Confirmation Bias, Stop Wishful Thinking
Confirmation bias, also known as wishful thinking, is your tendency to seek and interpret information that confirms your existing belief or ideas.
When you would like a certain idea to be true, you end up believing it to be true because you are motivated by wishful thinking. This further leads you to stop gathering information and failing to interpret information in an unbiased way can lead to grave misjudgements.
“What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” — Warren Buffet
How Confirmation Bias Affects You
Confirmation bias clouds your judgement and it gives you a twisted view of information. The complexity of confirmation bias arises partly from the fact that it is impossible to overcome confirmation bias without an awareness of the concept.
Here are three examples of how confirmation bias affected me:
1. How I sought information
Confirmation bias affected how I look at the world around me. Lewis Carroll once stated, “we are what we believe we are,” but it seems that the world is also what I believed it to be.
2. How I interpreted information
Confirmation bias also affected how I process neutral information into favouring my existing beliefs. Even when evidence is shown to contradict my biased view, I still interpreted it in a manner that reinforces my existing perspective.
3. How I recall memories
Confirmation bias is somewhat linked to memories. I have a liking for recalling evidence that backs up my beliefs. No matter how neutral the original information was, I fell prey to selective recall.
Why You Ignore Disconfirming Evidence
In a nutshell, it’s the result of your need for cognitive consistency. You are avalanched by new information every day from other people, the media, your experience, and many other sources. There is just too much information to process. How your mind works is that it must find means of encoding, storing, and retrieving the data you’re absorbing.
One way you do this is by developing cognitive shortcuts judging, whether this new information is useful or not. If you have to constantly evaluate your worldview, it would be exhausting, so you simply prefer to strengthen it.
Ultimately, you ignore contradictory evidence because it’s so incomprehensible to your brain. Unless, when you are held accountable by others, you become motivated to think in a critical manner, because it’s easier to accept opposing views when it concerns things you don’t care about.
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” — Robertson Davies
So, What Now?
Unfortunately, we all have confirmation bias. Even at times when you believe you are open-minded, it’s very likely that some bias will shape your opinion in the end. It’s hard to fight this natural tendency.
Yet, if you know about confirmation bias and accept the fact that it does exist, you can make attempts to recognise it. That may help you see things from another perspective, though it’s never a guarantee.
Here are three tips I want to leave you with that I find useful:
1. Live Your Life Curiously
When you walk into every interaction trying to prove yourself right, you’re going to fall prey to confirmation bias. Don’t avoid challenging problems that might prove you being wrong, instead, actively seek learning opportunities with the risk of being wrong. When you’re willing to be wrong, you open yourself up to new insights.
So, focus less on being right and more on experiencing life with curiosity and wonder.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” — Albert Einstein
2. Understand Disagreements
Understanding various viewpoints can help you refine your perspective. Looking for approval of your beliefs arises naturally, while it feels counterintuitive to look for evidence that contradicts your beliefs. Disagreements are far more powerful in establishing the truth and would require looking for evidence to disprove it.
“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” — Mahatma Gandhi
3. Question Your Thoughts
To fight back against cognitive biases, you need to evaluate your instinctive reactions. Looking for instances to prove that you are wrong can help you re-order your thoughts. I believe this is perhaps a true definition of self-confidence: the ability to look at the world without the need to look for instances that pleases your ego.
So, whenever you come across facts that completely confirms your worldview, stop and think about the assumptions you’re making and look from a different perspective which might prove yourself wrong.
“Most disagreements are the results of faulty assumptions.” — Geoff Tate
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