Confirmation Bias

“If one were to attempt to identify a single problematic aspect of human reasoning that deserves attention above all others, the confirmation bias would have to be among the candidates for consideration. Many have written about this bias, and it appears to be sufficiently strong and pervasive that one is led to wonder whether the bias, by itself, might account for a significant fraction of the disputes, altercations, and misunderstandings that occur among individuals, groups, and nations.”

– Raymond S. Nickerson

American Research Professor, Tufts University.

“When it comes to my thoughts on any given subject i am the best judge of how valid or not valid (right or wrong as compared with any ‘external’ truth) they are.”

Many, if not all of us might find it hard to argue that point… but i’m going to try.

As the Professor pointed out above, Confirmation Bias is a far more common mechanism of our human brain than many would currently be aware. We don’t like thinking that we are unbalanced and biased people or that we hold biased thoughts, yet that is indeed exactly what we do – it is ‘human nature’.

Confirmation bias is the ‘natural’ (usual way of our being) tendency for us to attach greater importance to things which agrees with our past experience than to the things with which disagree or don’t ‘fit’ in with it.

It is likely the prime reason for ‘Culture’, in that what we see every day and are ‘immersed in’ is likely to be seen more favourably by us and hence adopted and reinforced by us than a ‘foreign’ culture would be, and vice versa.

An exception to this may be possible when the culture we live in, for whatever reasons, we find personally distasteful, not to our own liking. we may seek a reverse bias, moreso than any degree of ‘balance’. This can explain things like ‘lapsed Catholics’, converted Muslims, Alternate lifestyle practitioners, the  ‘Drop out’ culture and so on.

Confirmation Bias is insidious, in that it not only directs our action and thought but our future action and thought also – all largely without us being aware that it even exists, or is within us to the degree it is.

The reason for this post is to increase our awareness of the fact.

But don’t just take my word for it (or reject my words as useless) because that is exactly the sort of thing our Confirmation Bias thrives on. – Go check it out, do your own research, learn more about that most fascinating of topics – your self!

And once you have please come back and share what you personally got from it so others can see new ways to look at it and learn even more.

ok done… off you go!

All right if you want a help… you could do worse than starting here..

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6 Comments

  1. JJ

     /  12 April, 2013

    “The Misconception: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis.

    The Truth: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.”
    – Start Here page

    “Confirmation bias is the ‘natural’ (usual way of our being) tendency for us to attach greater importance to things which agrees with our past experience than to the things with which disagree or don’t ‘fit’ in with it.”

    – k, i get this. Totally.

    However, I have to think back to my studies of evolutionary psychology. WHY our brains have (no quotes) natural bias’s. So, what I am going to example is, I admit, is sort of different from what you talk about or rather the examples given of confirmation bias – though I infer (though I may be off) that the brain processes behind are the same.

    So, the principles (just realized, if you are a devout christian none of this is relevant because you don’t believe in evolution, which is just kind of scary, anyhow) =

    The brain is a physical system generating environmentally appropriate behaviour
    In-built neural circuits solve those problems appropriate to our ancestors
    Most brain functioning is unconscious and must be very complex
    Different circuits specialise in different adaptive problems
    Modern skulls still have a stone age mind

    Caveman brain. So. It is like 10,000 years ago or whenever cavemen started living in caves. You sleep, you wake, you hunt, you gather, etc. you are out gathering with a friend and see a spider. You do not know what this is, there is no “spider” this is something you had no idea existed until the moment you and friend saw it. Friend thinks oh food, a nice snack, attempts to entrap it gets bit and falls dead 10 min later. F*ck.

    So you go back and tell your fellow cave people what happened. Spider = bad. But then you wake up in your damp dark cave and there is a spider, looks a tad different, or not just crawling all over you and whaddya know, you are fine. Generations pass and both these situations continue, however, risk – really back risk like dealth is a strong motivator to avoid ALL spiders. We develop a fear. A defense mechanism to stay alive. This fear, evolves, becomes a part of our subconcious to this day studies show people report fear of spidrs in their top 5 fears – over cancer!

    Taste aversion is the strongest form of aversion. You may hate oranges, now idea why, but it only takes getting ill ONE time of having gotten sick from any food to create a life long distaste. It can develope at 2 years old and you won’t remember or know why but that is probably why. It is an EXTREMELY strong and the most extreme example of confirmation bias – actualyl it isnt even confirmation – just bias right?

    One can factor social scenarios in the same idea of thinking. Our brains are designed to focus on the “bad” bc logically bad is worse that good. Maybe in a social context the negative effect isnt as extreme as death but our brains have trouble recognizing that.

