“When men wish to construct or support a theory, how they torture facts into their service!” (Mackay, 1852/1932, p. 552)
We can prove whatever we seek to prove. We not only seek out evidences that confirm what we think is right but also are prone to interpreting evidences in a manner that suits our discourse. We love to win arguments or prove a point, and some of us subconsciously (if not consciously) would forage for points that benefit our position rather than searching for facts that would disprove or weaken our argument.
How dangerous is that?
While such a tendency can weaken the overall quality of our social discourse and fragment our society into camps fighting for their parochial views, confirmation bias can also affect our day-to-day lives as we make decisions on an individual level.
Suppose you want to buy a product X. (The word “want” is important here.) You would find out “n” reasons why you should actually buy that while ignoring more important considerations as to why you should not. It can be as important as your credit standing or something as obvious as a better option which would suit your lifestyle needs better.
Even in business, confirmation bias (CB) can have enormous consequences. You want to acquire a million dollar company. CB would nudge you towards facts which support your decision while clouding out facts that do not. Because of this you might make a bad investment that can jeopardize your entire concern’s operations.
But what makes it truly dangerous? It is very hard to detect or well, confirm.
Picture Credit: www.crustaceansingles.com
How to get rid of that?
We cannot really get rid of this bias. But we can protect ourselves from this. How?
- Be Aware: Just knowing that this bias affects our decision making can improve our decision making. It is as simple as that. So, read more about it. Discuss with your peers. Make others aware.
- Disprove Yourself: You like something? You want to own something? Make a list of why you should not own that thing. WRITE it down. Exchange notes if need be!
- De-ego Yourself: Winning every argument is not necessary. And it is alright to be proved wrong. The returns can be considerably more sometimes if you accept you are wrong and just move on. The quality of your life does not depend on winning always and it is much more important that your ego.
Lastly, quoting Francis Bacon who wrote in 1620:
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion (either as being the received opinion or as being agreeable to itself) draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects; in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusions may remain inviolate.. . . And such is the way of all superstitions, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, although this happened much oftener, neglect and pass them by.”
-The New Organon
Hope this article has made you aware and aids in your decision making process.
Author: Amartya Dey, India
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