“That Can’t Be True” – Confirmation Bias

“That Can’t Be True”

In this lesson, we explore the concept of Confirmation Bias, and related terms and concepts. 

This cognitive bias refers to the way that human beings psychologically process information and either believe, or disbelieve, what that information is telling them.   Our existing beliefs, our existing facts (or past facts), or even what we think may be facts, color our judgement as we interact with new information.  

Let’s check the Codex.. 

From the Codex…

The Cognitive Bias Codex puts this particular bias in the grouping:  “We are drawn to details that confirm our own existing beliefs.”

If you click into the codex for confirmation bias, you’ll find a number of reasons why this happens in our brains, ranging from identity and psychological “needs” humans experience, to the primacy of information that we receive and internalize early in a series, rather than later in a series. 

Watch the following video for an overview, and to learn a bit more about what’s happening in our brains when confirmation bias occurs.


So, why does it happen and why do we do it? 

In the video, the speaker references research from 2007 by a number of authors, from a paper titled “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White-Male Effect in Risk Perception.” 

This term: Identity-Protective Cognition, while used in the above-mentioned paper to refer to what the authors call the white-male effect, can be extended to the “upside” of confirmation bias in all humans. 

The bottom line: we don’t interpret information objectively.  We use the logical parts of our brains (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) when we’re biased for something, and the emotional parts of our brains (the orbitofrontal cortex), when we’re biased against something.  And, one main reason why we do it is to protect our own identities, whatever those identities might be comprised of.

Exercise for this lesson:

Think of a time, recently, when you took in new information and made a judgement about a group, another person, or a topic.  Ask yourself the following question: “was I really taking in the information objectively?”  

If you can, write down your decision making process, step by step, along with the conclusion you reached, and see if you were truly using the logical part of your brain, or making a decision based on emotion.

Here’s the diagram from our video to help you think about which part of your brain you may have been using:

Why Does It Matter? 

So, why does this all matter?  We’ll summarize the previous lessons, next, and watch another video that helps us work toward an answer to this question, and possibly some ways we can move forward.