Confirmation bias is the tendency people have so search for and interpret information in such a way that it endorses their thoughts and belief system. Simply put, people allow their biases to inform the way they interpret data and view it as supporting their preexisting beliefs. In reality, the data should inform the thoughts and beliefs. This term is often used in the field of research. Confirmation bias happens in multiple ways. People search for evidence that already supports their predictions. When conducting an experiment, it can be helpful to have others engage in the testing process without knowing the researcher’s hypothesis. It will help them remain unbiased as they collect data. Interpretation of the data can be done incorrectly due to bias. A person with certain thoughts or beliefs might see or interpret something that is a stretch, almost trying to a make a correlation between things without adequate support. Even the practice of recalling certain events or data can involve bias. People often remember things that support their original thought or belief. Their selective memory is not entirely accurate to what is true but fits with their own personal paradigm. While confirmation bias is used plenty in the research world, it also occurs in everyday life.
People can see confirmation bias from the workforce to intimate relationships. Think about investigative work detectives utilize for their job. Imagine a detective is working on a robbery case and they already have a suspect they think committed the crime, but they do not have sufficient evidence to prove it. Confirmation bias can occur if the detective started to search for evidence to prove their theory rather than simply searching for evidence. Every time they found a piece of evidence, they might look for it to support their own narrative of the crime. In reality, detectives have their theories, but they work to read the evidence for what it illustrates rather than bend it to their own bias. Another example can come from the way people view relationships. Imagine your best friend starts dating a new guy who you think is just terrible. You do not want her to date him because you just get a really uncomfortable feeling about him and think he is bad news. Already you have developed a bias against her new boyfriend. One day, you see him in the grocery store talking to another woman. Immediately, you begin to wonder and maybe even feel convicted that he is cheating on your friend. A completely objective person might view the scenario as he is just talking to an acquaintance or being kind to a stranger. Your confirmation bias would include taking information without any context and fitting it within your belief system. It is not just the science field where confirmation bias exists. It is everyday life.
In reality, everyone has their own biases. They come from aspects of life like a person’s individual experiences, culture, religious affiliation, and place where they were raised. Those are just a few things that shape a person’s perception of people, the world, and their personal beliefs. With those beliefs come biases. It is crucial to have the self-awareness and insight to understand your own biases that come from your belief system. It is when those biases are known that you can manage them and work through them, preventing confirmation bias.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.