Confirmation Bias

stock-photo-bias-colorful-word-on-the-wo-1433457The concept of confirmation bias – that we look for information that confirms what we already believe/think and ignore contrary evidence – is new to me – or at least the name is.

This youtube video starts with a quote by Paul Simon – my all-time favourite musician, so I was immediately drawn in 🙂

The quote “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest” is a actually a misquoted lyric (the original uses hears/hear) from one of the most iconic folk songs of the ‘70s – The Boxer.

This concept/theory seems somewhat self-evident to me – it seems to align with the nature of humans to look for things that are familiar, that fit with what we already believe, rather than do the opposite. I, like many people, grew up in a home with parents who influenced me very strongly. They told me their beliefs and hypotheses – whether directly or indirectly – and I unconsciously adopted them because I had no other input.

I see this in many areas. Politics – my entire family votes NDP and so do I. Sports – my parents weren’t much into sports but my uncle is from Saskatchewan so his son had no choice but to cheer for the roughriders, and when his son was born, he was sporting a roughrider onesie in his first week being alive on the planet. Religion. Views on race, gender, age. We have strong beliefs in many different areas of life.

I think we grow up and are indoctrinated by those who have the strongest influence on us. And because we want to be liked, accepted, approved by those we love the most, it makes sense that we are going to adopt the same beliefs of those closest to us. If we deviate from the beliefs of our families and communities, we are ostracized, even shunned. It’s self-preservation to take on the beliefs of those around us, and to not question them.

However, it’s extremely frustrating to have conversations with people who refuse to acknowledge that there are other ways of thinking. I know I find that lack of openness very off-putting and I can’t have people like that in my life – although in some cases, it’s best to just agree to disagree, if it’s only one thing that c. I think the challenge is to shine a light on that close-minded thinking without deeply offending the person.

The main concern about this bias seems to be that it creates errors or aberrations in statistics, but in education, I think it’s an issue in class discussions or group work, if any one person is entrenched in a specific way of thinking and is not open to hearing opposing or conflicting views.

Like so many things, I think the first step to dealing with confirmation bias is being able to bring awareness to this way of thinking – point it out to students. As an instructor, I can play devil’s advocate to at least introduce the other side of an argument into a conversation. This is essentially a lesson on critical thinking – being able to examine all evidence presented and make a fully informed decision. It’s important that students understand that opinions can change in light of new evidence. This is the way human thought evolves – as things are discovered we understand things in different ways. If this didn’t happen, we would all still think the earth was flat.
YouTube,. ‘Confirmation Bias’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
YouTube,. ‘Confirmation Bias’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
Wikipedia,. ‘Confirmation Bias’. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.


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