When you set out to prove something, it’s human nature to look for information that supports your theory–and disregard the rest. It’s called confirmation bias, and you experience it more than you realize. The internet has put enormous, unchecked information easily at our fingertips. Type in any thought or theory, and odds are that others have written about it from all sorts of points of view.
So think about it… When’s the last time you “researched” something, found ambiguous results, and interpreted them to support your pre-existing beliefs? Ever performed a Google search 20 different ways to finally find an article or blog post that backs up your idea? Hooray, you’ve been validated! It must be right! I know I have made that mistake, and it’s caused me to jump to incorrect conclusions time and time again.
And it gets worse. A psychological effect called “primacy” multiplies the ill effects of confirmation bias. It means you tend to trust the first result you find more than subsequent ones. If you’re searching only for confirmatory information, of course the first thing you find will seem to back up your theory, further strengthening your bias!
So what can you do? Fight cognitive bias the easy way!
The answer is simple: When you’re researching a theory or thought, set out to prove your initial beliefs wrong, not right. For example, if you’re trying to prove the “average work week is more than 60 hours” don’t set out to find confirmatory information. Instead, look for the proof that the opposite is true. So, search for evidence that the work week is less than 60. After that, try to see if you can re-convince yourself of your original theory. By searching for the alternative first, you’re using the primacy effect to your advantage to help offset subconscious confirmation bias.
Try it out! Let me know how it works for you!
About the Author: Ben Klopfer, human being, is a common experiencer of cognitive bias in his daily life. He struggles every day to overcome his own personal psychological challenges. He is a master at making mistakes and trying to learning from them. Please send negative feedback his way so he doesn’t accidentally confirm he’s right about this topic.