What Is Confirmation Bias Psychology?
Updated February 16, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Before you can understand what confirmation bias psychology is, you have to know what the word bias means. The Oxford Dictionary defines bias as prejudice or inclination against or in favor of one person, a group, an idea, or a subject. For example, you may find that you have a bias against younger people when hiring for a job opening.
Bias is in all of us, whether we are conscious of it or not. Nobody can be completely unbiased because we all have feelings or opinions driving our biases. Unconscious bias is an instant feeling or thought you have about things, people, and subjects that you cannot control. Confirmation bias (also known as myside bias) is a type of cognitive bias that backs up your personal beliefs or feelings about things. It is the mind's way of ignoring everything that does not support our ideas or views.
Confirmation Bias In Psychology
In social psychology, confirmation bias (or myside bias) is defined as an inability to see your circumstances objectively. While having a natural tendency to be unconsciously biased is normal, those who decide to believe something because they want it to be true are using myside bias.
According to the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, confirmation bias posits that people tend to seek information and evidence that supports their existing beliefs.
This is like wishful thinking times 100 as the individual only sees things that they want to see, as they will search for information that supports their existing beliefs while disconfirming evidence that goes against their beliefs or desires.
Confirmation bias works as an effective way for individuals to process information and minimize cognitive dissonance that occurs with conflicting views and ideas.
Example Of Confirmation Bias In Psychology
There are many ways in which people display confirmation bias. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology states that myside bias operates even subconsciously.
For example, two friends hold different views on the political issue of gun control. Carla is in support of gun control, and reads news articles that affirm her belief about the need for more strict policy around gun ownership. Her friend Steve is opposed to gun control, and searches for online articles that affirm his position. When they both read about a school shooting in the news, they process information in a way that further confirms their existing beliefs. Confirmation bias works in a way that two individuals can perceive the same information differently.
Another example is individuals who live with mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and believe that everything is dangerous or dirty. They see everything around them as objects to be avoided at all costs because they believe these things will harm them or make them ill. Myside bias causes them to seek out or remember information that confirms their contamination fears like when they see a sick child wipe their hands on a door handle or see a car accident on a bridge.
Studies are continuing to be conducted on individuals with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder to assess the impact of information processing biases on mood and traits of bipolar disorder.
On a different note, if someone believes that people who are left-handed are more artistic than those who are right-handed, their beliefs are reinforced every time they see someone who is left-handed doing something artistic. However, they would ignore any artistic acts from right-handed individuals. Another example is politics. During election time, many people tend to notice positive things about their chosen candidates and negative things about the candidate they do not want to win.
In severe cases, myside bias can become an addiction that stops you from seeing things as they are. Your brain is numbing you from what is real, so you only gather or recall information that confirms what you already believe to be true. When going about your daily life, if you are constantly ignoring what is real, it will end up affecting your mental health and daily activities such as going to work or maintaining healthy relationships.
The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology discusses the impact of myside bias on decision making. The inability to process and interpret new information with an unbiased mind (as unbiased as possible) may lead to some difficult judgment issues and poor decision making. Without unbiased judgment, we tend to see things only as we wish them to be and not constructively and naturally. This is why several people can see the same thing and all have differing opinions on it.
Why You Should Look At All the Other Evidence
If you find yourself constantly wondering why others cannot see what we feel is obvious, it may be time to try to take off the rose-colored glasses. Those people who believe that everyone else "just does not get it" or that nobody can "see what is right in front of their face" may be experiencing a severe case of myside bias. Although we all seem to need to feel we are correct about our beliefs, we should also know that logically, it is impossible to be right all the time. So, if you always think you are right and everyone else just cannot see what you see, you are probably right. But not for the reason you believe.
Seeking Out The Truth
Even though we want to be right about everything, we do just want the truth, so it is important to look at opposing views and perspectives. Because let's face it – if you think you are right all the time, how can you expect to learn anything? We learn by being wrong and seeking the correct answer. However, because we are human, we tend to try to take shortcuts with everything we do, so we only see the evidence that confirms our existing beliefs rather than considering new information that may disprove what we are thinking.
The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology notes the potential of confirmation bias to reduce our ability to consider alternative hypotheses. Your brain will automatically try to take these mental shortcuts (aka heuristics) to make its job easier and save time. It will block out the negative views of things and only let you see the views you want to see so that you do not have to spend the time and energy trying to make sense of contradicting ideas. Only seeing the information that will confirm your beliefs does not require as much time and energy, so you will automatically try to go in that direction. But, if you constantly follow this shortcut, you may never find the road you were looking for in the first place.
