Confirmation Bias

A while back, Samantha and I started casually looking at houses. We had the discussion that while we love our house, we could see ourselves in a different setting as we dreamed about what type of house we liked, what part of the city appealed to us, etc. This discussion turned into looking for a house that met our discussed criteria.

Around this time, a house across the street became a rental house. We watched from a distance as some people moved in. Because it was a rental, we had some assumptions about how they might act. Renters didn’t care as much about their yard or upkeep in general or want to meet their neighbors. So what did we do? We kept our distance. Just this simple interaction (or lack thereof) gave me a more negative view of our neighborhood. I started telling people “it’s a great neighborhood, but it’s slowly going downhill.” As soon as my attitude turned, I started noticing every siren along 63rd, then looked suspiciously at everyone walking up or down the street.

One time while outside, a neighbor pulled over because they saw I’d put an election yard sign out. We had a great conversation, and they offered me more yard signs. I thought “that’s really cool, what a great person.” But I quickly filed it away as the exception rather than the rule.

It didn’t fit my belief (that the neighborhood was going downhill), so I discarded the information.

Confirmation bias is “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”

When I started thinking about this, I realized how much we do this in life. In my political beliefs. In my beliefs about the Bible. On and on I can go.

Why do we do this? I’m sure you can find a more detailed answer elsewhere, but in short: we can only take in so much information.

Sometimes this can be good thing, but many times it is bad. If we’ve determined Obama is bad, now everything he does is an abuse of power. Forget that “our guy” did something similar, but we didn’t think for two seconds about it. So how can we fix our confirmation bias?

Awareness

Awareness is the first step. Once you’re aware you have these biases, you can sort them out. The only way to be aware is to be thoughtful. You have to acknowledge that your judgement could be off. This acknowledgement is hard for so many, but acknowledgement of weakness is the first step to sorting it out. It’s usually a huge step to get someone to admit a fault and the reality is, it takes more strength to be transparent than it does to be closed off.

Seek out other opinions

By seeking other opinions, you’re challenging your belief. This requires listening and truly trying to “get” why someone has a different belief than yours. By seeking those opinions, we’re forced to listen and understand why someone believes what they believe.

Ask questions

As children, we asked a lot of questions. Somewhere along the way, we stopped. I don’t know the reason why, but I’d guess it has something to do with fear. We fear if we ask, we’ll look stupid. But actually, asking questions makes you look smart.

By asking questions, we’re allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. We’re also challenging our mind. Questions many times lead to more questions, and more understanding.


If you examine your life, I’m sure you see confirmation bias in many areas of your life. Acknowledging our bias will help in work, at home, and in all relationships.

In what ways are you biased?