Ten Reasons to Avoid Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is a tendency to seek out and interpret evidence that confirms one’s existing opinions while overlooking or dismissing opposing beliefs. In other words, it’s a form of applied prejudice at the expense of objectivity. Following are ten reasons to avoid confirmation bias.
- In group settings, carefully examining alternative viewpoints while challenging our own assumptions allows us to understand situations more accurately and thereby make better decisions. This means surrounding ourselves with people who approach the problem-solving process from multiple angles. When we know our own opinions might be challenged, we tend to reason through ideas more carefully in order to avoid embarrassment and serve as a valuable resource. Greater awareness inspires smarter decisions. This is why high-performing Fortune 500 companies tend to be more culturally diverse than their less successful counterparts.
- Conversely, conformation bias leads to groupthink, which can be problematic for various reasons. For instance, when the desire for group consensus outstrips the willingness to speak up against flawed or fruitless ideas, the group makes counterproductive choices that do damage to everyone involved. Confirmation bias often leads to ingroup bias, or a collective behavior characterized by tribal thinking. While tribalism can inspire intimate bonding, it also leads to group members becoming suspicious, fearful, and contemptuous of anyone not in the group. Other manifestations of ingroup bias include prejudice, an unwarranted sense of self-importance, superstition, and all sorts of deviant behavior. Examples of this phenomenon are legion. Take your pick.
- Confirmation bias proves corrosive from the inception of thought. All high-grade thinking begins with a question, which then needs to be answered. The thinker must identify a problem, analyze it, and consider possible solutions. Clear thinking in this regard requires objectivity. Since, by definition, confirmation bias isn’t objective, it skews the information gathering process and ruins any chance for accuracy from the outset.
- Because confirmation bias influences how people interpret the information they gather, it damages the possibility of drawing sensible conclusions or actualizing well-formed solutions. If a confirmation bias perpetrator thinks someone is inherently evil because of some spurious preconceived notion, every action relating to that demonized person will result in an outcome that could have been better executed. Damage could have been avoided. In short, if one can’t even understand how to properly frame a hypothesis, the subsequent examination is doomed to delusion due to a misunderstanding of the evidence.
- The reductive nature of confirmation bias means it hinders any real political progress Americans desire. If you assume only good things about your candidate because he represents your lifelong political party, but your candidate is actually a vile cutthroat who holds his constituency (including you) in contempt, your preconceived notions are doing damage to your community every time your “champion” is elected.
- Confirmation bias consigns the perpetrator to a monochromatic and empty world of like minds. Tedium and confusion are the rewards for propagating this mindset. One key motivation of any group with herd instincts is to dismiss opinions that threaten their world view, no matter how valid those opposing views might be. Any thoughts that make the herd feel insecure are avoided.
- Confirmation bias is the epitome of laziness. Those apprehensive of change tend to rely on familiar, reflexive mental habits in order to avoid applying any real mental effort to situations that deserve active critical thinking. This often leads to the notion that innovation and change can only make things worse. At a broader level, this proves tremendously damaging to countries trying to compete effectively in a global economy.
- Confirmation bias reflects dishonest thinking. Choosing not to examine an idea objectively means that any other interpretation of the subject matter in question is inherently flawed, and if the perpetrator knows this, then he must also realize he’s lying to himself and others. It’s worth noting, too, that the exception rarely proves the rule, but if it might, then the exception needs to be proven based on evidence gathered from repeated experiment.
- The Information Age has brought out the worst in people prone to confirmation bias. It’s pretty depressing to see a seemingly placid, well-adjusted acquaintance you’ve known for years degenerate into a Facebook warrior before your very eyes. The person you once knew, the one with the quiet voice and conciliatory disposition at work and in public places, becomes a raging, name-calling ideologue on her Facebook page, and half the world has become her nemesis. Her online agenda is to rectify selected injustices through the power of social media.
- Those who avoid confirmation bias tend to create more dynamic social circles, thereby living more interesting lives. They know they live on a planet of over 7 billion people and each person has only 100 billion neurons and five limited senses to assess any given situation. In light of this, caution and a certain degree of humility inform most of what they do since decency and clarity are requisites for a sane existence.