What is Confirmation Bias – Types & Examples
Published byat August 21st, 2023 , Revised On September 1, 2023
In our daily lives, we are constantly inundated with information. Some of it aligns with our beliefs, while some challenge them. However, our brains, due to cognitive biases, have a tendency to gravitate towards information that reaffirms our pre-existing beliefs and downplay or ignore those that go against them.
This phenomenon is known as confirmation bias, and understanding it is crucial if we want to make objective decisions and broaden our perspective. This bias, while primarily associated with the confirmation of beliefs, is not the only bias that affects our perceptions.
For instance, explicit bias is a conscious bias against or in favour of a group. On the other hand, actor-observer bias refers to the tendency to attribute our actions to external causes and the actions of others to internal factors.
What is Confirmation Bias?
Confirmation bias refers to the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or values. It is pervasive and can influence decisions in various fields such as finance, medicine, and law, among others.
Moreover, scholarly sources often highlight that the ceiling effect, where the observation is impeded because the variable does not have a ceiling or upper limit, can coexist with confirmation bias in research settings. When coupled with publication bias, where positive results are more likely to get published, the depth of how research may be skewed becomes evident.
It can also play a significant role in reinforcing misconceptions, prejudice, and leading to poor decisions since it prevents people from seeing the full picture or considering opposing viewpoints. Notably, affinity bias – the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us – can be intertwined with confirmation bias, making it even more challenging to overcome. Furthermore, it is an essential concept in the study of critical thinking and cognitive psychology.
However, Sarah might be ignoring or not seeking out other factors that could explain her neighbour’s behaviour. Perhaps her neighbour had a particularly stressful day, received some bad news, or any number of reasons unrelated to the moon’s phase.
Additionally, on nights when there is no full moon, Sarah might overlook or forget instances where people act out of the ordinary, only focusing on and remembering such instances when they coincide with a full moon.
In this case, Sarah’s belief about the full moon affecting behaviour is reinforced by her selective attention and memory, which is a manifestation of confirmation bias.
Types of Confirmation Bias
Following are the different types of confirmation bias.
Individuals tend to expose themselves primarily to information sources that align with their pre-existing beliefs. For instance, they might only watch news channels or read publications that share their political or social views.
Even when presented with balanced information, individuals may only notice and accept details that confirm their beliefs while ignoring those that challenge them.
Selective Recall/Memory Bias
People tend to remember events or information that aligns with their beliefs more than events or information that challenges them.
This involves interpreting ambiguous evidence as supportive of one’s existing beliefs.
This occurs when people fall into a loop of gathering information until they find evidence that confirms their beliefs, often ignoring a plethora of contradicting evidence. While Sarah’s example earlier was not directly related to a bias for action, wherein people favour action over inaction, this could be another trap. Someone might rush to find affirming information instead of patiently analysing all evidence.
When confronted with conflicting evidence, individuals may become more entrenched in their original beliefs rather than updating them.
Confirmation Bias in Hypothesis Testing
Rather than testing an idea through objective means, individuals might seek out scenarios or experiments that would confirm their hypothesis.
Biased Weighting of Evidence
Giving more weight or importance to evidence that supports one’s beliefs, while devaluing evidence to the contrary.
Relevance and Implications
The types of confirmation bias have significant implications in various domains:
- Decision Making: Confirmation bias can lead to poor decisions, as individuals may overlook important information that challenges their beliefs.
- Science and Research: The scientific method requires objective hypothesis testing. Confirmation bias can jeopardise the integrity of research findings. This is where distinguishing between primary source and secondary source information becomes pivotal.
- The former refers to direct or first-hand evidence, while the latter is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. Using a source evaluation method can also be instrumental in determining the credibility of your references.
- Sociopolitical Issues: People entrenched in their beliefs can contribute to societal polarisation, making it harder to find common ground or achieve compromise.
Confirmation Bias Examples
How to Avoid Confirmation Bias
Here are some steps you can take to minimize the impact of confirmation bias:
Recognising that you are susceptible to confirmation bias is the first step. Everyone, regardless of intelligence or education, can fall prey to it.
