Confirmation bias: when we only see what we want to see

Some people identify the heart with emotion and the brain with rationality. It is a mistake. As numerous studies indicate, irrationality is perfectly integrated into the functioning of our nervous system, which includes the human brain.

One of the aspects of our behavior in which this irrational component is most noticeable are cognitive biases, that is, distortions in the way of thinking that tend to be unconscious and involuntary. One of the most common is confirmation bias, which is very common in our daily and professional lives. Let’s see what it is.

    What is the confirmation bias?

    In short, confirmation bias is a propensity to give more importance and credibility to data that corresponds to our convictions only to those who contradict them, even if at the beginning both pieces of information are equally well founded.

    This bias is not only negative because it helps our ideas not change. Moreover, under its effect, we run the risk of believing that totally questionable and obstinate ideas are almost revealed truths, purely objective knowledge that there would be little sense in questioning. In other words, confirmation bias is philosophy’s worst enemy, because it constantly reinforces the ideas that we have automatically decided to believe at all costs.

    The role of cognitive dissonance

    Cognitive dissonance is a well-known concept in the field of psychology and is the feeling of discomfort we experience when an idea conflicts with one of our beliefs.

    Sometimes we learn to deal with this discomfort constructively by changing our explanations of reality, and other times we haven’t understood it and are just manipulating those ideas in any way. so that the importance of what we had believed before prevailed. Confirmation bias is one of those elements that causes us to rule out provocative ideas just for the sake of being so.

    To better understand what confirmation bias is and how cognitive dissonance can be mismanaged, let’s take a look at some examples based on a fictional case.

      Examples of confirmation bias

      Imagine that after visiting some websites belonging to far-right parties, a person begins to think about the idea that the black population in various African countries is less intelligent than Europeans and Asians.

      According to this point of view, the poverty and the low technological development of these regions were due to a lower cognitive capacity of the average population of this region. It is an attractive idea, because it offers us a simple explanation about a phenomenon that we once believed to be more complex, and thanks to this, and even if he does not realize it, this person begins to attribute the poverty and the misfortunes suffered in these regions to the low intelligence of these people.

      However, since his ideas do not match the thinking of many neighbors, this person’s beliefs are quickly confronted. Some say that assuming the intellectual inferiority of the black population is very gratuitous, especially since very little is known about what makes some people more or less intelligent. Faced with this, the person realizes that whoever answers him in this way is known to be a leftist activist, and therefore assumes that his view of reality has been distorted by propaganda progressive. It makes you ignore what he is telling you.

      Another person points out that although there is hardly any slavery in Western countries, the poverty of past generations of blacks still affects the education of new generations, so that the development of many boys and girls is complicated by poor quality education. , poor nutrition and other factors that have been shown to contribute to a decrease in IC. But this explanation, in the eyes of the other, is too convoluted, and therefore rejects it: the simplest explanation it must be that this tendency towards low intelligence is in the very biology of people.

      Finally, a neighbor objects that even among blacks in the middle class, the stigma that weighs on blacks in general because of racism has the power to make their life expectancy much more modest, for which it does not give so much. importance to the education of a youngest age and, therefore, arrive with more insecurity and less experience in intelligence tests, sets of exercises that are very reminiscent of everything that is done in the context academic. But this explanation is still not as simple and “hermetic” as the idea that blacks are less intelligent, so it is also taken as a distortion of reality so that it fits into the ideology itself.

      In the future, that person will look at all portrayals of black people that appear on television and other media, and any time they see a murder case by an African American citizen, for example, that of attributing to the inability of the latter to earn a living as a civilized form. On the other hand, when he sees a black person who has succeeded in life and has an excellent training and education, that to be attributed to the influence that “white culture” has had on him.

      Ignore what contradicts us, accept what reaffirms us

      As we have seen in the example, confirmation bias this can have dramatic consequences for the way we interpret reality. For example, it ensures that the simplicity of a belief is considered a positive quality of it, regardless of the dangers posed by the simplifications: it can lead us to circular thinking, because such a simple belief explains everything and at the same time does not explain. nothing.

      On the other hand, another characteristic of confirmation bias is that it causes all experiences that can be used to reinforce a belief to immediately capture our attention, while those that contradict us are ignored or, at most, they lead. on tiptoe, looking for explanations to show that our ideas should not be threatened.

      In the example, assumptions based on social influence and education are discarded systematically in favor of an explanation based on biology, but the opposite occurs when we see a black person and much more educated than the average citizen: in this case, the explanation is in the social.

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