Decision-Making: Confirmation Bias

In my last post, I wrote about critical thinking, decision-making and evidence. We can improve our decision-making if we evaluate the quality of our evidence. But…what how do we select our evidence? Therein lies another decision-making trap.

A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly illuminates this trap brilliantly. We all seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs and values and discount evidence that disconfirms these beliefs and values.  We all have these implicit underlying assumptions, driven by our beliefs and values. The problem with these assumptions is that they are implicit, or taken for granted. This is known in the academic literature as confirmation bias.

So how do you fight confirmation bias? You can’t, at least at an individual level. You can, however, work with others to manage confirmation bias.   Assign someone to be Devil’s Advocate, whose job is to dig up disconfirming evidence. Ensure that you have someone not related to the decision evaluate the quality of evidence presented for multiple alternatives.  Gather together a group of independent raters.  Withhold your judgement or preferences from the group to avoid contaminating their evaluations. Provide them with a clear criteria for the decision, then have them independently evaluate each alternative based on your criteria. (Of course, you can’t rig the game by providing biased criteria). Compare the independent assessments to your own. Is there consensus among the independent raters? Is their assessment different from yours?

Every last one of us can fall victim to confirmation bias. We often are unaware of the underlying assumptions and beliefs that are driving our decision-making process. And, even when we are aware of these beliefs, it is difficult to suspend them in a decision-making situation. The only way to fight confirmation bias is to engage with others, and to be open to the idea that we might be wrong. Thinking is indeed Hard Work.


5 replies »

  1. Brilliant, Sharron! I love it!

    The last 2 lines say it all: “The only way to fight confirmation bias is to engage with others, and to be open to the idea that we might be wrong. Thinking is indeed Hard Work.”

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