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Alcohol and Mental Health

What Is Confirmation Bias?

September 24, 2023
19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 24, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 24, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 24, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
September 24, 2023
19 min read

Has anyone ever pointed to evidence that indicates a belief you hold is wrong? For instance, perhaps you don’t believe in global warming. Your friend, however, shows you scientific studies that indicate its prevalence. But even with this new information in hand, you still maintain your stance. In fact, in response to your friend, you start googling to find information that confirms your belief.

We humans all tend to look for information that supports our viewpoint and disregard evidence that contradicts it. In this post, we’ll explore what confirmation bias is, why it exists, and what we can do to manage it. Let’s dive in!

Defining Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a psychological term that describes our tendency to notice, focus on, and seek out information that supports our existing views or beliefs, while disregarding any conflicting evidence. Otherwise known as “myside bias,” confirmation bias reinforces our beliefs and ignores information that invalidates our opinion.  

One common example of confirmation bias is in the political landscape. For instance, if we have a preferred candidate for an upcoming election, we’re likely to notice and remember positive things we hear or read about them, while ignoring or dismissing the negative. At the same time, we’re likely to focus on all the negative things about the other candidates we don’t support. Similarly, we are more likely to believe a news story that supports our viewpoint, even if there’s insufficient evidence. 

Researchers believe that everyone experiences some degree of confirmation bias, whether we’re aware of it or not. On the one hand, confirmation bias can be advantageous, as it allows us to minimize cognitive dissonance that occurs when we encounter conflicting information. However, it can also prevent us from seeing and acting on important information, influencing our judgment and decision-making. 

What Are the Different Types of Confirmation Bias?

These are some of the most common types of confirmation bias: 

  • Biased search: This type of confirmation bias involves searching for information and evidence that supports our views or opinions. The internet makes this easy! Even the way we pose a question shows our bias. For example, if we type into Google, “are dogs better than cats?”, we’ll typically be fed articles that argue in favor of dogs. However, if we ask “are cats better than dogs?”, we’ll get results in support of cats.  
  • Biased interpretation: This type of confirmation bias is when we consciously interpret information in a way that confirms our beliefs, regardless of what the data shows. For instance, if we don’t believe in global warming and are presented with data that demonstrates its validity, we’ll likely still maintain our stance. Studies show that we tend to stick to our beliefs, even when presented with new data, because we interpret it in a way that supports our original opinion. 
  • Biased memories: This is when we selectively remember information that supports our views while forgetting or discounting information that doesn’t. Studies show that we may remember events that support our ideas more than the events that undermine it. Some experts believe that our brain may even store information that agrees with our views more frequently than information that disproves them. 

Why Does Confirmation Bias Exist?

So why do we have confirmation bias? In many ways, it’s largely out of our control. Let’s take a closer look at three reasons behind our confirmation bias: 

1. Helps us process information

We can thank our brain for a lot of why we experience confirmation bias. Our brain often needs to make sense of information quickly. Evaluating evidence takes time and energy, so our brain looks for shortcuts to make the process more efficient. These mental shortcuts are called heuristics — and they allow our brain to take the path of least resistance. For example, if we come into contact with conflicting information, our brain allows us to see what we want to see. In this way, we don’t have to spend time and energy trying to make sense of contradicting ideas. Evolutionary psychologists believe that the modern use of mental shortcuts is based on past survival instincts and needs. 

2. Protects our self-esteem

Confirmation bias can also help preserve our ego and self-esteem. Let’s face it: the human ego can be fragile. And whether we admit it or not, no one likes to be proven wrong. When we’re presented with information that contradicts our beliefs, it’s only natural to push back. It can threaten our sense of self to have to face information that challenges deeply held beliefs or convictions. This is why we’ll often look for information that supports rather than refutes our existing beliefs or ideas. 

3. Minimizes cognitive dissonance

Confirmation bias also helps minimize cognitive dissonance — or the discomfort we feel when we hold two related but conflicting thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes in our mind at the same time. For instance, we might experience cognitive dissonance from eating unhealthy food despite knowing its adverse health effects. Avoiding information that is contradictory to our views and seeking evidence to confirm our beliefs can help minimize psychological distress and reduce inconsistencies.

The Effects of Confirmation Bias 

Because confirmation bias tends to happen naturally, it can have far reaching implications in different settings. Let’s take a look at how it occurs in 5 common contexts:  

  • Personal decision-making: Confirmation bias can be problematic because it can greatly influence our decisions. In other words, our choices can’t be fully informed if we’re only focusing on evidence that confirms our assumptions. For instance, if we’re convinced that investing in cryptocurrency is a good investment, we may ignore warning signs that it might not be. We might think we’ve done the research, but in reality, we’ve simply overlooked or ignored a great deal of evidence that refutes our beliefs.
  • Medical field: Confirmation bias can interfere with a doctor’s ability to give an accurate diagnosis. For instance, doctors often have a hunch about a diagnosis and will look for information and signs that confirm it, while ignoring signs that the diagnosis could be wrong. Similarly, patients are more likely to agree with a diagnosis that supports their preferred outcome than a diagnosis that is more troubling. 
  • Political landscape: We generally prefer spending more time looking at information that supports our political stance and less time looking at information that contradicts it. Similarly, if we support a particular candidate, we’re more likely to believe news stories that paint them in a good light while discounting those that are critical. 
  • Scientific research: Confirmation bias can interfere with how scientists conduct research. For instance, researchers often selectively analyze and interpret data in a way that confirms their preferred hypothesis. Particularly if there is funding at stake, it can be tempting to only pay attention to data that proves the researcher is correct in their hypothesis.
  • Workplace: Confirmation bias is prevalent in the workplace as well. For instance, if a hiring manager is biased toward a certain gender or type of person, they may ask them more challenging questions during the hiring process Or if a manager is dissatisfied with an employee, they may be even more critical of their work performance. 

