Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out information that supports our existing beliefs, thoughts, or values. In other words, we value facts and evidence that prove us right, and dismiss or undervalue relevant evidence that contradicts us.
How do you know you know?
The earth is flat. Or at least that is what some organizations and individuals promote, denying the sphericity of the earth and going against scientific knowledge. When, in 1967, thanks to the Apollo program, satellite images showed the Earth as a sphere, Samuel Shenton, founder of the Flat Earth Research Society, said: it is easy to see how such a photograph could fool the untrained eye.
But you don’t have to travel outside our atmosphere to prove that the Earth’s surface is curved. Many scientists, from the ancient Greeks to the present day, have explained it using basic physics. And yet flat-earthers dismiss all evidence to maintain their position. You might think that this is an extreme case. It is obvious that the Earth is not flat, isn’t it?
But how often do you fall into this kind of bias when talking about politics, business, or even people? So, the question to avoid this effect is: how do you know you know?
Questioning our view
Our ability to challenge ourselves is key to avoiding confirmation bias. No matter how objective we think we are, we are constantly interpreting the world through the lens of our values, beliefs, and assumptions. Thus, collecting, analyzing, and evaluating data is a subjective process.
How can we consider evidence that distorts our narrative or contradicts our initial hypothesis? We must make a conscious effort to challenge our beliefs and assumptions. It takes constant practice.
If we are trapped in seeking only the information that confirms our existing beliefs, we can compromise our decision-making ability and limit our ability to innovate and create. In the case of a leader, this can create an echo chamber where no one dares to dissent.
The only way to fight against our confirmation bias is by making questions. Consider any topic you might want to explore:
What ideas do you automatically agree with?
Considering the facts, which of them do you ignore or skim over without realizing?
How do you react to the points whose others agree or disagree with?
How others’ opinions confirm any ideas you already had? Why?
What if you think the opposite of those ideas?
How this new perspective can help you?
Being aware of the confirmation bias is not easy, but with time you can search out for disconfirming evidence, improving your critical thinking and your decision-making process.
Image by Marta Nogueira