We hate to be wrong. When our beliefs and ideas and knowledge are challenged, we have a strong tendency to become aggressively defensive, going as far as attacking the other person personally. It is extremely difficult trying to change someone’s opinion, because of this strong bias towards our own thoughts. This is confirmation bias.
The problem with confirmation bias is that it creates a vicious cycle, causing us to become more and more rigid in our thinking. Not only do we refuse to change our position when challenged by someone else, we actively seek out proof that we are right.
When we read or hear news or a fact, our brain has a tendency to automatically colour it according to our own beliefs. If it aligns with our beliefs, then we take it as concrete proof that we are right. If it goes against our views, we work hard to prove that there are flaws in the article, such as claiming that the writer is biased, or blatantly ignoring it, while demanding better evidence.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt eloquently describes this phenomenon into two questions.
When we like the proposition or fact, we ask: “Can I believe this?”. If there is even a single plausible reason, we give ourselves permission to believe it, as it reinforces our views.
However, when we don’t like it, we ask: “Must I believe this?”. Even a single, minor flaw is enough for us to discredit the new information.
This gross bias results in the difficulty of our brain to consider alternative points of view. Furthermore, we now live in the Information Era where abundant information is freely available, meaning that we can easily search up numerous other opinions that align with ours, even if the majority consensus is against us. We choose only to discuss the idea deeply with people who think like us, while fighting tooth and nail against others.
How do we overcome this incredible barrier? Like most cognitive biases, we cannot simply switch it off.
Perhaps the first step is acknowledging that we are very flawed beings that are prone to being wrong.
Then, we can catch ourselves asking “can I” versus “must I”. If we catch ourselves saying “must I believe it?”, then we should become critical of our own thinking and ask ourselves how we would respond if we instead asked the question “can I believe it?”.
At the same time, try to notice when other people are showing confirmation bias. Then, realise that is exactly how ignorant and obtuse you sound when voicing your own confirmation bias.
Finally, remember that it is okay to be wrong. If we never made any mistakes, then we would never grow. How boring would that world be?