    Is it something we SHOULD “get over”? I don’t know. I guess it, at least for me (this is where economic theory enters) when the cost outwieghs the benefit – cost or “negativity” wins. I totally know i use confirmation bias to “prove” that somethihng that has already had more negative results than postive is negative -whehter or not it is or isnt – like that harmless spider.

    That was basically a whole post there ! i get really into this shit sorry!

    Reply
    • First off JJ, you need never apologise on this blog for honestly expressing your thought/opinions if you enjoy it – if you do so do i! 🙂 And if you write a whole post you are welcome to hoik it over to your blog once you’ve done here – no charge!

      Second, you are quite wrong in the assumption that ‘devout’ Christians all don’t believe in Evolution Theory (i admit there are some who don’t, but by no means all). Maybe i am not devout enough, but i am reading a book (creation and evolution: do we have to choose?) by Denis Alexander who has a Ph.D in neuroscience, who i am confident would meet your definition of ‘devout’ and has no problem with either concept in his personal philosophy. Before i read this book i wrote a book chapter of my own (God of Divisions) that endeavours to show how Genesis 1 and Cosmological Formation theory (post the Big Bang) are largely in agreement and need not be seen as mutually exclusive. I might post it one day?

      Third, it is a little ‘picky’ of me i realise, but your first statement in your thesis above i find a little unhelpful, particularly the ‘environmentally appropriate’ part. I’m assuming you mean appropriate to the being’s individual and internal environment, not the actual landscape he lives in. My problem though is with the ‘appropriate’ part. Appropriate according to what logic? is logic even involved? or is it just stored, however haphazardly, and with whatever degree of accuracy such as the individual may at that point be capable of (as you say later, we develop these things from an extremely early and immature age).

      The next line says inbuilt circuits solve these problems… ?? Solve? Circuits? this is an animate, fallible creature we are talking about – you make it sound like an empirical equation in some proven functioning machine (such a one mistakes would be difficult to make in)

      I would agree with you that most of the brain function deals with matters largely unconsciously and is enormously complex, it is however holistic, not comprised of individual separate circuits such as a computer may be. While it is true it has regions that are more activated in relation to some input than are others and has some regions which ‘specialise’ in body function (limbic brain, cortex and neocortex etc) it operates fully interactively from the moment of conception to the time of death.

      I see what you wanted to say with the spider example but cannot agree that after generations we ‘develop’ a fear. Our largest fear is of what we do not know or understand – if we have never seen a spider we have an ‘inbuilt’ fear of it that, may possibly, be suppressed if we have enough counter-fear experiences with them (highly unlikely given the natures of spiders and humans – they’re eeky alien little suckers!)

      What evidence do you have to make the assumption that our spider fear has evolved (out of sequence with every other fear our pampered society of today has by and large) moreso today than it did back in caveman’s time?? None i imagine?

      I totally agree with you considering aversions, except for it being the most extreme example of confirmation bias – it certainly is a bias, one possibly initiated from a single negative experience, perhaps in early development. This contrasts with Confirmation bias however in that prior to the said experience we had no such ‘bias’ (or none we were aware of at any rate) whereas confirmation bias requires us to previously have formed a conscious choice concerning our bias.(possibly one imposed upon our conscious by others (‘our’culture/us vs them) Confirmation bias, sometimes like aversion, operates BOTH positively and negatively to reinforce our ‘chosen’ bias – it diminishes the importance of ideas that contradict our bias while adding importance to ideas that support our ‘delusion’.

      Our aversions are largely kept private involving or concerning only ourselves – just because i love oranges i don’t insist you do – means more for me! However, Confirmation bias leads us to believe that we are right and anyone who does not agree are wrong and should probably change to our way of thinking in order for us to take them ‘seriously’.

      This, as Mr Nickerson was quoted as saying, is problematic (and very prevalent, requiring our attention)

      Finally (collective Yayyy!) 😉 ” I totally know i use confirmation bias to “prove” that somethihng that has already had more negative results than postive is negative -whehter or not it is or isnt – like that harmless spider.”

      Think on that a second or so… if it has ‘more’ negative than positive – THEN it IS negative! (for you)

      Does that not diminish your ability to acquire any of the positive results arising from it in your future? what if is is 55/45 bad/good – do you throw away the 45% good part totally?

      I would agree that, untrained, our brains may indeed act that way, does that not suggest many of us should train our brains better? 🙂

      I’m not stating that i have to be right on this, merely that i believe we could all benefit from a better understanding of our Confirmation Biases.

