In this post, we’ll have a short discussion on how to avoid confirmation bias.
We live in a time in which just knowing something and holding an opinion about it is not enough. There is always somewhere at the back of our heads the lingering question of: “how do we know we know what we think we know”? Most of us tend to take the fact that our beliefs are ours as a representative of the truthfulness of the fact. This goes on until someone challenges our beliefs and we find ourselves grappling with reasons why the things we believe in are true.
We look for proof online and offline, and more often than not we find confirming evidence. If our opponent is good at thinking logically and the proof we think proves our point is not actually proof they will have the ability to bring us to the light, and without knowing just at that moment we managed to overcome the confirmation bias.
This is one thing that you’ll probably become more aware of the deeper you get into the study of cognitive biases. The idea that sometimes the best tools that allow you to overcome your thinking weaknesses require no will of your own. For this bias in particular, as you’ll see other people can play a powerful role in clarifying your thinking process, with little effort from your part the only thing you have to do is to be open to it and resist the urge to stop the process.
How To Avoid Confirmation Bias
First, let’s begin with the definition of confirmation bias. As discussed in the post “What is the confirmation bias”, the confirmation bias is: “the tendency of people to seek information that supports their assumed values/beliefs and to ignore any form of dis-confirming evidence.”. In essence, you begin from your belief and look only for that which proves your belief. We do this while ignoring or conveniently overlooking any disconfirming evidence. We exit the reasoning process with a sense of certainty derived from flawed reasoning. So how do you avoid it? Below are a few strategies.
1. Start by trying to prove yourself wrong
The first and most intuitive strategy is to actively look for disconfirming evidence. Just as for any point there is a good chance you’ll find supportive evidence, there is also a good chance you’ll find confirming evidence for the opposite.
The first tip here is to become familiar with the disconfirming evidence and try your best to think about the evidence as logically as you can. If you’re trying to prove it wrong, make sure your reasons are valid and not based on emotion. So try to disprove the disconfirming evidence through logic and logic alone.
Still in the same vein, is the idea of avoiding doing any research on the people who provided the disconfirming evidence. The reason for this is that the least you know about the person, the least likely you are to make personal attacks to them as a way to disprove their disproof. This in philosophy is called an ad hominem fallacy, where instead of debating the point you attack the person behind the point to invalidate the argument. So, try to know as least as possible from the sources while preserving the integrity of the argument. If you have to do it, try to focus more on their background. Meaning whatever qualifies them to talk about the subject.
One thing I’ve been the most grateful university was the chance to take a philosophy course. By studying philosophy you sharpen both the mind and the arguments the mind produces. The reason why this is so important in overcoming the confirmation bias is that if you’re able to find inconsistencies in someone else’s points, you can, to some degree find inconsistencies in your own. Meaning that you can more easily tell when your argument is only taking into account the evidence supporting it.
In philosophy, the confirmation bias is handled by the way philosophers construct their arguments. One thing a great debater does when delivering an argument is that they often try to take into account possible oppositions to their point and to then explain why the oppositions don’t make their point invalid. By doing this you effectively weaken the position of anyone attempting to show you your point is not valid.
How does this help us in avoiding confirmation bias? Well, it does so simply because sometimes we are the other person we are trying to prove wrong. I think this is by far one of the most distinctive markers of a great mind. The ability to have a debate with oneself as if there were two people in the room instead of one. To not just agree because you agree or disagree because you disagree. But to be able to both agree and disagree at the same time even if for a brief moment.
What makes the discipline of philosophy is very useful is the fact that it teaches not only how to think, but also how to spot flawed thinking in you and others. It’s through the study of what they call fallacies that you improve your reasoning. It’s through the application of rules of logic that you can safely go from a place of confusion to one of understanding. Better than just understanding, a confident form of understanding. A form of understanding gained from your trust in the fundamentals of how the truth looks like, as well as how a lie disguised as the truth would reveal itself if you knew what to look for and had the patience to do it.
3.Debate with another person
The quickest way to get over the confirmation bias is to have a debate on the subject with another human being not just yourself. It’s important to look for a person who you know might hold an opposing view and to again, focus on the structure of their argument as opposed to who they are as people.
When we’re by ourselves the confirmation is harder to avoid because of the fact that our personal investment in our opinion is what will likely lead us to focus only on the evidence that confirms it. When we’re debating with another person, on the other hand, that which gets overlooked is brought to light.
The other person will not only make us pay attention to the evidence we’re overlooking but also bring it back to light when we intentionally or unintentionally dismiss it.
One amazing thing that happens when we have frequent debates is that we start paying attention to and making sure the structure of our points/arguments is sound. You begin first by making a conscious effort to overcome the confirmation bias, and eventually, this attitude will become a part of how you construct your arguments.
4.Make sure your mind is sharp
We all know that different times of the day can make our minds sharper or more cloudy. The reason why this matters is that overcoming this bias requires mental effort, and for a belief, you’re trying to prove or defend there will be lots of iterations on your points. This is an exhausting process and just like anything that tires the tendency is to avoid doing it.
As Steven Kotler once said: “The brain is a giant energy hawk. It’s always trying to conserve’”. The point is to make sure your mind is as sharp as it can be before you jump into the challenge of making sure you really know what you think you know.
This means to make sure you have adequate sleep, as well as that whatever you eat before your thinking journey goes well with your body. Countless were the times in which eating the wrong food clouded my ability to think clearly.
Exercising is among the set of things we hear everyone should do but we don’t. Exercising too is one of these things that has helped me think through subjects that are by nature difficult and complex to think about.
The confirmation bias like any other kind of cognitive bias can be overcome by practicing. At first, it will feel natural to go as you always went. To look for only the evidence that proves your beliefs and stop when you manage to find one or a handful. When you manage to apply this idea for the first few times with success something else begins to happen. First your instinct turns to disprove your own beliefs before voicing them out, and second is the joy of attempting to prove yourself wrong and failing. You still can’t prove you’re right, but at least there is a higher chance that no one else will be able to prove you wrong because you’ve done your due diligence.
This is the point most people to get their thinking to.
What is the confirmation bias: https://twoscoopsofbusiness.com/what-is-the-confirmation-bias
Poor Charlie’s Almanack: https://g.co/kgs/tqioiJ
Ad Hominem Fallacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem
It is all about knowledge and experience 😉
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