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My Truth, Your Truth, and Reality: Confirmation Bias

Written by Claudia Vermillion, Care Connections Specialist

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. – James A. Garfield

How important is it to be right? Very important, according to most of us. It seems like the trend to be right super exceeds the idea to listen to any alternative point of view .Unconsciously everybody likes to be right. .People tend to seek out and interpret information in a way that "confirms their preexisting belief.” We will hang our hat on being right as if it were the measure of our intelligence, our steadfastness, our ability to signify control of ourselves and our perception of the world.

The Oxford Dictionary defines bias as prejudice or inclination against or in favor of one person, a group, an idea, or a subject. It defines confirmation bias as the tendency to process and analyze information in such a way that it supports one's preexisting ideas and convictions.

During a recent Dr. Phil Show, he described the phenomenon as 'doubling-down' on the belief when confronted with facts or evidence that might negate those beliefs. Once confronted with the acts contrary to our original belief, the newly presented evidence has the opposite effect and only reinforces the original belief.

Many confirmation biases are based on negative stereotypes. Here is one example:

-A man believes that all women are bad drivers. This is an unfounded negative stereotype. This same man gets into an accident one day and it was with a woman driver. After the accident, he tells a friend "see, I got hit by a woman driver. This proves they are all bad drivers!" Statistically speaking, it was roughly a 50/50 chance that he would be hit bay a man or woman, so the fact that he was hit by a woman doesn't prove anything. It may also have been due to the fact that he is a lousy driver himself.

Many confirmation biases are based on our own political beliefs. Here is an example:

-A person dislikes a certain newspaper because she believes they are biased. One day the newspaper issues a correction about a story they printed about a political figure she admires. She then says to a friend "see, you can't trust them. They even admitted they were wrong and this proves it." The correction made by the newspaper doesn't happen to change the underlying facts of the story, but because a mistake was made, she uses this to confirm hew own bias against the newspaper.

The information age and social media only fuel our lines in the sand when it comes to picking sides on any given issue. Search queues are both a new frontier and the wild, wild west when it comes to searching information. Information is available in infinite amounts, yet there are few, if any, filters to block biased and unproven information. With a few clicks, the internet and social media help us to quickly confirm what is already committed to conscience.

Logically, it is impossible to be right all of the time. It is important to seek the truth by looking into the other side of the argument. I'd say most of us would agree with this. Yet, putting the idea into practice is easier said than done. Just picture the political discussion around the dinner table during the holidays. Unless the tone is set early that the topic is off limits, it's as unavoidable as it is inevitable that it will degenerate and turn ugly in a real hurry. Why? Because although those involved know it's impossible to theoretically always be right, they're sure they're right on this one. And when presented with an alternate point of view, it's easier to "dig-in" and cling to what you already know, rather than open yourself to new thoughts. Particularly if you perceive that alternate points of view might be presented to you in a less than amicable way - may times it is not. At that point it's more about saving face than it is rather than being perceived as weak or ambivalent.

Confirmation bias extends beyond the dinner table, water cooler, and Twitter, and it's no surprise why many have adapted to it. Tune into any nightly cable news network to see confirmation bias in action. What was once a platform for debate and the exchanging of ideas and opinions has now eroded into a free-for-all of panelists who are unyielding and unwilling to concede a point. And crass and belligerent to boot. Instead of taking a moment to digest another's point-of-view, the goal is to hastily think of what to say next to reaffirm their position. The result is sometimes comical, resembling a barnyard full of clucking chickens rather than learned individuals interested in improving society. But networks have discovered that the resulting tension is good for ratings. it's less important whether anything real is learned or accomplished and so this type of entertainment is now common in our homes. While it is true that some of the clucking chickens might not be as dug-in as they might have you believe and might be just clucking for their paychecks because it fits with the narrative of who they represent, their actions are nonetheless very impressionable to those who have the inability to be objective, thus feeding into confirmation bias. And similarly to how we pose our questions in the search queue on the internet to confirm what we seek, we can now tune to the network which tells the facts the way we like to hear it. Not your truth. Not reality but my truth.


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