As each day passes by, the distinction between what we deemed true and a lie is becoming increasingly blurred, with new revelations and shifting viewpoints causing previous beliefs to be called into question.
This may lead you to seek out, pay attention to, and remember information that confirms your old opinions while disregarding information that challenges them. The name of this phenomenon is confirmation bias.
Examples of Confirmation Bias in Action: From Politics to Science to Everyday Life.
A historical example of confirmation bias can be seen in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925.
In March 1925, the Tennessee congress enacted a law, against the teaching of any ideology that contradicts the divine creation of man as depicted in the Bible. The same year, on July 10, John Thomas Scopes, a young high school science teacher, was (allegedly) found guilty of the violation of that law and was fined $100.
The trial was a media spectacle that attracted numerous attention, with many people on both sides of the issue seeking out information that affirms their convictions about the truth of evolution.
Those who opposed evolution ignored evidence that supported the theory, while those who supported evolution overlooked evidence that challenged it.
Another example of confirmation bias is the way that most Nigerians respond to the issue of corruption, despite widespread evidence of crime among individuals, the government, and other institutions. Some still sought out and pay attention to information that justifies their sappy devotion to their political party, tribe, or religion, whilst ignoring the slew of information that condemns it. This makes it difficult for people to engage in productive dialogue about how to address the issue of corruption and ways to move society forward.
It’s challenging to think critically because we are more driven by emotions than logic. We tend to prefer usual ideas over radical ones (even when the usual ideas are blatantly false, erroneous, or problematic).
Individuals tend to defend their pride and emotions when their cherished belief is confronted. In certain societies, practicing or advocating for unpopular opinions may lead you to jail time.
For instance; LGBTQ+ persons get up to 14 years in prison when caught engaging in same-sex behaviors, and speaking up for, or supporting them is also punishable by the Nigerian (SSMPA) law.
“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”– Augustine of Hippo
The bright side of Confirmation Bias in Our Everyday Life.
Although, confirmation bias is often deemed a negative phenomenon. It’s a natural and unconscious process, and it does not entirely mean that you are deliberately illogical or closed-minded. It is simply a result of the way our brains are wired to process information. Besides, nobody accepts change without a struggle. Especially, when your ideas have been helpful before.
For instance; Salt has many meanings and uses beyond seasoning and food preservation. It holds spiritual significance and is often used in rituals. In my culture, it is particularly used for purification and protection.
So, in 2015, when Nigeria experienced a severe outbreak of Ebola (an infectious and deadly disease). Most Nigerians opposed the efforts of health administrators to prevent the outbreak, conforming to the information that it was a scam (considering how often the government has lied to them in the past). Whereas, others reverted to adding salt to their bath for purification and protection (based on another old idea).
Like, what da hell? I can’t believe I fell for that too, at the time.
No scientific evidence shows that bathing with salted water prevents the Ebola virus. Still, this belief made most of us feel safe and reduced our anxiety and fear. It created a sense of security and assurance that arguably proved valuable in that time of chaos, at both individual and communal levels.
Other positive aspects of confirmation bias:
- It makes us feel confident in our beliefs and helps us make decisions quickly, though not always accurately. In situations, where time is limited and quick decision-making is needed, it’s our saving grace.
- It helps strengthen our sense of certitude and increase our feeling of self-worth. This is the typical religious person.
- Additionally, since it is hard to change people’s beliefs, individuals with new ideas must make sure they are tested and trusted before sharing them.
In these ways, confirmation bias keeps us going with a sense of direction in a very complex and challenging world.
The Harmful Impact of Confirmation Bias In Our Daily Lives and the World Around Us.
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However, the negative consequences of confirmation bias outweigh its positives.
If we blindly and stubbornly hold on to old ideas as true, we might as well kiss the progress of our species goodbye. For instance;
- Stereotypes and discrimination will be reinforced and perpetuated. For example, a person with a foreign accent may be thought to be more intelligent or less intelligent.
- Bad decisions will proliferate. For example, those who are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of their preconceptions and groupthink may die or endanger others.
