Why Do We Even Fool Ourselves?

Multiple researchers have concluded that we don’t just deny facts; we interpret them differently when they support our moral values, identities, and personal beliefs, or if they are personally threatening, even if they involve our health due to confirmation bias. A research study compared two groups of participants: one group received favourable medical results, and another group received unfavourable results. People who were informed that they had tested positive for a certain enzyme-related illness rated the test as less accurate, wanted second opinions, and gave more explanations to discount the results, displaying confirmation bias.

So, consciously or not, humans may twist the facts and may even trick themselves into believing the facts that are not even as relevant due to confirmation bias. But why do we do it?

The Main Reasons For Confirmation Bias

The need to belong

In people, the need to belong is greater than the need to be correct or accurate, which can lead to confirmation bias. Since ancient times, we have survived in communities and societies. We have a strong desire to belong and be accepted. Sometimes, we don’t accept facts because they make sense to us; we accept them because they are a part of the tribe! For example, when we like a particular political party, we are less likely to accept facts that are against their propaganda in order to stick with their ideologies.

The Enigma of Reason

A book called The Enigma of Reason,” written by cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, talks about a theory of reasoning. They stated that “reasons” have the use of strengthening our beliefs so that we can justify them to others and convince them of our actions, which can lead to confirmation bias. For example, “because it is raining” is an explanation given for the act of bringing an umbrella outside. So, telling others that they brought the umbrella outside because it is raining is an explanation to justify the act to oneself and others.

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Identity Consistency

When we identify ourselves with a certain group, we are more likely to accept the information that supports that group and hence allows us to maintain that identity, rather than the information that may discount our beliefs in that aspect, which is confirmation bias. For example, if someone identifies themselves as a part of a particular religion and comes across information that discounts the ideologies of that religion, they are likely to reject it and believe the information as facts that support the ideologies.

Cognitive Efficiency

Our brains have been developed and wired in such a way that they conserve energy. One way of doing that is to use heuristics or mental shortcuts. So, when we are presented with a new piece of information, our brains interpret it using the already existing frameworks rather than considering all the available evidence, and we selectively seek the information that confirms our beliefs, which is confirmation bias. And hence, anything that doesn’t fit is rejected.

Is It Dangerous?

Yes, it can certainly be. especially if we ignore the facts when making important life decisions. Imagine what would happen if a doctor chose to consider only the facts that confirmed his initial diagnosis and did not consider other signs and symptoms indicating something else. Or if we believe that vaccines can cause autism and then ignore the facts that prove otherwise and do not get our children vaccinated,

It is important to be objective and open to all perspectives in order to make sound decisions in life and avoid confirmation bias.

Find How Can We Reduce This Habit? on the full article on the Paavan blog.