What are you looking for?

Be Aware of Confirmation Bias

What do you expect out of life?  Not, what are your goals and dreams but what do you truly expect?

Do you think people are basically good or full of evil?  When you make plans and set goals do you expect to finish what you started and achieve your goals or do you, somewhere deep inside, expect to fail?

Confirmation bias is a real psychological phenomenon.  What it means is that in many ways we are hardwired to notice only the things that confirm what we already believe and too easily dismiss as anomalies the things that contradict our beliefs.

For example, do you believe in climate change or think it’s a hoax?  Depending on what you are looking for, this past week’s weather patterns would confirm your bias in different ways.  Snow in May?  Any thinking person can see that cannot possibly fit with Global Warming; climate change is a hoax!  Snow in May!  Any thinking person scan see that weather patterns are shifting; climate change is real!

This may seem like the Law of Attraction, but it’s not.  The Law of Attraction, as conceived of by Napoleon Hill and popularized in recent years by Rhonda Byrne is bunk.  It says that you attract what you think about.  You cannot attract anything just by thinking about it. Instead you tend to find what you actively look for.  The difference may seem subtle, but it is significant.

I contend that whatever you actively look for, you will find simply because there is action involved.  The world is a big place and if you actively go out and look for things there is a good chance that you will eventually find them.  If you want confirmation that you are smart, sexy, athletic, or fill in the blank, all you have to do is go out and look for people who think the same way you do.  And you will find them.

Likewise, if you think you are a loser and do not deserve love, you can find people who agree with you on that point too. Make no mistake, this is not the Law of Attraction, it’s confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is not necessarily a bad thing.  To become successful at anything you first need to find people who agree with you.  To sell a product you need to build a tribe of individuals willing to part with their money and support your idea.  Where confirmation bias turns evil is when you are actively looking to confirm a negative emotion or thought and are closed minded to contradictory input.

Politicians and thought leaders are masters of manipulation when it comes to confirmation bias.  They will insert themselves in existing tribes, feed them curated information that fits with their already formed biases and declare themselves the only ones with the power to influence things in favor of the tribe.  That is opportunism.

Case in point, a few weeks ago here in Canada the Conservative Party leadership candidate Derek Sloan attempted to tap into anti-immigration sentiments and fears surrounding COVID19 by openly questioning the loyalties and credentials of Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health because she was born in China.  For people who already have those fears, his comments confirmed what they were already thinking and raised his profile among their tribe.  The fact that he alienated an entire ethnic group and lost credibility among those outside the tribe meant nothing and did not hurt his standing because he was already unlikely to garner many votes from ethnic Chinese and pro-immigration tribes anyway.

We have a saying around my office;  “You don’t know, what you don’t know.”  It’s meant as a check against biases of all kinds, especially confirmation bias.  Don’t just look for confirmation of what you believe and when confronted with information that does not fit don’t dismiss it.  This is how you grow and expand your horizons.

So, the next time you go looking for something, beware of your confirmation bias and keep an open mind for new information.

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