Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that affects all of us and which can have disastrous consequences in business and in our personal lives. Many of us are unaware of the quirks of our brain, or of the dangers that they can pose, but here we will examine this particular ‘foible’ and how it relates to you.
What Is Confirmation Bias?
The central concept behind confirmation bias is that we are biased toward information that confirms what we already believe. For instance then, say you are very right wing, then chances are that you are going to give much more weighting to anything you hear that supports a right wing view. At the same time you are more likely to dismiss anything left wing as being short sighted or as being propaganda. This then means that you are more likely to specifically seek out information that confirms your beliefs. For instance you are more likely to read a right wing paper than a left wing one, and you are more likely to speak with other right wing people and to trust their views.
The Problem With Bias
The problem with this confirmation bias is that it prevents you from being able to challenge your existing views. This then means that you will be looking at information that supports your views regarding the direction you should take your business to, or your health beliefs. That then means that if you’re wrong, or something better exists out there, your business or your health will suffer. At the same time if you continue to have your views affirmed and reaffirmed time and time again, then this can cause you to become gradually more and more extreme and more and more dismissive of other views. In short this then means that you will end up making irrational and extreme decisions, perhaps even losing empathy and making immoral decisions too.
Overcoming Confirmation Bias
This is something that affects all of us without question, however that does not mean that there aren’t ways we can overcome it.
For instance one thing you can do is to make sure that you hang out with a wide variety of people, and that you speak with people whose views differ from your own. In a business you would ideally have an advisor or someone high up who was very different from yourself and you would seek out a team as diverse as possible to ensure that you could get lots of opinions. If your business is too inbred then this is going to lead you to make one sided decisions. That also means that you need to have a constant inflow of new staff or of new friends, or a number of different groups within your staff or your confidants. The reason for this is something called ‘convergence and divergence’, which in turn dictates that the members of any group are always going to become gradually more alike, while two different groups are always likely to become gradually more different. If you only have one group of friends or workers, then no matter how diverse they are to begin with they will gradually become more and more alike.
The other piece of advice is to constantly be questioning the things you think and your strategies and ideals. Constantly look for flaws in your current systems and be trying to disprove your current theories. This is the same as the scientific method and is the only object way to look at something. Don’t aim to prove what you think is correct, but rather to prove it’s wrong. The former is simply an exercise in massaging your ego, while the latter is a great way to constantly improve your ideas and to grow as an individual.