuing on with your day. You wake up the next morning, get in the car and start driving to work. Then you see the car several times. “What is going on? Is everyone copying me?” You say to yourself.
This is classic confirmation bias at work. It would be ridiculous to assume that sales of that particular car model skyrocketed as soon as you left that dealership. A more logical explanation is that you began to look for evidence to confirm your already held viewpoint. Upon noticing other models of the car, your brain at a subconscious level began to hyper focus on each case (likely do to your reticular activating system).
Before you had the car this wasn’t an issue. Your investment wasn’t as high, and things seemed normal. As soon as you bought the car, your ego became invested making the acquisition personal. A confirmation bias clusterfuck.
Confirmation bias and stereotypes
Let’s talk about confirmation bias and stereotyping. We’ve all heard those stereotypes. You hear them all the time.
“Every Asian kid is good at math.”
“Every black guy can play ball.”
“White people can’t dance.”
You might be looking at this list agreeing and nodding. Yes, I see you nodding. Don’t be racist, I see you nodding.
Although in some cases, these can be true, we often believe in them because of the confirmation bias.
When we keep hearing jokes about the Asian whiz kid, we can’t help but think back to our high school days and recall every Asian kid that was a genius at math. Yet we disregard all the ones that weren’t.
When you think about black guys and basketball, you remember that one time that Tyrone dunked on your ass. But you don’t remember all the times that white guys dunked on you. Mexicans dunked on you. Puerto Ricans dunked on you. Asians dunked on you. You forget that everybody and their mamas dunked on you, because you were really shit at basketball.
How about when you think about white guys not being able to dance? You completely neglect the memories of…
Okay, that one might be true. Anyway, let’s carry on
Confirmation Bias in Politics and Religion
How about election time? Have you ever noticed that people tend to hold very strong, polarized opinions in regard to who they’re voting for? Once someone has made their mind up, good luck trying to convince them otherwise, son. You would have better luck trying to get a vegan to eat at a steak house.
The confirmation bias will be at play, and they will hyper-analyze every fault of the opposing candidate while ignoring the fault of the one for whom they’re voting.
Take for example the 2016 US Presidential election. Many Hillary supporters were totally against Trump. They could not bear witness to a man who grabbed pussies, concealed tax documents, and who received a Stone Cold Stunner at WWE’s Wrestle Mania become President.
Many of Trump’s supporters were totally and utterly against Hillary. The press picked up email scandals, and the Whitewater scandals, amongst others, could not be forgiven.
Where else do we see such polarized viewpoints? I think the granddaddy of all confirmation biases has to do with religion of course. Ever seen an atheist debate a Christian? Or a Muslim debate a Christian? Or a Jew debate a Muslim? Or anyone who holds a strong belief debate someone else who holds another belief?
It’s hilarious. No one ever goes into a debate with an open mind. No one ever goes into a debate expecting to be persuaded. The longer we hold on to our beliefs, the harder it becomes for us to let go of them. Things get especially crazy when our egos become identified with the belief. The ego would defend that belief to the bitter end
Tips to avoid the confirmation bias
So what can we do about this? Being cognizant of the fact that your brain is subject to these elementary errors is literally half the battle. Next time you notice yourself holding a strong opinion about a subject other people might not agree on, before cutting them off and calling them stupid, try to entertain the idea that perhaps your brain has been tricking you. I know, right. It’s crazy that you might be wrong. Insane.
Try looking at the situation objectively as if you’re an outside observer. As if you were a third member in this situation. Ask yourself the following questions.
- Do I have some vested interests in this matter that might be clouding my judgement?
- Are my conclusions reasonable?
- Is there any evidence that I’m unaware of?
- Is there evidence that I might be consciously or unconsciously omitting?
Upon answering these questions truthfully, you’ll gain a better perspective on any situation under the analysis. You’ll know, for sure, if you are being influenced by the confirmation bias.
Do this and you will be one step closer to living and dying well.