The bottom line is that confirmation bias shapes the way we look at and interpret information on a daily basis, which can influence our decisions and prevent us from looking at situations objectively.

Signs of Confirmation Bias

As we’ve noted, we all experience confirmation bias. But it often occurs subconsciously, so we’re often unaware of it or its influence on our decision-making. As a result, it can be very subtle and difficult to detect. However, here are 5 signs that we or someone we know may be experiencing confirmation bias

  1. Only looking for information that confirms our beliefs or ideas, and ignoring or discrediting contradictory information
  2. Looking for evidence that confirms what we think is true, rather than considering all available evidence
  3. Relying on stereotypes or personal biases to assess information
  4. Selectively remembering information that supports our views, while ignoring information that doesn’t
  5. Having a strong emotional reaction to information that confirms your beliefs, while being apathetic toward information that doesn’t

Keep in mind that the more strongly we feel about an issue, the more likely confirmation bias will come into play.

Managing Confirmation Bias

Since our brain causes confirmation bias, we can’t expect to eliminate it entirely. However, we can work to reduce or mitigate it in our own lives. Here are 6 tips:

  1. Acknowledge its existence: The first step in addressing any problem or issue is to acknowledge it. This holds true for confirmation bias as well. By understanding what it is and how it works, we’re more likely to become aware of it in our own life. 
  2. Identify biases you might have: Make an effort to become aware of and identify any pre-existing biases you might hold. Every time you interact with someone, you could be unconsciously seeking evidence that supports a preconceived notion about them. This can be based on almost anything: race, religion, gender, age, accent, or favorite football team. Throughout your day, strive for a heightened awareness of such preconceptions. But don’t get mad at yourself for having them! Remain curious and view them as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. 
  3. Diversify information sources: It’s tempting to get our information or news from the same sources over and over, or from sources that support our beliefs. However, we should make it a habit to diversify where we get our information and use multiple sources — particularly if we’re trying to make an important decision. Similarly, reading entire articles rather than forming conclusions based on headlines or pictures offers a more complete picture. Avoid making snap judgments. 
  4. Seek out different perspectives: We should try to seek out different perspectives, especially from those who hold opposing views. It’s easy to limit ourselves to only interacting with people who think, act, and behave like us, but engaging with people who have different views is a healthy practice that can help mitigate confirmation bias.
  5. Consider all available evidence: Remember that a big part of confirmation bias is only seeking out evidence or information that confirms our beliefs. As tempting as it can be, we shouldn’t ignore conflicting evidence. Remain curious about sources and analyze if statements being made are backed by reputable, trustworthy evidence. If we’re trying to make a decision about something, avoid forming a conclusion before we’ve had the chance to analyze sufficient information. 
  6. Be willing to change your mind: It’s not easy! But we should always remain open to changing our mind in light of new evidence, even if that means changing our current beliefs. Doing so is actually a sign of great personal maturity, strength, and growth. 

There’s nothing wrong with you for having confirmation bias — we all have it! But becoming more aware of it can help us mitigate its effects.  

The Bottom Line

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to favor information that confirms our beliefs or opinions. It’s a mental shortcut protecting our ego and minimizing the discomfort we might feel from encountering inconsistencies. It has far-reaching implications in both our personal life and the world at large. While it’s impossible to eliminate confirmation bias entirely, we can manage it by becoming aware of it in our own lives, exposing ourselves to new information, and seeking out different perspectives that challenge our views and opinions. 

If you want to become more self-aware and embark on a journey of personal growth, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. What is confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is a psychological term that describes our tendency to notice, focus on, and seek out information that supports our existing views or beliefs, while disregarding any conflicting evidence.

2. What are the different types of confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias includes biased searching of information, biased interpretation of information, and biased memory recall. 

3. Why does confirmation bias exist? 

Experts believe that confirmation bias is our brain’s way of taking a mental shortcut, protecting our ego, and minimizing the discomfort we might feel from encountering inconsistencies.

4. What are the effects of confirmation bias? 

Confirmation bias affects our decision making and has far reaching implications in different settings, such as the medical field, political landscape, scientific research, and the workplace.

5. How can we manage confirmation bias? 

While we can’t eliminate confirmation bias entirely, we can work on managing it by acknowledging we experience it, identifying personal biases we might have, diversifying our information sources, seeking out different perspectives, considering all available evidence, and being willing to change our mind.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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