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

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

November 16, 2023

Some people identify the heart with emotion and the brain with the rational. It's a mistake. As many 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 the cognitive biases, that is, deformations in the way of reasoning that tend to be unconscious and involuntary. One of the most frequent is the confirmation bias, which is very frequent both in our daily and professional lives. Let's see what it consists of.

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What is the confirmation bias?

Said in a summarized way, the confirmation bias is a propensity to Give more importance and credibility to the data that fit our beliefs that to those who contradict them, even though at the beginning both information is just as well founded.

This bias is not only negative because it contributes to our ideas do not change. In addition, under its effect we run the risk of believing that totally debatable and opinionable ideas are almost revealed truths, purely objective knowledge that would be unwise to put under suspicion. That is to say, that confirmation bias is the worst enemy of philosophy, given that 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 consists of the feeling of discomfort that we experience when an idea comes into conflict with one of our beliefs.

Sometimes we learn to manage this discomfort in a constructive way by modifying our explanations about reality, and sometimes we do not get it and we simply manipulate those ideas in any way so that the importance of what we have been believing from before . The confirmation bias is one of those elements that leads us to dismiss provocative ideas simply because they are.

To better understand what a confirmation bias is and the way in which cognitive dissonance can be mismanaged, let's look at some examples based on a fictitious case.

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Examples of confirmation bias

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

According to this point of view, the poverty and the little technological development lived in these regions would be due to a lower cognitive ability in the average of the inhabitants of this region. This is a seductive idea, because it offers a simple explanation about a phenomenon that we previously thought was more complex, and thanks to this, and even if he does not realize it, that person begins to attribute the poverty and misfortunes suffered in these areas to the low intelligence of these people.

However, because his ideas fit poorly with the mindset of many of his neighbors, this person's beliefs are soon confronted. Some say that taking for granted the intellectual inferiority of the black population is very free, especially considering that very little is still known about what makes some people more or less intelligent. Given this, the person realizes that the person who replies in this way is known to be an activist of the left, and therefore assumes that his vision of reality has been distorted by propaganda progressive. This means that he does not take into account what he says.

Another person points out that, even though there is practically no slavery in Western countries, the poverty of past generations of blacks still affects the education of the new generations, and that is why the development of many children is complicated by the schooling of poor quality, poor diet and other factors that have been shown to contribute to the decline of IQ. But this explanation, in the eyes of the other, is too convoluted, and for that reason he rejects it: the simplest explanation It has to be that this tendency to low intelligence is in the biology of people.

Finally, a neighbor objected that even in middle-class black people, the stigma that weighs on black people in general because of racism has the power to make their life expectancy much more modest, so they do not give as much importance to education from small and, therefore, arrive with more insecurity and less experience to intelligence tests, batteries of exercises that remind a lot to everything that is done in the academic context. But this explanation is still not as simple and "hermetic" as the idea that black people are less intelligent, so it is also taken as a deformation of reality to make it fit in one's own ideology.

In the future, this person will look at all the representations of black people that appear on television and other media, and every time he sees a murder case by an African-American citizen, for example, he will attribute it to disability of this to earn a civilized life. On the other hand, when he sees a black person who has been successful in life and has excellent education and training, he will attribute it to the influence that "the white culture" has had on him.

Ignoring what contradicts us, accepting what reaffirms us

As we have seen in the example, the confirmation bias can have dramatic consequences in the way we interpret reality . For example, it makes the simplicity of a belief seen as a positive quality of it, regardless of the dangers of simplification: it can lead us to circular thinking, because such a simple belief explains everything and at the same time does not explain anything.

On the other hand, another characteristic of confirmation bias is that it makes all the experiences that can be used to reinforce a belief immediately capture our attention, while those that contradict us are ignored or, at most, lead us to tiptoe about them, looking for any explanation that allows us to see that our ideas do not have to be threatened.

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

The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias | Beau Lotto (November 2023).

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