The confirming biases

Ever stuck in a situation and felt that you are doing things according to some pre-conceived notions you had from a past experience? This not only narrows down our vision to find a feasible solution but also to interpret things on an almost unidirectional track of thought.

So, what are we talking about?

Talking psychologically, this concept is called confirmation bias. In simple terms, it is the tendency of a human being to pick and choose information that confirms with our pre-existing beliefs and values.

We can see loads of examples of this bias around us. We can see it in the number of opinions that are formed around a single piece of objective information or crafting our thoughts by picking and choosing only those things that matter to us. 

We can see this a lot in our office environments when there is one person gossiping about another. The person gossiping generally tends to shape his/her opinions on what they have heard and not by talking to the person they are gossiping about. Similar examples can be seen all around us where the confirmatory bias plays a role in shaping up opinions.

How does it affect us?

Confirmation bias can help us in both negative and positive ways. Positively, it helps in bringing out those ‘shortcuts’ that are sometimes needed to get out of a situation. This can be ideas, fixes or just opinions that can help us in saving time to make these decisions. The positive side even helped early humans to survive as most of their decisions were driven by this instinct.

But in today’s times, you open up any social media app or any website and you are bombarded with heaps of information. This leads us to make decisions constantly on what information to intake, how to decode a piece of information and choose what information would help us. The complexity of so many things processing at once tricks our brain to take shortcuts, which then leads us to make decisions based on our pre-configured beliefs.

The clouds over our judgements

It is impossible to overcome confirmation bias without the awareness of its concept. But even after doing that, many people would still weigh their previous learning more. Or they would twist their argument so that the new concept or piece of evidence can be disproved.

Let’s do an experiment. Take a glass of water, add some salt in it and mix it, till clear. Now take that glass to someone and ask them if this water is drinkable. A lot of them, after seeing a clear glass of water would say, yes, it is! But once they drink it, they will taste the salt in it and would probably spit out or cuss you.

This shows how a simple glass of water can shape up different opinions based on the confirmation biases someone would be carrying while looking at a ‘clear, glass of water’. This is how without understanding or testing information or a piece of data, we fall trap to our confirmation biases. 

What’s the conclusion then?

Confirmation bias affects us in multitudes, daily. From taking shortcuts for a decision to basing our understanding of a new concept from a previous concept, this bias has been affecting us since the beginning of our species. It is just growing exponentially now since the flow of information has increased from kilobytes to petabytes and more. 

But what we can do to break these biases down is to take a step back and think over a problem objectively. Think that what if I do the opposite of what I already have planned. Or even drill down the problem to its basics and analyze each of the fundamental units alone.  

It’s not easy to not confirm to confirmation bias. But it’s all about practice and how we try to break it down, slowly and understand how it plays a role in interpreting information we have. We always need to find the disconfirming evidences to break these confirming biases.