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🧠 Don't fall for Confirmation Bias
Clear through filter bubbles | Wisdom Letter #161
Hey friend 👋
Today we will discuss a cognitive limitation called Confirmation Bias.
The bias that causes filter bubbles and echo chambers to form online.
I love this quote -
“When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind.”
Scientists and economists can take pride in changing their opinion as the facts change. But for us ordinary folks, it takes conscious effort to change our minds with facts.
The reason we find it difficult to change our opinions is because of Confirmation bias.
But first, let’s look at the find of the week -
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It's a free daily newsletter that curates stories spanning pop culture, entrepreneurship, entertainment, and tech, and breaks down what it all means for the future. I signed up last week and have read a couple of issues so far.
They are quite fun and interesting. If you’re into the business, entertainment and pop culture, then do check it out.
PS: last week’s link was broken, sorry for that… please subscribe to The Playbook of The Unemployable from this link.
Now, onto today’s topic -
👍 Confirmation Bias
Confirmation Bias is our tendency to interpret new evidence as a confirmation of our existing beliefs.
When presented with new information, we tend to filter out anything that does not resonate with our existing worldview.
Confirmation bias is the reason we feel at ease when our opinion is reinforced and agitated when it is opposed.
💡Why does it exist
Our brain is like a moist computer that is obsessed with conserving its energy. It is wired to help us survive in the African savannah. It’s optimized to function as a tool for hunter-gatherers not modern civilized humans.
Our brain is like old hardware having to process new software.
It has not yet evolved to help us thrive in the digital age.
For our brain, any new information that forces it to make changes to its worldview creates a state of inconsistency (also known as cognitive dissonance).
This state is perceived by our brain to be just like physical pain.
This pain is considered a sign of danger. This danger triggers the binary response - fight or flight.
This leads us into aggressive reactions when faced with any fact that is against our existing beliefs.
So we either fight opposing ideas aggressively.
Or run away from them by not giving them any mental space.
The most energy-efficient way for the brain to avoid cognitive dissonance is to filter out any contradictory ideas.
This served us well when we lived in the jungle. It helped us survive.
Fight or flight was the perfect response back then.
But does not serve us well today.
🛑Why is it harmful?
Confirmation bias keeps us restricted to our view - which is not always correct.
We go around believing in a reality that does not exist.
In this ever-changing world, getting away from this bias can help thinking objectively and help us make better decisions.
🔎How to identify confirmation bias
Look for use of extremes in your opinion.
“This is the best property ever, I wonder why anyone would not buy this place” or “This is the worst property ever, I wonder why anyone would waste their money here”
“I can’t imagine why would anyone vote for him” or “I can’t imagine why would anyone not vote for such an excellent candidate.”
“Climate change is the worst problem we have ever faced” or “Climate change is the biggest hoax of all times”
Such statements are indicative of strongly held opinions. They aren’t problematic by themselves.
Strong opinions become an issue when we don’t consider opposing views and don’t want to change such strong opinions even when the evidence changes.
Once you know that your view is so strong about something, you should seek out alternate opinions and identify ways in which the other view may be right.
If you cannot argue from the other side, you haven't understood their point thoroughly.
This exposes you to an incomplete understanding of the situation, leading to poor decisions.
💎 Where is it useful
For visionaries, who see beyond how the world works now, some level of confirmation bias helps go a long way.
To work on radical ideas, you need people around who do believe in your vision and support you.
You need to consistently believe in a big idea even in face of rejection and failure.
And even in the face of opposing evidence.
If we had fought confirmation bias at every step then we probably could have never gone to the moon.
Or Elon Musk would have never built companies like Tesla and SpaceX.
So in some cases, confirmation bias can actually be helpful.
📖 Key Lessons
Actively seek out diverse topics and people in your social media feeds.
Whenever you see a piece of news you care about, you should make an effort to look for evidence that doesn't conform to your previously held opinions.
Look for new takes on old issues, look for criticisms to your dearly held opinions, do the work required to hold an opinion.
Whenever you take a big life-changing decision, actively seek dis-confirming opinions from people around you.
When you embark on a new project, do a Pre-Mortem— brainstorm all the ways the project can go wrong, write down a news story headline on the day the project will fail in the future. What will the news story say about how and why the project failed. List all of it down and now plan the project to cover all the bases.
For a longer discussion on Confirmation Bias read older issues of The Wisdom Project -
Why We Live in Filter Bubbles, How they harm us, and What to do about them? | Wisdom Letter #49
Why we never change our opinions | Wisdom Letter #128
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Further Reading -
The Work Required to Have an Opinion | Farnam Street
Interesting Twitter thread about Confirmation Bias | Sahil Bloom
Quote to think about -
I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.
Question to ask yourself -
In which area of life are you too afraid to seek an opposing opinion? Is that a limitation to your intellectual growth? What work have to you done to hold the opinions you hold strongly?
Think about it!
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