- Science and technology will come to a halt. For example, those who do not like the invention of genetically modified foods, and other technology for one fear or the other may limit the quality of life possible for their societies.
- Social benefits will be clandestine. For example, women may find it hard to get hired for a job or be restricted from education.
- Extreme views will be reinforced. For example, extremists may encourage violence or hate toward people who do not align with their views
And the list goes on and on…
These lead to poor decision-making, polarization, difficulty in learning as well as difficulty in growing (intellectually) and so much worse.
The Search for Truth in a Polarized World: A process of Self-Discovery.
Searching for the truth often involves more than just collecting historical stories or data and engaging in debates. It is a process of self-discovery. The intent is to understand yourself through queries and exploration, which nudges you to a greater awareness of the world.
To do this, you must be willing to investigate your thoughts, emotions, and attitudes, even if what you may uncover is uncomfortable or upsetting.
You must persist in your search, no matter the destination or what you find, as the path to enlightenment is always narrow and frightening. It requires you to be willing to relinquish long-held beliefs that are no longer valid for your progression and growth.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”– John 8:32
Recommended Content: The Role Of Critical Thinking In Seeking The Truth. [+11 Critical Thinking Tools]
4 Strategies for Overcoming, Avoiding, or Minimizing Confirmation Bias:
Confirmation bias is an innate proclivity that is difficult to eliminate. Everyone is guilty here, but there are steps that you can take to resolve its effects and develop a mindset for true happiness and overall growth.
Here are four (4) strategies that can be helpful:
Seek out diverse viewpoints:
Expose yourself to a wide spectrum of perspectives rather than only searching for information that is within your reach and experience. This can help you to better understand different viewpoints and to consider evidence and arguments that challenge your beliefs.
As I said, nobody accepts change without a fight, especially when they are deeply held, but growth requires change. So if you must grow, open your mind to new information and be willing to revise your beliefs in light of new evidence. Avoid getting stuck in the past or present, and develop the humility and clarity of mind that would guide you into a promising future.
“An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it.”—Mark Twain
Practice critical thinking:
Critical thinking skills are hard. But living in lies is worse
For example, in the movie, The Matrix, when the protagonist, Neo, discovered the truth – that he had been living in an illusion his whole life – he chose the difficult part and fought his way out of it. Choosing an uncomfortable truth instead of a comfortable lie can feel like going to war sometimes, but with the right tools, you can win just like Neo.
Do the difficult work of carefully evaluating the evidence and arguments that you encounter, rather than blindly accepting information that confirms your beliefs or emotions.
Seek out reliable sources of information:
Omo, in today’s world, you can bet on finding any answer or information you are looking for. Thanks to millions of bloggers and search engines, we now have easy access to a ridiculous amount of information at our fingertips. The danger is, much of the information is misleading and unreliable.
To combat this, you must be selective about the sources of information that you rely on. Look for sources that are reputable, unbiased, and based on sound evidence. This will help you to avoid getting caught up in confusion and to make more informed decisions.
Join online/offline communities devoted to critical thinking and evidence-based discussion for support and accountability. Participating in such communities can help you gain a broader understanding of issues, and reduce the impact of misconceptions. For example, at the Pawns Community, we often hold discussions about different topics and have members air their views without judgment. (Click here to join Pawns Community.)
Conclusion: Why Is Confirmation Bias Bad?
Confirmation bias traps your mind, skews your perception of the world, and leads you astray. Many people have such a disconnect from the truth that they only believe in things that conform to their biases. Because reality differs from what we think, such blind allegiance to biases can lead to a lot of needless and avoidable suffering, pain, and lack.
But with awareness, you can break free from this mental enmeshment by seeking out diverse perspectives, and fact-checking.
Find the truth with an open mind and humility.
Strive to see beyond your bias, and improve your worldview by overcoming confirmation bias.
“when the fool speaks, the wise man is silent and listens”– West African Proverb
(There is either an opportunity to learn or no point arguing).
Also Read: How To Be A Better Person [And Be Happy]:
A mindful self-help writer and photographer