      Reply
  2. JJ

     /  13 April, 2013

    Ok, i feel like an idiot. The 5 Principles below are note of like my creation ( I wish I was that smart). They are the 5 Principles that the theory of Eveolutionary Psychology (EP) is based upon. Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer by: Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California – Santa Barbara

    1.The brain is a physical system generating environmentally appropriate behaviour
    2.In-built neural circuits solve those problems appropriate to our ancestors
    3.Most brain functioning is unconscious and must be very complex
    4.Different circuits specialise in different adaptive problems
    5.Modern skulls still have a stone age mind

    I am pretty sure both my understanding of these ideas and my ability to explain them are hardly even shadow what those actually are specialists in the field.

    And yes, I am aware not all Christians, religious, devout or whatever, refute evolution, I was kind of joking, like being sarcastic..? I Sorry about that, I should know better than to tool around about religion (never a good idea).

    Positive reinforcement is a very effective learning tool. It is not about cumulative life experiences being positive or negative, it is more about a single action or item or thing like a food, an animal, etc. So it is situation specific.

    Again, I am not at all an expert in this area (though I find it terrifically fascinating and very much enjoyed studying it and I think it has helped me understand my and others’ actions and behavior – and to some digress, helped assuage non-productive behaviors)

    I guess now i am thinking of “confirmation bias” for positive things as reinforcing superstitions…. Not sure why my brain is meandering around the concept as you describe it. Got too much “noise” up there in the noggin. I need to process.

    Maybe, I think what I “feel” is that I battle with the concept of confirmation bias every day. That I see and feel myself following this pattern of behavior and I am constantly battling in my brain – does this mean something? is this just a coincidence? is this a one-off or should I not go back to that store bc they f*cked up my .. whatever.. or I looked at an apt w roommates and liked it, then a day later like in a totally different area at 8am saw him getting off the train – is this a “sign” I should take that apt? is the universe telling me something or is this just two people taking the same train who happened to meet in a totally diff context the day before and means nothing?

    I know some are coincidence others are not and I should learn or take notice of them – it is the battle of distinguishing the two that plagues me. That is why turning to my friend science helps!

    Reply
  3. Bob thinks that was a very well written reply JJ. (Let Bob know if talking in the 3rd person freaks you out and Bob will do what Bob can to converse ‘normally’ – ok?) 🙂
    First, Bob would like to offer his apologies if what Bob writes ‘makes’ you feel like an idiot – such is not Bob’s intention.

    For a long time Bob thought that reading books written by ‘smart’ people helped make Bob smart too. Hey, if they wrote a published book they had to be smarter than Bob was surely? Bob could learn lots from them. Not paying too much attention to study at University (and being a Chem/Computer Sci. major) Bob was slow to learn that people who get published are largely just people like you and Bob too. It took Bob even longer to see that some VERY smart people who wrote books and papers can have very ‘limited’ intelligence (such is one curse of ;specialisation’ – it narrows one’s field of ‘vision’ somewhat).

    Bob now knows that what you read (and write) is not as important, as valuable to your growth as how you think about what you read and write. Today it’s called ‘critical thinking’… not just believing what is written/said and being able to repeat it parrot fashion but figuring out the whys behind it – and checking how well those ‘facts’ stand up in the ‘real’ world – in your world.

    Bob knows that one way for authors to get across complex matters to a wider audience more readily is to abbreviate/sum up points or to talk in simplistic terms (parables,stories eg) about complex matters requiring in-depth understandings. We may read a text in a few days, but for us to be able to say we KNOW what we read requires considerably longer and more effort. It involves discernment and full comprehension (and internal amalgamation) of the issues the author wanted to raise in us. And where ‘necessary’, refutation – if your version of life does not agree – with the aim of one or both parties gaining a better, more accurate understanding (considering that in life all things are relative to at least one frame of reference).

    Bob knows very well how easy it can be to ridicule something Bob has only a moderate to little understanding of, especially for a scientist or science oriented person to mock or make light of religion. Bob did that himself for the first 30 or so years of Bob’s life (you’d have to be dumb to believe the Bible had any value in todays modern world, Bob used to believe). The more you look into things, the more reasons you find why people might have good reasons to believe in them they way they do.

    Bob says positive reinforcement may well be a very effective learning tool – as Pavlov discovered it can also be a very effective ‘conditioning tool’ too, and that goes back to confirmation bias – two reinforcements – both positive and negative – condition us, more than let us learn truth.

    Bob thinks that is an Interesting ‘battle’ you have going on there! Good sign that you are aware enough of your own thinking to consider it as such.

