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Confirmation Bias: Why We See What We Want to See
Confirmation Bias: Why We See What We Want to See

Confirmation Bias: Why We See What We Want to See

Have you ever noticed that you tend to pay more attention to information that supports your existing beliefs, while ignoring or dismissing information that contradicts them? If so, you are not alone. This is a common phenomenon known as confirmation bias, and it affects how we perceive, interpret, and remember information.

Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that favors information that confirms or strengthens our beliefs or values. It is difficult to dislodge once affirmed, and it results in us ignoring information that is inconsistent with our beliefs. These beliefs can include our expectations in a given situation and our predictions about a particular outcome. We are especially likely to process information to support our own beliefs when an issue is highly important or self-relevant.

How Does Confirmation Bias Work?

Confirmation bias works in three ways: biased search, biased interpretation, and biased memory.

  • Biased search: We tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs, while avoiding or ignoring information that challenges them. For example, if we believe that vaccines are harmful, we may only look for sources that support this view, while disregarding scientific evidence that shows the benefits and safety of vaccines.
  • Biased interpretation: We tend to interpret ambiguous or neutral information in a way that supports our beliefs, while rejecting or distorting information that opposes them. For example, if we believe that our horoscope is accurate, we may focus on the parts that match our experience, while ignoring or rationalizing the parts that do not.
  • Biased memory: We tend to remember information that confirms our beliefs, while forgetting or misremembering information that contradicts them. For example, if we believe that we are good drivers, we may recall the times when we avoided accidents, while forgetting or minimizing the times when we made mistakes.

Why Do We Have Confirmation Bias?

One explanation for why we have confirmation bias is that it is an efficient way to process information. Humans are constantly bombarded with information and cannot possibly take the time to carefully process each piece of information to form an unbiased conclusion. Human decision making and information processing is often biased because people are limited to interpreting information from their own viewpoint. People need to process information quickly to protect themselves from harm. It is adaptive for humans to rely on instinctive, automatic behaviors that keep them out of harm’s way.

Another reason why we have confirmation bias is to protect our self-esteem. Our beliefs are often tied to our identity and self-worth. We may feel threatened or uncomfortable when we encounter information that challenges our beliefs. To avoid cognitive dissonance (the unpleasant feeling of holding contradictory beliefs), we may selectively expose ourselves to information that confirms our beliefs and makes us feel good about ourselves.

What Are the Consequences of Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias can have serious consequences in various domains of life, such as politics, science, medicine, law, education, and social media.

  • In politics, confirmation bias can lead to polarization and extremism, as people only listen to sources that agree with their views, while dismissing or demonizing sources that disagree with them. This can create echo chambers and filter bubbles, where people are isolated from diverse perspectives and opinions.
  • In science, confirmation bias can lead to flawed research and false conclusions, as scientists may only test hypotheses that support their theories, while ignoring or explaining away evidence that refutes them. This can hinder scientific progress and innovation.
  • In medicine, confirmation bias can lead to misdiagnosis and ineffective treatment, as doctors may prematurely focus on a particular disorder or solution, while overlooking or dismissing alternative possibilities. This can harm patients’ health and well-being.
  • In law, confirmation bias can lead to wrongful convictions and injustice, as lawyers and judges may only look for evidence that confirms their suspicions or verdicts, while disregarding or suppressing evidence that exonerates the accused. This can violate human rights and due process.
  • In education, confirmation bias can lead to poor learning and critical thinking skills, as students may only accept information that matches their prior knowledge or expectations, while rejecting or misunderstanding information that challenges them. This can limit their intellectual growth and development.
  • In social media, confirmation bias can lead to misinformation and manipulation, as users may only consume and share content that reinforces their beliefs, while ignoring or rejecting content that contradicts them. This can influence their attitudes and behaviors in undesirable ways.

How Can We Overcome Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias cannot be eliminated completely, but it can be managed by adopting some strategies:

  • Be aware of your own biases and assumptions. Recognize that you are not immune to confirmation bias and that you may have a tendency to favor information that confirms your beliefs.
  • Seek out diverse and credible sources of information. Expose yourself to different viewpoints and opinions from reliable and reputable sources. Avoid sources that are biased or unreliable.
  • Consider alternative explanations and perspectives. Challenge your own beliefs and hypotheses by looking for evidence that disconfirms them. Ask yourself what would make you change your mind or what would you expect to see if you were wrong.
  • Evaluate information objectively and critically. Do not accept information at face value, but examine its source, validity, and accuracy. Look for logical fallacies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the information.
  • Revise your beliefs based on new evidence. Be open-minded and willing to update your beliefs based on new and reliable evidence. Do not cling to your beliefs despite overwhelming evidence against them.


Confirmation bias is a common and natural phenomenon that affects how we perceive, interpret, and remember information. It can have positive effects, such as saving time and energy, and boosting self-esteem. However, it can also have negative effects, such as impairing judgment and decision making, and leading to errors and mistakes. By being aware of confirmation bias and applying some strategies to overcome it, we can improve our thinking and reasoning skills, and make better choices in life.

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