How Confirmation Bias Clouds Our Judgment
Unfortunately, it is not possible to get out of the habit of using myside bias unless you can see that it is there. If you are still in denial and thinking that you are the only one who can see the truth, you may need to consider talking to someone about overcoming this concept. Because, as stated above, we cannot always be right. The problem is, if you do not believe that you have a problem, you will not even think you need to talk to anyone about it. Maybe you are reading this, and you think, "yeah, but I AM right all the time." It is time to go out on a limb and do your best to see what all of these other people are seeing. You may find that it is you that cannot see what is right in front of your face.
A study done by Stanford found that two groups of subjects were biased in their views, no matter what evidence they were shown to disprove their view. These two groups of individuals disagreed on the sensitive subject of capital punishment, but even after reading fictional studies describing opposing views, the majority of them still refused to change their opinion on the subject.
When we let myside bias have its way, we go through life with a skewed version of the truth about everything we experience. However, it may be extremely difficult to release ourselves from myside bias because it is so natural for the brain to take this shortcut to a "better" view. This gives you a clouded judgment no matter what you are shown because your brain likes to ignore any evidence that does not agree with your views. So, is your brain making your judgment cloudy on purpose? No, it is just a way that your brain is trying to help you by saving you the time and energy of deciding whether your original view is right or wrong.
Ignoring Contradicting Evidence
As a human being, we all seek out new information, and we want to have the truth or the correct information. We spend all of our lives learning things, but if we are ignoring any evidence that contradicts our existing beliefs or views, we may never get the truth. Nobody wants to be considered stupid or dumb, but you may seem that way to others if you are constantly trying to convince them to believe something that is not true. And that is what you are doing when you let myside bias take over your brain.
In fact, even when shown concrete evidence that proves your views are wrong, we tend to try to discount them or even outright ignore them. Does that make us stupid? No, but it does cloud our judgment, so we can never see the truth. We just want to be right, but when we are wrong, we need to be open to other views and beliefs.
The Backfire Effect
In some cases, a correction to misinformation about one’s beliefs can lead them to strengthen their beliefs even more. This phenomenon in social psychology has been coined the backfire effect. Two types of backfire effect have been examined in recent studies: the worldview backfire effect and the familiarity backfire effect.
The worldview backfire effect refers to when an individual defends their worldview and beliefs when it is challenged. On the other hand, the familiarity backfire effect is when misinformation is repeated within a correction.
Continuing to Assess Confirmation Bias
Studies continue to evaluate the impact of types of cognitive bias on scientific discovery and decision making. There have been studies on attempts to reduce the influence of confirmation bias in different settings. Continued research in social psychology needs to be completed to determine the impact of confirmation bias and the challenges it presents.
The End Of The World
For example, what about those who claimed that the world was going to end on December 21, 2012? Millions of people were convinced that this was true. In fact, many people cleaned out their bank accounts and quit their jobs, built bomb shelters, and stocked up on several years’ worth of food and water. These people were unable to see the truth because confirmation bias works by clouding vision. They only saw the facts that said the world was going to end on that day no matter how much contradicting evidence that was shown to them.
In fact, some people still believed it on December 22, 2012, when they woke up and the world was still here. They may still be trying to convince others that it was true, but someone stopped it or it was delayed.
Find Someone Who Can Help
If you are having trouble convincing others that your views are true and think that everyone else is wrong no matter what proof they show you to the contrary, it may help to talk to someone about it who can see things from your point of view.
How BetterHelp Can Support You
BetterHelp.com has over 2,000 licensed mental health professionals, many who specialize in this type of issue. And you do not even have to set an appointment. In fact, you don't even have to leave the house. Answer some questions and you will be matched up with a professional you can talk to from the comfort of your own home and when it’s most convenient for you. Below you'll find some reviews of BetterHelp's counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
“It’s been a while since I did any therapy counseling and I’m glad I started again. Danielle is very helpful and has been a great listener and has also challenged me with important questions. It’s been a couple months but I’ve started to feel more relaxed. My issues are still there, but I feel like they’re a bit more manageable. Sometimes you just need someone to hear you out, and maybe see the situation from a different point of view. I really appreciate Danielle’s help.”
“I have gained so much from working with Raquel. She is non-judgemental, entirely unbiased, personable and always brings to light new perspectives. I feel validated and challenged (in a good way)”
Even though we all like to think we’re right all the time, in truth, we’re not. If you have trouble seeing things from other people’s point of view and it’s affecting your mental health, relationships and quality of life, take the first step today to speak with a therapist.
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