Confirmation Bias

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Also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, this is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.  Research suggests that this effect is stronger for emotionally-charged debates or deeply entrenched convictions.  When the evidence is ambiguous, people also tend to take that as supporting their existing position. 

Francis Bacon described this centuries ago, as follows, “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate” (Novum Organum, 1620).

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

  • Can you recall a time in recent memory where you admit that confirmation bias was at play in your own experience? (It’s easier to recognize in others than in ourselves!)
  • If we all fall into confirmation bias, what ways do you think people can protect themselves against this - and ensure they are working to hear the full truth?  
  • Is confirmation bias always a bad thing?
  • -Do you ever look for disconfirming evidence for the things you believe? What might happen if you did?

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