Confirmation Bias  

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency of individuals to interpret or favor information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses while ignoring or downplaying contradictory evidence. It is a cognitive bias that affects our thinking, decision-making processes, and overall mental health functioning.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias occurs when people 1 Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175–220. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175 only pay attention to information that supports what they already believe and ignore or downplay anything that goes against it. This can affect how we think and discuss things, like in debates or arguments. People tend to focus on evidence that backs up their side and ignore the other side’s arguments. This makes it harder to have productive discussions and consider different perspectives or solutions.

According to a research, about 25% of students 2 Walenchok, S. C., Goldinger, S. D., & Hout, M. C. (2020). The confirmation and prevalence biases in visual search reflect separate underlying processes. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance46(3), 274–291. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000714 showed confirmation bias when they looked for new information after making an initial screening. Certain things 3 Cook, M. B., & Smallman, H. S. (2008). Human factors of the confirmation bias in intelligence analysis: decision support from graphical evidence landscapes. Human factors50(5), 745–754. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872008X354183 can make confirmation bias stronger.

If someone strongly believes in something, has an emotional attachment to an idea, or wants to be accepted by a certain group, they’re more likely to be influenced by confirmation bias. Also, people who aren’t aware that our minds can have biases or who don’t have much exposure to different viewpoints are more likely to be affected by confirmation bias.

Examples of Confirmation Bias
Examples of Confirmation Bias

Types of Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias psychology can manifest 4 Modgil, S., Singh, R. K., Gupta, S., & Dennehy, D. (2021). A Confirmation Bias View on Social Media Induced Polarisation During Covid-19. Information systems frontiers : a journal of research and innovation, 1–25. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10796-021-10222-9 in various forms, such as:

  1. Biased research which occurs when individuals selectively chooses sources or interpret data in a manner that supports their preconceived notions.
  2. Biased recall in which individuals tend to remember information that aligns with their beliefs while conveniently forgetting or distorting information that contradicts them.  
  3. Biased interpretation in which people tend to interpret ambiguous or neutral information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs.

Confirmation Bias in Mental Health

The psychological effects of confirmation bias 5 Friedman, H. H. (2017). Cognitive Biases that Interfere with Critical Thinking and Scientific Reasoning: A Course Module. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2958800 include:  

  1. Individuals pay more attention to information that confirms their negative thoughts, leading to distorted thinking patterns or irrational beliefs.
  2. People may become resistant to considering alternative viewpoints when they are exposed to information that aligns with their existing beliefs.
  3. Individuals may seek out information or interpret experiences in a way that confirms their negative self-perceptions.
  4. Confirmation bias can hinder decision-making processes, as individuals may favor options that align with their existing beliefs or ideas.
  5. Individuals may overlook alternative solutions or fail to consider different strategies, leading to impaired problem-solving skills.
  6. When individuals selectively interpret social cues that confirm their negative beliefs, it can result in relationship difficulties.

Why Do People Get Affected by Confirmation Bias?

People are prone to confirmation bias due to various cognitive and psychological factors 6 Cook, M. B., & Smallman, H. S. (2008). Human factors of the confirmation bias in intelligence analysis: decision support from graphical evidence landscapes. Human factors50(5), 745–754. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872008X354183 , such as: 

  1. The human brain tends to prefer information that is familiar, coherent, and requires less mental effort to process.
  2. Individuals often have a natural inclination to preserve and defend their existing beliefs.
  3. Confirmation bias can provide emotional comfort by reinforcing one’s worldview and validating their identity.
  4. Individuals tend to seek approval from others and want to fit in with a larger group.
  5. By sticking to commonly accepted ideas, individuals reduce the risk of being isolated or feeling insecure in society.

How Confirmation Bias Affects Decision-making?

When people only pay attention to information that supports their existing beliefs and ignore evidence that goes against them, this can lead to making mistakes in judgments and choosing options that may not be adequate.

