Confirmation Bias

This article was originally posted at The Behaviour Guy

If you’ve ever had any formal science training you’ll have come across the concept of Confirmation Bias. 

This is not a post about confirmation bias, as such. If you understand the nature of human psychology – that we are, in Scott Adam’s words “Moist Robots” – then you must understand that we are not rational creatures but rationalising creatures. 

As Professor Jonathan Haidt discusses in his book The Righteous Mind we feel first and rationalise later.

We feel first and rationalise later

Depending on our upbringing and environment we respond automatically – called Stimulus Control – to triggers or cues on the environment – called Discriminative Stimuli or Sd.

Let’s break that down. We like to think we are rational beings responding logically and correctly to external events. Input – Process – Output. This computer metaphor is at the heart of modern cognitive psychology and has it’s roots broadly speaking in the Enlightenment Movement of Western Philosophy.

Modern behavioural science tells us a different story. The process is actually reversed. We behave in a certain way, then feel a certain thing, and finally create a nice narrative to explain it. 

This is where confirmation bias comes into play. It would be virtually impossible to actually see the world objectively and completely. We would literally never get anything done. The alternative is to filter out the world and see only what we need to see. This is called fitness or function.

Two Examples

Let’s explore two examples; the Trump phenomenon and the Red Pill movement both of which are heavily polarising topics. Chances are you have an opinion on at least one of these movements.

 Let’s look at Trump first, look at these two articles;

Story One

Study Two

Both present a particular view of Donald Trump. Both are selectively reporting facts. Depending on how you feel about Donald Trump you’re reaction will be positive, negative, indignant, or indifferent.

Ok let’s look at two more, these are all about “Red Pilling”.

Story One

Story Two

Again, facts are selectively given. Opinions are stated. And once again you will have an immediate, visceral reaction to one or both of these stories for a number of reasons.

This is Confirmation Bias

If you hate Donald Trump you’ll love the stories. They attack him. If you love Donald Trump you’ll already be thinking of all the reasons those articles are wrong.

If you are part of the Red Pill community you’ll love the Return of King’s article and be gnashing your teeth at the Beta Male article. Vice versa if you hate the Red Pill crowd.

Either way you won’t be convinced or swayed. Your predetermined bias will inform your feelings – you will then rationalise those feelings by telling yourself a story, and that story will change depending on what the nature of your bias is, but it won’t change by being exposed to a differing point of view.

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