19 <strong>Topic XIX. Confirmation Bias</strong>
Topic XIX. Confirmation Bias
- Our tendency to preserve our existing or preferred beliefs, even against the evidence.
- This class explores confirmation bias in the search for and assessment of evidence. In particular, we consider the ways that people tend to seek out and think about evidence in such a way as to reinforce their existing opinions, rather than testing them against new information or alternative views.
- Addressing the Question: How can we go avoid going wrong?
- Confirmation Bias
- Selective Exposure
- Biased Assimilation
- Concrete Examples
- When someone starts with a strong preference for dogs vs. cats, they tend to seek out, remember, and believe information suggesting dogs are better than cats.
- Exemplary Quotes
- Cautionary Quotes: Mistakes, Misconceptions, & Misunderstandings
- A. ATTITUDES
- Be wary of one’s own tendency towards motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.
- B. CONCEPT ACQUISITION
- Confirmation bias: Seeking or otherwise favoring evidence consistent with what is already believed or what is being tested.
- a. Selective exposure: Selectively seeking or exposing oneself to evidence that is likely to conform to prior beliefs or working hypotheses.
- b. Biased assimilation: Systematically favoring or discounting evidence to render that evidence more compatible with pre-existing beliefs or working hypotheses.
- C. CONCEPT APPLICATION
- Recognize instances of “selective exposure” in scientific, policy, and everyday contexts.
- Recognize instances of “biased assimilation” in scientific, policy, and everyday contexts.
- Explain how different forms of confirmation bias (i.e., selective exposure, biased assimilation) can lead to errors.
- In a given instance of confirmation bias, identify the following components:
- a. Prior beliefs/working hypothesis affecting reasoning,
- b. Evidence/interpretations that would be favored,
- c. Evidence/interpretations that would be missing/discounted, and
- d. How the confirmation bias might affect the resulting conclusions.
- Suggested Readings & Reading Questions
- A New Look at Selective Exposure Effects by Fischer & Greitemeyer
- Reading Question: Read the first two pages of the Fischer and Greitemeyer article. The reading discusses the selective-exposure effect, which is one instance of a broader phenomenon known as "confirmation bias." Provide an example of a selective exposure effect in real life (personal anecdote, news story, scientific study, etc.). Explain how the scenario you chose is an example of this type of bias, and how it might lead to suboptimal decision-making.
- Clicker Questions
- Cards have a letter on one side and a number on the other. Rule: If a card has a vowel on one side, it has an even number on the other side. Which card(s) would you turn: E, 7, 4, M
- Discussion Questions
- On social media like Twitter and Facebook, people tend to follow their friends, especially friends that share their opinions. People also tend to share articles that support their viewpoint. This leads to selective exposure, wherein people are exposed much more to arguments that support what they already believe and much less to arguments against what they believe. In other words, there is a bias in what they see that confirms what they already think. How would this increase polarization of opinions?
- Assuming you wanted to, how could you go about reducing your selective exposure?
- What are the human motives that would sustain and encourage confirmation bias?
- Class Exercises
- Practice Problems
- In Sweden, there is a syndrome called uppgivenhetssyndrom, in which children become completely comatose and unresponsive despite apparently having nothing physically wrong with them. Their reflexes and blood pressure remain normal. Yet they are unresponsive to pain, and must be fed through feeding tubes stuck down their throats. This syndrome exclusively affects refugee children in Sweden whose families are threatened with deportation; it has never been diagnosed outside of Sweden. It has affected hundreds of refugee children in Sweden, primarily children from former Soviet bloc states. Some children have remained comatose for years. Initially, the families were deported anyway. However, photographs of unconscious children being deported on stretchers raised a public outcry. More recently, most families with an affected child have received reconsideration by the Board of Immigration. At present, the only known cure is for the family to be approved for permanent residency. Even after families are approved, it takes weeks or even months for the children to recover. Since the condition is thought to arise from external circumstances, doctors have primarily focused on keeping the children alive, not waking them up by medical means.
- a. Which facts above are likely to be emphasized by a government official who wants to justify increasing deportations? Find two facts. Why would these be emphasized?
- b Which facts above are likely to be emphasized by a doctor who wishes to help the whole family remain in Sweden? Find two such facts. Why would these be emphasized?