    As for co-incidences, Bob is unsure… on the one hand Bob has said often: there are no such thing as co-incidences, and believes Einstein said basically that. But then…. some pretty weird things have been known to happen ‘simultaneously’, especially to Bob, seemingly, beyond the laws of mere chance. (‘Seemingly’ though leaves doubt)

    As for it being a ‘sign’ or the Universe trying to tell you something, Bob believes that it is far more likely to be the fact that you both live in the same approx location and happened to get on the same train, combined with the fact that both the apartment and person were high on your level of conscious awareness. making the link you might otherwise have let slip into mental oblivion stand out as ‘noticeable’, and therefore potentially meaningful. 🙂

    But don’t just take Bob’s word for it! figure it out for yourself!

    Bob has really enjoyed the conversation so far!

    Bob is wondering if you have your own blog he could visit sometime?

    Reply
    • JJ

       /  16 April, 2013

      I do not have a blog at this time. I have been thinking about starting one for a while now, however, since my mind seems to be like the spinning wheel in a hamster cage I cannot pin down: A specific subject area or focus, a target audience, a POV, – basically an overall central theme. I mean I could write about all the random thoughts that pop into my brain. Like, what is up with umbrella’s? An invention, one of the older one and it has not been improved upon since it’s inception. And c’mon, they don’t work that well, if you don’t end up plain wet you risk impalement by a negligent passerby (I have to say the same about condoms too – again – c’mon, that the best you can do, a latex glove? The MUST be a way to improve on this “invention” that makes us not abhor using them). Then another thought pops in like, what is more valuable, morality or integrity? oooh, the migration of peoples and how environment effected development, why some cultures developed writing, others (most) did not, who Fiji was canabilistic and violent where as a neighboring Island were passive and giving.

      I mean I could technically just write about all these random thngs but I would prefer to have a focus, not just so I stay focued but also… it helps with SEO and generating a following of others who share the same interests.

      -> Please, I am not sure how or why you interpretted anything I said as “mocking”. I continue to revisit this post because it intrigues me. I got me thinking, it also augmented the already pretty intense battle in my head on how evolutionary psych affects us, how and WHEN we should fight it (like not stuffing ourselves with fats, sugars and carbs bc our cavement brains tell us that we dont know when the next time a good “kill” will come in we must ingest as much as possible while we can – obviously this does not apply anymore and can be used as a fairly good premise on the obesity epidemic)

      Oh I am for but minutely annoyed by the third person thing. I actually do this a lot myself but not in my writing or when speaking to others, more so in my head or at work if I am trying to solve a problem and I can’t but I know I know how I will take that step back (which I do agree helps) and say, aloud, JJ what are you doing? You know you can do this, Think, what are you missing? Just looking at things from a different perpective, even if technically it is your own perpective (wow – philosphical overload!), helps

      I know I didn’t address all your comments but I could write forever and that is another problem I have with starting a blog – keeping my posts succinct despite my overflow of thoughts and ideas. But I really wanted to make it clear I did not intend to mock or even disagree with your beliefs, I am trying to understand them and work them into my own conciousnes. I apologize if it came off that way and offended you.

      Ta
      ~JJ

      Reply
  4. Bob thinks JJ and Bob think largely alike, perhaps with negligible differences on but a few points!

    Regarding the ‘mocking’. Bob did not think you were mocking him, so don’t be concerned about that. Bob was referring to your comment that you were ‘joking’ a kind of sarcasm, and was simply saying he knows that it happens (very easily) and that mostly, it seems to him, to happen when someone does not have a very accurate picture or in-depth knowledge of a subject: religion, astrology, yoga, mythology, science, evolution, etc.

    Bob has learned in his 10+ years of internet communications how difficult it can be for two people to correctly hear and interpret each others writing and knows he should not instantly take offence at anything he ‘sees’ when someone writes something, as often it is more what bob sees than what someone actually wrote. Bob thinks it is best to check by asking or stating his thought rather than believing he is always ‘right’

    Bob did not always think this way and Bob knows that he might still get something wrong from time to time! 🙂

    Bob is believing you can deal with the minor irritation of bobtalk – you certainly seem to get the principle behind it and Bob thanks you for that.

    Bob understands the problem with blogging. Bob has had a number of different blogs now but still has yet to find the ‘right’ one… but each one Bob starts serves a function and helps make the next one better…. or so Bob thinks! 😉 it’s always good to learn from one’s mistakes – true?

    If you start one Bob would probably be a fan!

    YW. 🙂

    Reply

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