Seek out Disconfirming Evidence
Make a deliberate effort to find information that challenges your beliefs. Actively look for evidence that disproves, rather than supports, your opinion.
Expose yourself to Diverse View points
Engage with people who have different perspectives and opinions. Read publications or follow news sources that don’t necessarily align with your beliefs.
Avoid Echo Chambers
Online communities and social media can create environments where only similar viewpoints are shared and repeated. Try to diversify your online interactions and sources of information.
Always ask yourself if you are accepting information because it’s true or because it aligns with what you already believe. Evaluate evidence based on its merit and not based on your beliefs.
Ask for Feedback
Encourage others to challenge your beliefs and viewpoints. This can be colleagues, friends, or mentors.
Play Devil’s Advocate
Consider the opposite side of your argument. This can also be understood through the Pygmalion effect, where the greater the expectation placed upon people, often the better they perform. If you expect the opposite viewpoint to have some validity, you might find some surprising truths.
Check the Source
Ensure that the information or data you’re considering comes from reliable, unbiased sources.
Limit Emotional Reasoning
Emotions can intensify confirmation bias. Make an effort to separate your emotions from the information you are evaluating.
Keep a Decision Journal
When making important decisions, write down your thought process and why you came to a particular conclusion. This will allow you to revisit and critically analyse your decisions later.
Recognise that you don’t have all the answers and that your beliefs and opinions can change based on new information.
Adopt a mindset of curiosity rather than seeking affirmation. When you approach topics with an open mind and a genuine desire to learn, you’re less likely to fall into confirmation traps.
Take time to introspect and think about times when you might have fallen for confirmation bias. Learn from those situations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Confirmation bias is the tendency to favour information that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or values while ignoring or dismissing evidence that contradicts them. This cognitive bias can influence perception, memory, and decision-making, often leading to flawed conclusions or reinforcing subjective viewpoints.
To avoid confirmation bias, actively seek diverse perspectives, challenge your assumptions, and expose yourself to contradictory information. Practice critical thinking, question the source of information, and avoid relying solely on anecdotes. Encourage feedback, engage in self-reflection, and remain open-minded, embracing the possibility of being wrong or updating beliefs.
In psychology, confirmation bias refers to the cognitive tendency to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. This bias can hinder objective analysis and lead to flawed decisions, as individuals may inadvertently dismiss or overlook evidence that contradicts their established viewpoints.
If someone believes that a particular zodiac sign is inherently untrustworthy, they might remember instances where people of that sign were deceitful while ignoring cases where they were honest. This selective attention and memory reinforce their belief, even if it’s not representative of the broader reality. This is confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias leads individuals to prioritize and trust information that aligns with their existing beliefs, while dismissing or overlooking contradictory evidence. This cognitive bias can distort perception, memory, and decision-making, often resulting in a skewed understanding of reality, reinforcing subjective viewpoints, and potentially leading to flawed conclusions or actions.
Confirmation bias affects decision-making by leading individuals to favour information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs, while ignoring contradictory evidence. This can result in decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate data. Such biased decisions might lack objectivity, perpetuate stereotypes, and hinder innovative solutions by reinforcing established, yet possibly erroneous, perspectives.
Yes, confirmation bias is related to heuristic thinking. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that simplify complex decision-making. While they can increase efficiency, they sometimes lead to errors. Confirmation bias is one such heuristic, where people quickly favour information that confirms their existing beliefs, often at the expense of comprehensive, objective evaluation.
Teachers can encourage students to overcome confirmation bias by promoting critical thinking, presenting multiple perspectives, and emphasizing evidence-based reasoning. Assigning debates on contentious topics, teaching media literacy, and prompting self-reflection are effective strategies. Encouraging diverse group discussions and fostering an open classroom environment can also counteract this bias.
Researchers can avoid confirmation bias by using double-blind experimental designs, rigorously adhering to pre-established protocols, and actively seeking disconfirming evidence. Peer review, replication by independent researchers, and maintaining awareness of one’s biases also help. Transparent data collection and analysis, combined with open-mindedness, further mitigate the effects of this bias.