Overcoming confirmation bias

Published April 21, 2021, 12:17 AM

by Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal


Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

What is confirmation bias? Confirmation bias is defined as the “tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one’s expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant.” (Source: https://www.britannica.com/science/confirmation-bias)

With the advent of social media and private messaging platforms, it seems this gave a faster way to spread misinformation, or affirm our confirmation bias.  I’ve seen it all too often.  People share articles, even if they know it’s fake news, because it “confirms” what they perceive to be the “truth.”  People share on private message groups articles which re-affirms what they think is true.  When you point it out, that the article they shared is fake news, in some instances, they justify sharing it because it was sent to them by private messaging or posted on social media, by someone they know, thus, supposedly, providing some credibility to the story.

In terms of importance, confirmation bias is important because it may lead people to hold strongly to false beliefs or to give more weight to information that supports their beliefs than is warranted by the evidence. People may be overconfident in their beliefs because they have accumulated evidence to support them, when in reality much evidence refuting their beliefs was overlooked or ignored, evidence which, if considered, would lead to less confidence in one’s beliefs. These factors may lead to risky decision making and lead people to overlook warning signs and other important information.  This means, someone could prefer to read articles with titles that tend to reaffirm what they already want to believe, or cherry-pick a report or news item.  Where they disregard portions they don’t like, and only quote or believe portions which affirm what they like.  A very clear example here is people watching programs, especially in the US.   A big swath of Americans watch a particular news channel and their opinion shows, believing what they watch to be real news, when in truth and in fact, it’s just opinion, and in many instances, are skewed views of issues.  But still many continue to consider those shows as truths.

Another clear example of this was when former US President Trump was still active on Twitter.  He would relentlessly tweet lies, but his supporters would quote those tweets like it were based on facts.  They would, because for them, it’s what they consider to be the truth, and he tweeting it, “confirms” their bias about it.  But the reality of it was Trump just kept tweeting lies and half-truths.

Confirmation bias not only refers to the news and politics though.  It also refers to everyday activities.  Your preference for a particular car brand, your choice of where to shop, etc.  You tend to read articles which reinforce your views of brands, etc. I tell you, it’s hard to overcome confirmation bias, but if we want to be better, if we want to ferret out the truth, we have to continually have an open mind about things.  We need to be open to the possibility that we might have a view of things that are not right, and if someone points it out, we owe it to ourselves to listen and weigh things, with an open mind.  Don’t argue with someone without first giving him or her the opportunity to explain things.  You can argue and discuss, AFTER the person has spoken.  I have a rule.  I tell myself that I have to learn something every day.  It might be something I just discovered or learned that day; or it could also mean correcting something wrong, which I previously considered right.

Stay Safe.  Stay Healthy.  Wear A Mask. Verify information that is shared with you, or what you read online.