Confirmation Bias: Why No One Changes Their Mind
Have you noticed how Democrats and Republicans interpret the same events in completely different ways?
When Trumps asks a baby to leave his rally, Democrats see it as evidence that he’s crazy. Republicans see it as him being unafraid of being politically incorrect.
When Republicans see Hillary needing assistance at her rallies, Republicans see it as a problem with her health. Meanwhile Democrats see the Republicans’ concerns as uninformed slander.
Have you ever had a debate with with a friend or family member who has strongly held political beliefs that are different than yours? If so, you probably know it’s almost impossible to change someone’s mind.
A concept called Confirmation Bias helps explain why. Here’s a basic definition:
“the tendency for people to (consciously or unconsciously) seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points, and subsequently ignore information that goes against them.”
We’d like to believe that our opinions are the result of years of objective analysis and rational discourse.
But the harsh reality is that our opinions are the result of years of filtering for information which confirms what we believe while ignoring information that challenges our preconceived conclusions.
If you’re a Republican and you happen to see a Tweet from a Democrat about increasing wealth redistributions, you fill with rage and dispute it. If you’re a Democrat and you happen to see a Tweet from a Republican about reducing the size and scope of government, you fill with rage and dispute it.
You reject whatever you oppose.
Nationalism vs Globalism is another hot topic this election season. If you’re for Trump, you probably value American heritage and culture. If you’re for Hillary, you probably value multiculturalism and diversity.
Cases can be made for both. But so long as you’re bought into one of them, you see it as the only way forward.
Look. I’m guilty of it too. After being exposed to liberal politics throughout school and then continuing to consume confirming information via mainstream media for several years after, I hardly watch any left leaning media anymore.
I reached a point of diminishing returns. I wasn’t getting any new ideas. And I wanted to challenge my beliefs. I turned to some niche conservative media commentators like Peter Schiff and Mike Cernovich.
It wasn’t easy. I had to admit I was wrong. Relationships I had built with people who shared my beliefs decayed. I came to some conclusions that would likely ruin my career if I were to speak publicly about them. My experience helps illustrate why confirmation bias is so prevalent.
Why do people have confirmation basis?
1. There is more information available than ever before.
The Internet has enabled any individual to become a media empire. As result, there is more content being published each day than ever before.
It’s impossible to consume it all.
People have jobs, families, friends…and TV shows! Between it all, the average American probably only has about five hours per week to study politics — at best. And time spent studying politics would be time away from making money, getting healthier, or having fun.
In addition, the information we get exposed to on social networks and other platforms is filtered based on our preferences and behaviors.
If you Follow Ann Coulter on Twitter, you will see conservative messages. If you follow Jon Stewart on Twitter, you will see Liberal messages.
Here’s what Amazon suggest for me when I’m viewing Trump’s Book, “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”:
How likely does that make it that I will find “The Communist Manifesto”?
In the end, no matter how much evidence you give someone you’re debating with — no matter how rational the arguments you present — there will always be counter evidence you haven’t accounted for.
2. Wishful thinking.
Here are two great quotes from Psychology Today:
“Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking.”
“Self-deception can be like a drug, numbing you from harsh reality, or turning a blind eye to the tough matter for gathering evidence and thinking.”
Confirmation bias reduces the amount of work we need to do and shelters us from coming to “inconvenient” conclusions. Who wouldn’t want that?
3. It’s easier to confirm than to disconfirm.
Per the scientific method, you move closer to the truth by seeking evidence contrary to your hypothesis. Yet people tend to work to prove themselves right instead of working to prove themselves wrong.
As a simple example, if you were seeking disconfirmation you would search “what is climate change?” instead of “what are the effects of climate change?”
But here’s the thing. Seeking truth is not easy.
After discovering truth contrary to your previously held beliefs, you would first need to admit that you were wrong. “All that ranting and raving I’ve done about the benefits of free trade — it turns out I was wrong.” Humiliating!
People want to be right, not wrong.
Then, you would be putting relationships with friends and family at risk. Conversations at cocktail parties might not be so pleasant anymore!
We haven’t evolved to think rationally about complex political philosophies. We’ve evolved to survive and reproduce. Depending on the conclusions you come to through thinking rationally, you might even reduce your chances of reproducing, because you wouldn’t be in conformity with the masses.
The bottom line is this: it’s simply easier to confirm and people love the easy route.
How Not to Fix All The World’s Problems
According to Reuters, only 7% of voters remain undecided. Of voters who are decided, only a small percentage is likely to change their mind.
If anyone does change their mind, it won’t be because of reason or arguments.
The candidates aren’t using facts or even talking at length about the policies. And I don’t blame them. If they want to win, they shouldn’t be. Facts and evidence don’t change minds.
People make decisions based on identity, conformity, biology and who knows what else.
So if people can’t be convinced, what do you do? Quit? Be depressed?
Match expectations with reality. Hoping for or needing something that doesn’t have basis in reality will only lead to anxiety and depression.
If you expected to win the gold medal but you only won the silver medal, it would be a disappointment. If you expected to come in fourth but you earned a bronze medal, you’ve outperformed.
Arguing with friends and family about facts and policies will not change the direction of our country. The article you shared on Facebook. The snarky comment you left on your liberal friend’s Facebook post. Meaningless. In one ear and out the other.
It’s like a sports fan. It doesn’t much matter what players the team puts on the field. It’s their team.
So while I’m not smart enough to tell you how to change the world, I can tell you one thing: being depressed won’t help.
Rally together with your peers, keep thinking critically about important issues, and don’t worry about what’s outside of your control.
With a better understanding of confirmation bias, you can be more aware of how people make decisions and perhaps more aware of your own confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is prevalent, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be right.