Conspiracy or Truth?
Confirmation bias, in simple terms, is paying attention to the information that backs up your own belief, disregarding information that does not. In most instances you do this without thinking.
In other words, you see what you want to see.
If you type ‘moon landing hoax’ into Google it will ping back 1.38 million results in less than half a second.
You will fall in either camp with this great conspiracy. You believe the landing was fake and was an attempt to gain a strong foothold in the Cold War. Or, you believe we landed on the Moon and it is one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
You would hope your belief is due to taking into account all the facts and making a sound logical decision – right?
You would be wrong and your belief is the result of confirmation bias.
The Danger of Social Media
Think about a recent post on Facebook or Twitter – something that made you feel upset or angry.
It is so easy to take the story at face value, accept the message and form a belief or opinion about it.
A recent example concerns MAC (the cosmetics company) and their alleged use of animal testing.
It shows several cats tied down, with several people (dressed in hospital scrubs and masks) appearing to carry out tests.
The post and the commentary claims the picture is proof of the animal testing MAC carries out.
Sounds horrific, right?
It would be easy to reach the rational conclusion that MAC are cruel to animals and no one should buy their product, ever again.
This is where the dangers of social media come into play.
We are so ready to accept any post as being the truth and confirmation bias plays a key part in this.
The reality is a large number of cats (697 in total!) were found living in a cat sanctuary in Florida. Many were sick and their welfare was a concern.
The picture was taken in 2011 and recycled by activists and reused for their own motives.
Your work may depend on making important decisions – imagine what happens if confirmation bias gets in the way?
You’ve just had a tough performance review and you are convinced your boss is out to get you. Everything in the review will back up your suspicion.
You’ve just had a tough performance review and you are next in line to be your boss’ successor. Everything in the review will hint at what you need to do to get back on track and achieve this.
We see what we want to see.
When this happens we are making a hypothesis. We then look for all the evidence that supports this hypothesis.
If the brain is likely to fall for the trick of confirmation bias, how can you over come it?
Knowing that confirmation bias exists may help you to alter your thinking pattern. If you are open to the idea of your thinking and decision making needing reflection, you are already head of the pack.
Right vs Wrong
Remove this from your thinking. We all hate to be wrong – think back to the times you have been wrong in this article. Feeling prickly? Ego and pride get in the way, it is that simple. It is not about winning the argument, it is about seeking truth.
If you believe bias is affecting your thinking then consider what the opposite opinion might be. This may feel uncomfortable at first. Look for evidence that supports the opposite way of thinking. It may just help uncover a fresh and new perspective.
Numbers and Data
Your gut may be telling you one thing, but do the numbers and data back this up? Gut instinct can be a great way of making decisions – make sure the data validates your gut.
Red Team Thinking
If the decision is significant, set up a team whose sole purpose is to find fault with your thinking. Used by the CIA, IBM and news organisations – a Red Team is tasked with penetrating defenses For this to work well the team would have no prior knowledge of the issue.
It is important to remember that you will never remove bias altogether.
Our belief system is shaped by years of upbringing, the world around us and the people we choose to hang around with.
The above techniques will help to remove some of the risk that confirmation bias can bring.
Good luck in beating bias!
Believe and take action.