Confirmation Bias - A common and costly thinking error


Confirmation Bias is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one's existing beliefs. It’s like being Velcro for stuff that we agree with, and Teflon for stuff we don’t. Psychologists have been studying and talking about confirmation bias for years, but it’s showing up more and more in everyday conversation. Since Adaptiv’s resilience work focuses on how our thinking drives what we feel and what we do, I thought it might be useful to shine a light on confirmation bias, how it interferes with our resilience, and what we can do to work against it.

Our research on Thinking Styles has uncovered a number of ways that we get it wrong - especially when we don’t have enough information to connect the dots. Confirmation Bias is a specific and very common thinking error. At work, at home, and everywhere in between, we’re facing unprecedented levels of change, uncertainty, and ambiguity. The fact is that the less information we have, and the less confidence we have in it, the more likely we’ll rely on our beliefs to fill in the blanks. And this can reduce our effectiveness, our results, and our resilience.

We teach a course on how to recognize and overcome specific situations where confirmation bias strikes. But in general, here are a few ways that you can start reducing the negative impact of confirmation bias right now:

  • Be Self-aware – Like with other thinking habits, shining a light on them is the first and most effective way to minimize their impact. Raising this bias to a higher level of consciousness is a great place to start.
  • Be Skeptical – Now that you’re aware of your bias, don’t trust your initial beliefs or conclusions about any decision that you're about to make.
  • Be a Sleuth – Actively look for "disconfirming evidence". Just like scientists work to objectively disprove their hypotheses, try to actively seek information that challenges your position. Be a good detective and uncover all the clues - not just the ones that fit your theory. This can be easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort.

Feel free to join the conversation. How do you recognize and respond to your own cognitive biases?

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