Bias number 25 is known as the confirmation bias. This is perhaps the most well-known cognitive bias, brought up in business circles as a justification for challenging cultural norms and the beliefs upon which they are based.
This bias demonstrates that human beings are inclined to search for, interpret, favour and recall information that confirms an already-existing belief, dismissing information that challenges their beliefs in the process. Reasons for the presence of confirmation bias may include wishful thinking, limited capacity for thinking and the avoidance of being wrong.
What’s wrong with that, I hear you ask? Confirmation bias creates over-confidence in beliefs that causes people to dig their heels in even when presented with evidence to the contrary.
When people, including researchers, scientists and public servants like detectives, search for information, they often fail to look for reasons to challenge their assumptions. Instead, they look for reasons to support their assumptions, which may be flawed in the first place.
Consider, then, that an awful lot of important decisions are based on information that is fundamentally flawed and certainly incomplete. A bit concerning, isn’t it?
I hate to hark back to the old social media analogy again. However, it needs to be said. The algorithms that are supposedly trying to serve you by only feeding you the information you are likely to agree with are doing you a disservice by filtering out information that, while not in agreement with your beliefs, have the potential to awaken you to an expanded and more rounded view of reality.
This is why it is so easy to get stuck in an echo chamber in which you believe everyone else shares your view. The truth is, most people probably don't share your view. It’s more a case that the algorithmic calculations shove you in a room with people and stories that tend to think like you. You confirm each other's beliefs in a reflective fashion, all the while increasing the size of the echo chamber that represents a tiny prism of the much bigger view called reality.
Of course, this does make life less complicated, but it doesn’t do much for your critical thinking and discernment. In fact, it erodes these two key functions of thought, both of which require you to dig for facts and challenge assumptions rather than rely on beliefs.
The other challenge with confirmation bias is the difference in interpretation. Two people can be given the same information and draw different conclusions based on their fundamental belief sets. In experiment after experiment, researchers discovered that confirmation bias is persistent, regardless of the IQ or EQ of the research participant.
What does this tell you? It tells me that belief is one of the most powerful cognitive functions a human being has. As a result, people would rather find justifications to hold onto their beliefs than challenge the beliefs themselves.
Let’s look at the definition of the word belief. dictionary.com defines belief as:
When I read this definition, I become acutely aware of the fact that words like “reality” and “fact” are omitted. “Truth” is alluded to in the context of confidence in truth, albeit without proof that the truth exists.
Some people assert that research is truth. I assert that research offers a particular perspective, influenced by the researcher’s own biases, on the entire spectrum of truth. It’s more an interpretation of truth rather than truth itself.
And what is truth anyway? dictionary.com defines it as:
It could be argued that truth, like life, is in constant motion. What we know is true today may turn out to be just another belief we’ve accepted as truth tomorrow. Is there any value in putting much emphasis on it?
Personally, I have been a truth seeker most of my life, committed to growth and living from reality, not fantasy, where possible. I am in a near-constant state of challenging my beliefs, and in having an insatiable appetite for truth, I have discovered things about myself and the world we live in that beggars belief in the average person.
Reality is not always pretty. As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
Perhaps that speaks to the real reason why we avoid truth. It can shatter our entire view of life into an infinite number of pieces. The myth in all of this is that people can’t handle the truth, and so the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is too often kept from people.
Expressing my own bias on this, I see this attitude as a diminution of the true capabilities of the human mind and spirit. I know from personal experience that, expressed in a straightforward manner, human beings are entirely capable of handling the truth.
In fact, they are thirsty for it. They just don’t know it yet. All it takes is one, long, satisfying drink of truth to have people coming back for more.
As you close out 2020 and prepare to enter into a new year, I invite you to investigate one belief that you know to be true. Do some research to find out why other people believe something different. Dare to venture off-piste with your research. Delve into those unorthodox resources. As you do, keep an open mind to what .you discover.
I suspect you may start to appreciate the "truth" that beliefs, not promises, are made to be broken. Maybe you'll develop an insatiable appetite for truth yourself. 2021 could prove to be one eye-opening year for you. Welcome it with open arms.
In the meantime, have a brilliant, restful holiday season, everyone. 🎄⭐️