It also makes it hard for them to consider different perspectives or use evidence-based solutions. Confirmation bias psychology can cause individuals to prevent objective and rational decision-making 7 Lange, R. D., Chattoraj, A., Beck, J. M., Yates, J. L., & Haefner, R. M. (2021). A confirmation bias in perceptual decision-making due to hierarchical approximate inference. PLoS computational biology17(11), e1009517. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009517 , which can hold back personal growth, hinder problem-solving skills, and limit the chances of achieving the best outcomes.

Read More About Decision-Making Here

How to Avoid Confirmation Bias

To avoid the psychological effects of confirmation bias, there are some helpful strategies 8 Lomangino K. M. (2016). Countering Cognitive Bias: Tips for Recognizing the Impact of Potential Bias on Research. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(2), 204–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.014   including:

  1. Recognize that your beliefs might not always be completely objective, and consider that other perspectives could be valid too.
  2. Try to expose yourself to a variety of opinions and information sources, even if they go against your existing beliefs.
  3. Take time to reflect on your own biases and think about how they might be affecting the way you think and make decisions.
  4. Explore novelty being out of your comfort zone to challenge your own assumptions.
  5. Increase your knowledge and understanding of different concepts. The more you learn, the more prepared you’ll be to consider diverse perspectives.

Takeaway

The examples of confirmation bias involve seeking out and favor information that confirms our existing beliefs while dismissing contradictory evidence. Being aware of this bias, actively seeking diverse perspectives, and cultivating open-mindedness can help mitigate its impact and promote more objective decision-making to ensure adequate mental health in long run.

At A Glance

  1. Confirmation bias happens when people only pay attention to information that supports what they already believe.
  2. Confirmation bias can manifest in various forms, such as biased research, biased recall, and biased interpretation.
  3. Confirmation bias can hinder decision-making process, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal relationships.
  4. People are prone to confirmation bias due to their natural inclination and emotional comfort.
  5. Confirmation bias prevents objective and rational decision-making, which can hold back personal growth.
  6. Being aware of this bias, seeking diverse perspectives, and cultivating open-mindedness can help overcome the effect of confirmation bias in mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is confirmation bias intentional?

Confirmation bias is often unintentional, arising from unconscious cognitive processes rather than any deliberate intention.

2. Are there any benefits of confirmation bias?

While confirmation bias may provide a sense of validation and comfort by reinforcing existing beliefs, its benefits are outweighed by the potential negative impacts on critical thinking, objective decision-making, and personal growth.

3. Can awareness of confirmation bias help to prevent it?

Awareness of confirmation bias can help individuals actively recognize and mitigate its influence, enabling them to approach information more objectively and make more rational judgments.

References:

  • 1
     Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2(2), 175–220. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175
  • 2
     Walenchok, S. C., Goldinger, S. D., & Hout, M. C. (2020). The confirmation and prevalence biases in visual search reflect separate underlying processes. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance46(3), 274–291. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000714
  • 3
     Cook, M. B., & Smallman, H. S. (2008). Human factors of the confirmation bias in intelligence analysis: decision support from graphical evidence landscapes. Human factors50(5), 745–754. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872008X354183
  • 4
     Modgil, S., Singh, R. K., Gupta, S., & Dennehy, D. (2021). A Confirmation Bias View on Social Media Induced Polarisation During Covid-19. Information systems frontiers : a journal of research and innovation, 1–25. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10796-021-10222-9
  • 5
     Friedman, H. H. (2017). Cognitive Biases that Interfere with Critical Thinking and Scientific Reasoning: A Course Module. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2958800
  • 6
     Cook, M. B., & Smallman, H. S. (2008). Human factors of the confirmation bias in intelligence analysis: decision support from graphical evidence landscapes. Human factors50(5), 745–754. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872008X354183
  • 7
     Lange, R. D., Chattoraj, A., Beck, J. M., Yates, J. L., & Haefner, R. M. (2021). A confirmation bias in perceptual decision-making due to hierarchical approximate inference. PLoS computational biology17(11), e1009517. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009517
  • 8
     Lomangino K. M. (2016). Countering Cognitive Bias: Tips for Recognizing the Impact of Potential Bias on Research. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(2), 204–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.014
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