Confirmation bias

In our day to day lives, our minds gather lots of information that help us to form “views” about various topics. When we get new information about a topic, depending on what this new information says, we might either further accept our current views on the topic or change them to reflect the new information. For one to have meaningful views, it is important to consider not only information that supports one’s current views but also information that does not support it. In that way, one can constantly challenge one’s current views to see if they need to be updated.

Unfortunately, when one tries to gather new information that may change one’s current views, one’s mind can make the mistake of only looking at information that supports one’s current views while ignoring information that does not support it. This could make one have incorrect views of the world, as these are not challenged by new information. Psychologists have named this mind mistake as, “confirmation bias”.

Here is a short example of how the confirmation bias mind mistake can be harmful.

Sarah has the view that cigarette smoking is not harmful to one’s health. A friend tells her that she is wrong, so Sarah decides to check things by doing a search on the internet about the health risks of smoking. The first four web search results have topics that suggest that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. The fifth search result, however, seems to suggest that cigarette smoking is harmless and that the dangers of smoking are a conspiracy theory. At this point, Sarah’s mind makes the confirmation bias mistake and makes her ignore the first four results, as they do not “agree” with what she already believes to be true. Instead, she only clicks the fifth result, as this agrees with what she already thinks is correct. This leads her to wrongly think that cigarette smoking is healthy.

As the above example shows, the confirmation bias mind mistake can make one see the world in a very distorted way, falsely giving an impression that one’s current views are the only correct ones.

What makes the confirmation bias mind mistake very dangerous in modern times is that social media companies often try to show you only information that they think you like to see and hide information that they think you are not interested in. This makes it more likely that your mind will make the confirmation bias mistake, as it is presented only with information that agrees with its current views. This can even affect democracy, as social media users will see only advertisements from the political party they support and not see advertisements from other political parties with alternate views. This may make one wrongly believe that the political party they support is the only one out there that has the correct view.

To minimise the chances of your mind making the confirmation bias mistake, try and overcome the resistance it will have to look at information that does not already agree with your current views. Try, once in a while, to actively look at or listen to media that are known to have views that differ from your own current views. This will broaden your information base and help you to get a true view of the world around you.