Did you know your brain is a yes-man, telling you only what you want to hear?
This is caused by Confirmation Bias, which is a Cognitive Bias that refers to the tendency of the human brain to filter out information that contradicts its existing beliefs.
It causes us to seek out information that shows we are right and avoid anything that disagrees.
In short, we see the world as we want to see it, not as it is, and we miss opportunities for growth as a result. Read on to see some confirmation bias examples as well as tips for avoiding it.
What To Look For: Confirmation Bias Examples
This bias is typically associated with beliefs about big issues such as politics or religion but it actually filters all information regardless of overall importance.
Common confirmation bias examples include:
- the tendency to purchase books about politics or religion that provide viewpoints that coincide with what we already believe
- researchers setting up studies in such a way that the outcome supports what they already suspect to be true
- noticing a particular type of car more simply because you have considered purchasing one
Overcoming by Disconfirming
This is a particularly tough bias to overcome because it filters your thoughts and emotions automatically, outside your awareness.
The best way to counter it is to actively pursue disconfirming evidence in order to test the validity of your beliefs. Quite simply, identify your core beliefs and actively look for opposing views in an attempt to see if your existing beliefs hold strong.
This is not something humans have been designed to do and it is incredibly difficult. However, if it is done properly then you are on the path to better thinking.
Charlie Munger calls this process ‘killing your own ideas’. He provides Charles Darwin as an example of a person who made a habit of persistently searching for disconfirming evidence while performing his research.
Becoming an Idea Killer
Now comes the tough part … what beliefs or ideas do you have that you should try to ‘kill’?
Come up with a list of some of your basic core beliefs, things you take for granted as being true:
- What are your political leanings?
- Where do you stand on religion?
- What are your thoughts on the value of higher education?
Pick something from your list, something you think you’re ready to test. You can start small but remember to be honest with yourself.
Now do some research and figure out what the opposing viewpoints are for your belief. Try to see things from this perspective while staying objective.
If you’re up to it, try signing up for some newsletters or following some blogs on this topic that are associated with the viewpoints that oppose yours.
Once you think you have a grasp of all sides of the issue, sit down and decide if anything you have learned has swayed you.
- Do all sides have at least some valid points?
- Is it possible the truth lies somewhere in between?
It’s entirely possible you were right all along and nothing will have changed, but in some cases it’s likely you will have become better informed about an issue and will have changed your belief, if only slightly.
Rinse and Repeat
Now it’s time to do it again! Pick another belief or idea, rinse, and repeat.
It’s going to be hard but try to stay open-minded. Remember that Charles Darwin did this regularly and think of what he accomplished!
Eric Olive says
Andrew: Fantastic post. “Your brain is a yes-man” is a brilliant phrase. Wish I’d thought of it. Because I want others to read this fantastic phrase and your great post, I’ve included a link to this post about confirmation bias in my own recent post about decisions and cognitive bias: http://decisiongenius.net/two-steps-to-better-design-decisions/
Thanks! I like the techniques you list in your post. I can see how both would help avoid confirmation bias when making decisions.
Charlie says it’s important to look for disconfirming evidence, and both of your techniques do that. Great stuff! 🙂