Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor evidence and information which already supports previously held ideas or beliefs. The human mind will trick itself into protecting currently held beliefs regardless of evidence. In 2003, psychologist John Jost, analyzed over 80 studies, topping more than 20,000 people. The findings of such studies, as well as others, support the presence of confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is comprised of two main behaviors. The first behavior is searching and the second is filtering or appraising.
When searching for information a person with confirmation bias will actively search for information that supports their currently held belief, think liberals hitting up CNN or conservative only watching Fox. This aspect to confirmation bias is all about filling up your time with material that reinforces your world view.
Filtering or Appraisal
Alternatively, the mind may also filter out information which contradicts the currently held belief. When appraising multiple pieces of information a person might favor their current belief over contradictory data. In this case picture a liberal rejecting anything they hear from Glenn Beck or a conservative rejecting something they hear from CNN.
Certain situation often lead to more confirmation bias than others. Those that score high in tests for fear of death are much more likely, as much as 4 times, to be conservative. If this correlation (possible causation) is of substance then one might speculate that fear of unknown variables might lead a persons brain to formulate more extreme ideas on reality. Let us analyze what divides liberal and conservative views.
Multi Dimensional Gray Morality
Let’s look at abortion as an example of a liberal-conservative divide and analyze why this situation gives rise to confirmation bias. Abortion is a very gray moral issue and even if you believe it to be black and white just hear me out (although if you suffer from confirmation bias you are already likely done with my article!). This issue has a gray area where two moral rights overlap, these are the rights of the mother and the rights of the child. Where they overlap is up for discussion and some conservative minded people are very extreme in the belief that there is no overlap. A liberal that is pro choice will seldom support 8 month abortions. Why? Well, the rights of the child now seem superior to the mothers, but ask them the same question at 2 weeks and they will likely say it’s the mother’s choice.
For any conservative that still feels there is no gray area I want you to imagine a scenario where the mother life is in danger and we know with a 100% certainty that unless the pregnancy is terminated she will die. If you don’t terminate the pregnancy the baby will likely die too. Here the choice is obvious to save the mother. So you see, even in your world of black and white there is almost always a touch of gray.
As illustrated above ,because of the complexities of the issue, as you get closer to the “middle” the opinions get much harder to feel secure about. If someone is not equipped with knowledge of logic and critical thinking the mind might snap and seek extreme absolutes.
It is Easier to not have to Think
I will now connect the above example with confirmation bias. I hypothesis that those not equipped to handle critical thinking and possess a high amount of fear about unknowns are more likely to exhibit confirmation bias. I think the complexities of situations which warrant and demand deep concentration scare away many people. These people often times seek answers in the extreme and because they are running from the complexity of the issue this is why they seek only evidence to support their belief.
The fear of the unknown is also a huge factor in confirmation bias. This can stem from a base desire to know the world. To not know the world leaves so many scary possibilities. If we pretend to know things and neatly place everything into nice black and white categories then order has been restored! This, however, retards humanities social and moral growth.
Seek truth rather than confirmation bias
Now back to abortion, the conservative view might be correct, or it might not. I don’t really know although personally I feel sometimes it is justified and sometimes not. We cannot be sure of truth if we have confirmation bias guiding our intellectual pursuits. Be you liberal or be you conservative, if you never step out of your cocoon and test the waters which your pseudo-enemy treads upon you will never enrich your knowledge of the situation. To seek truth is admirable, to seek comfortable lies is abominable.