What Is Confirmation Bias In Psychology, And How Can You Overcome It?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Psychological Association defines confirmation bias as “the tendency to gather evidence that confirms preexisting expectations, typically by emphasizing or pursuing supporting evidence while dismissing or failing to seek contradictory evidence.” Confirmation bias might be thought of as an inclination to believe information supporting one’s existing beliefs while discounting opposing beliefs. 

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Researchers believe that everyone experiences some degree of confirmation bias, whether they are conscious of it or not. Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that supports a person’s personal beliefs or feelings. It is the mind's way of ignoring everything that does not support our ideas or views.

In social psychology, confirmation bias, also sometimes called myside bias, is an unconscious tendency not to judge new information objectively. In other words, confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon in which people tend to seek information and evidence supporting their existing beliefs and discount anything that contradicts those beliefs.

The psychological advantage of confirmation bias is that it effectively allows individuals to process information and minimize cognitive dissonance that occurs when encountering conflicting viewpoints or information. In other words, confirmation bias can make it simpler to think about the world. However, unexamined biases can prevent you from seeing and acting on important information or connecting with people who think differently than you, which can limit your opportunities.

Examples of confirmation bias in psychology

There are many ways in which people display confirmation bias. For example, two friends might hold different views about the best solution for climate change. One supports solar power and reads articles affirming her belief about the need for more investment in solar power. The other believes more in the importance of wind power and gravitates toward online articles that prove his position. While they both read new stories about climate change, they interpret the news through the lens of their confirmation bias. This can make it difficult to see the strengths of opposing arguments. 

Another example might be found in politics. During election time, many people notice positive things about their chosen candidate and negative things about the candidates they do not support. Confirmation bias can be difficult for them to see any incoherence in their perspective. 

Myside bias and intelligence

You might think that people with higher IQs are less likely to experience confirmation bias, but research suggests that this is not true. One study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science confirmed that myside bias is present in people of all intelligence levels.

Even if a person is generally highly skilled at problem-solving and reasoning, they may be just as likely as everyone else to fall into my side bias and miss crucial realities about the world around them.

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Heuristics: Why the mind is susceptible to confirmation bias

If you regularly wonder why others cannot see what seems obvious to you, it may help to examine your biases. People who believe everyone else just doesn’t get it may be experiencing myside bias. Although we all tend to experience a desire to be correct about our beliefs, it is impossible to be right all the time. If you always think you are right and everyone else cannot see the truth, you might be experiencing confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias can reduce our ability to consider alternative hypotheses. Instead, our mind automatically tries to take mental shortcuts called heuristics to make its job faster and easier. For example, the mind often blocks opposing views and only lets you see what you want to see. In this way, you do not have to spend time and energy trying to make sense of contradicting ideas. If you constantly follow this shortcut, you may miss important realities in the world around you.

How confirmation bias can cloud our judgment

It can be difficult to stop using confirmation bias unless you can see it is there. If you think you may be experiencing confirmation bias, you’re not alone. Research demonstrates the widespread prevalence of confirmation bias and shows that it has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s one of several cognitive biases that can shape our thinking even if we don’t know it.

When we let confirmation bias have its way, we can go through life with a skewed version of the truth about our experiences. Research suggests that it can be challenging to escape confirmation bias because it is so natural for the brain to take this shortcut when looking at information.

Studies continue to evaluate the impact of cognitive bias on scientific discovery and decision-making, and researchers are studying how to reduce the influence of confirmation bias in different settings. Continued research in social psychology might help us determine the impact of confirmation bias and the challenges it presents to us as individuals and society as a whole.

Help for overcoming confirmation bias

If you think that you may be discounting information that goes against your beliefs, it may help to speak with a psychologist or licensed therapist about confirmation bias. One form of therapy that may help is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, people typically learn to challenge their inaccurate beliefs and think in new ways. 

If you feel hesitant to see a psychologist or therapist in person, you might consider online therapy. CBT is a type of therapy you can engage in remotely, and numerous studies confirm that online CBT is as effective as seeing a counselor in person. 

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Do you want to learn to overcome biases in your thinking?

With online CBT at BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed therapist via audio, video, or live chat at a time that works for you. You can also message your therapist at any time through in-app messaging, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This may be helpful if you encounter instances of bias and want to write down your thoughts in between sessions.

Takeaway

Confirmation bias is something everyone experiences regardless of their IQ. This type of bias happens when a person only looks at and accepts information confirming what they already believe and rejects ideas that contradict it. Confirmation bias can prevent you from seeing all sides of an issue, distort your understanding of the world, and distance you from others who think differently than you. While it is likely impossible to eliminate all confirmation bias in our thinking, it may be possible to reduce its effects through self-reflection. 

Also, it may help to speak with a psychologist or therapist who has knowledge of various cognitive biases and strategies for reducing the effects of confirmation bias. Take the first step toward curbing the effects of confirmation bias in your life and reach out to BetterHelp.

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