[kon-fer-mey-shuh n bahy-uh s] noun: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
In our exploration of how to Renew Our Mind, we are looking at Cognitive Biases – these ways that our natural thinking can get in the way of our objectivity, sometimes with significant impact on our thinking and overall state of being. We talked about “Negativity Bias” last time, and we’ll take a look now at “Confirmation Bias”. We’ve all heard it; “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts!”, and we laugh; but how aware are we when we do this? Being right is just so fun! And neuroscience is showing us that it’s even addictive! Let’s get brave and explore.
What Is It?
Confirmation bias is what draws us to listen to, repeat, read and pay attention to anything that confirms what we’ve already concluded about any given topic, issue or person. The result is that we tend to ignore any message, opinion, information or perspective that contradicts what we’ve already concluded. It’s actually the brain’s way of saving time. Why spend time re-examining the same things over and over when we can just remember what we’ve already concluded and moved on?
Why Does It Matter?
It’s addictive. Every time we are able to confirm something we’ve already decided, we get that feeling that says, “I’m right!”, and it’s accompanied by a jolt of dopamine – the brain’s pleasure chemical – we like it, and we like to repeat it. The problem is that dopamine can be addictive and in our pursuit of the pleasure that comes from being right, we can stunt our own growth, lose our creativity, and even damage relationships.
We might be wrong. One problem with Confirmation Bias is that we might be wrong. We may have come to a conclusion that isn’t true, isn’t objective, or may have changed since we struggled through to our conclusion. If we aren’t open to ideas or opinions that are different from our own, we may get locked into an ‘echo chamber’ that feels good, but is actually simply wrong.
We might be right. When we lay aside our confirmation filters and become willing to reconsider our perspectives with an open mind, we may discover that we come to the same conclusion again. But now, with fresh insight and deeper consideration, our decisions and conclusions become even more relevant and meaningful. Abandoning this urgency to be right may lead us away from certainty, and into a deep security.
There’s something more important than being right. In our pursuit of being right, we can miss what we were actually created for. We weren’t created to be ‘right’. We were created for relationship and community and family and grace and love. This addiction to being right can actually result in fear and anxiety – fear that maybe somebody won’t agree, or I won’t be able to defend my perspective, or maybe fear that we’ll be persuaded away from our conclusion and we will have been ‘wrong’, and that’s not as fun as being ‘right’. Fear drives us apart and causes us to isolate ourselves from each other. Christ doesn’t call us to be like each other, and he doesn’t call us to be ‘right’. Instead, he calls us to love one another, and that starts with facing our fears and choosing to become vulnerable with each other, learning from each other and figuring out how to show grace and love even when we have differing perspectives.
What can we do about it?
Confirmation Bias has the potential of causing me to polarize away from anything that’s not like me; so what can I do about it?
- Be Aware. Simply becoming intentionally aware of this natural mental bias can sometimes be enough to make me willing to take a second look, reconsider and ask, “am I just confirming what I already know, or might there be another perspective to consider?”, “Who is it here that’s more important than whether or not I am right?”
- Be Humble. Humanity. These words both come from the same Latin root: humus, meaning ground or earth. To be humble is to recognize our humanity. No one of us is elevated above the other. Everyone has a perspective. I don’t’ have all the answers.
- Be a Listener. Listening is one of the highest forms of honoring. We don’t need to be afraid of listening to each other.
- Be Open without Fear. What would happen if we were intentionally open to opinions and perspectives that are different than my own? If the whole point is not about who is right and who is wrong, but instead about learning how to really see each other, then I don’t need to be afraid.
- Be Willing to change. Life is change. If we don’t change, we can’t grow and if we don’t grow, we will die. This doesn’t mean everything about me must be willing to change, but a general openness to change is a strong indicator of healthy growth.
- Cultivate a Growth Mindset, not a Fixed Mindset (Carol Dweck).
Growth mindset is associated with resilience and emotional health.
Fixed mindset is associated with anxiety and depression.
Growth mindset says: “I want to constantly learn new things. I enjoy a challenge.”
Fixed mindset says: “I want to look smart in every situation and prove myself. I must never fail.”
Growth mindset says: “Will it help me grow? Will it help me overcome challenges?”
Fixed mindset says: “Will I succeed or fail? Will it make me look intelligent or stupid?”
Growth mindset says: “I failed. I’ll learn from it and move on.”
Fixed mindset says: “I’m a failure; I’m an idiot”
Growth mindset says: “I embrace challenges and persist when things get tough.”
Fixed mindset says: “I avoid challenges. I get defensive and give up easily.”
Growth mindset says: “I believe personal growth and learning require effort.”
Fixed mindset says: “Why bother with effort? It’s not going to change anything.”
Growth mindset says: “I try to learn from criticism. “What can I do to improve?”
Fixed mindset says: “I ignore criticism. I do things my way.
Growth mindset says: “I find lessons and inspiration in other people’s successes.”
Fixed mindset says: “I feel threatened by the successes of others. If they succeed, I fail.”
What do you think? Is it time for some renewal?