What is confirmation bias? Confirmation bias is our tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas. Confirmation bias explains why two people with opposing views on a topic can see the same evidence and come away feeling validated by it. This cognitive bias is most pronounced in the case of ingrained, ideological, or emotionally charged views.
For example: You might believe that William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon is the “real” author, and that I am exhibiting “confirmation bias” by offering a different opinion – that Edward de Vere is the true author. Who is right and who is wrong? Where does confirmation bias come into effect?
Failing to interpret information in an unbiased way can lead to serious misjudgments. By understanding this, we can learn to identify it in ourselves and others. We can be cautious of data that seems to immediately support our views.
When we feel as if others “cannot see sense,” a grasp of how confirmation bias works can enable us to understand why. Willard V. Quine and J.S. Ullian described this bias in The Web of Belief as such:
The desire to be right and the desire to have been right are two desires, and the sooner we separate them the better off we are. Which am I? I follow the “desire to be right” path. I just want to know the unvarnished truth.
The desire to be right is the thirst for truth. On all counts, both practical and theoretical, there is nothing but good to be said for it. It is how science progresses.
The desire to have been right, on the other hand, is not the right road to follow. It is the pride that goeth before the fall. It stands in the way of our seeing we were wrong, and thus blocks the progress of our knowledge. So, those who believe that Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon often fall into the very trap they accuse others of.
Experimentation beginning in the 1960s revealed our tendency to confirm existing beliefs, rather than questioning them or seeking new ones. Other research has revealed our single-minded need to enforce ideas.
“What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
— Warren Buffett