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Filters, Chambers and Confirmation Bias

A Juicy opinion

Do you think O.J. did it? (For those youngsters who don’t know what I am talking about, click here)

Watching The People Vs. O.J. Simpson brought back vivid memories of those days, not so much of the trial itself but of the behavior of people I knew who were convinced of either his innocence or his guilt before the trial even started.

During the trial they would argue with each other and emphasize the points that supported their view, downplaying anything that refuted it.

By the end of the proceedings, NONE of those people with pre-trial opinions had changed their minds, despite the many new details presented by both sides throughout the trial. And the verdict had no effect on their opinions as well.

They, and all of us, are influenced by one of the most prevalent of all Invisible Mind Blocks – Confirmation Bias.

Filtering out the dissent

Confirmation Bias occurs when we filter - or distort the value of - information we consume so that it confirms what we already believe. We don't seek the truth, we just seek the feeling that we are right.

It’s a human trait that is as old as we are but now - in this age of easy access to massive amounts of information and viewpoints - it is more difficult than ever to avoid.

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it.” – Francis Bacon (1620)

Are you guilty of any of these:

- You read or visit only news sources, sites, blogs, and articles that match your socio-political leanings

- When someone posts a link to an article that refutes something you believe, you ignore it. (Or if you do check it out you are only looking to poke holes in it.)

- After making a tough decision at work or at home, you look for and emphasize any future facts that support that decision, and downplay those that don’t.

The Widening gap

The more we seek only similar viewpoints, the more we discount other views and the wider the gap between people with opposing beliefs becomes. This creates the cavernous divide we are currently experiencing culturally, socially, and politically.

Unfortunately, instead of engaging in discourse and understanding, we put ourselves in silos and echo chambers, closing off our minds. Plus it creates a distorted version of the truth, encourages false certainty, and leads to poor decision making. What a mess!

Quenching the thirsty reptile

This tendency to confirm our beliefs comes from our lizard brain and its thirst for certainty. That tiny Godzilla in your head is not thirsty for knowledge, but for the feeling of being certain quickly and easily. (The feeling of being right releases that delicious brain chemical dopamine.)

So while we may value knowledge and truth, what we naturally desire is the feeling of being right.

The good news is that we can use our big neocortex (the thinking brain) to overcome our little reptilian brain. How?

- by allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable. Facing facts that contradict our beliefs doesn’t feel good, but does lead to a truer worldview.

- by adopting an attitude of openness when listening to opposing viewpoints

- by having a willingness to adjust our views when they are contradicted by facts

We mock politicians who change their minds on issues, calling it flip-flopping. While it is often due to pandering to opinion polls or big donors, it could be because they allowed themselves to be exposed to new information that conflicted with their previous viewpoint.

So be aware of your own confirmation bias and open yourself up to opening yourself up. You'll become a better decision maker and might just learn something new.

Think well and be well.

- Steve.


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