Master the Art of Business
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Confirmation Bias is the tendency for people to look for information that supports their conclusions, and ignore information that might prove them wrong. The stronger the opinion, the more we ignore sources that challenge it.
The way to counter Confirmation Bias is to actively look for disconfirming evidence: information that challenges your hypothesis.
Paradoxically, one of the best ways to figure out whether or not you’re right is to actively look for information that proves you’re wrong.
Confirmation Bias is the general tendency for people to pay attention to information that supports their conclusions, and ignore information that doesn’t. No one particularly likes to learn they’ve made a bad decision, so we tend to filter the information we pay attention to.
The more strongly held the opinion or belief, the more we ignore sources of information that might challenge that position. That’s why you won’t find many political conservatives reading politically liberal sources of news, and vice-versa — they already know they don’t agree, so why bother? Unfortunately, this makes both positions more and more extreme, since neither side seeks information that may challenge their convictions.
The best way to counteract Confirmation Bias is to intentionally seek out disconfirming evidence: sources of information that challenge your current hypothesis or belief. When Kelsey and I adopted a vegan diet for a number of years, it was easy to also adopt the mindset that we were making the optimal choice — for our health, for our animal friends, and for the planet. This worldview naturally made it difficult to pay attention to any source of information that argued the contrary.
Ultimately, we changed our minds as a result of finding disconfirming evidence. After reading The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, we discovered that vegetarianism isn’t as healthy or environmentally friendly as we originally believed. Protein Power by Drs. Dan and Mary Eades taught us more about how our bodies biochemically process the food we eat, and about how the Feedback Loops that exist in our metabolism actually function. As a result, we learned that a few persistent health issues we were experiencing were actually a consequence of our diet.
Both books provided evidence that contradicted our original position — and they changed our minds. We’re learned a great deal from the experience — both about diet, and about the importance of paying attention to disconfirming evidence.
Paying attention to disconfirming evidence is very difficult — it’s looking for reasons you might be wrong, and we usually hate to be wrong. Seeking disconfirming evidence will either show you the error of your ways or provide additional evidence for why your position is actually correct—as long as you suspend judgment long enough to learn from the experience.
Actively looking for disconfirming information is uncomfortable, but it’s useful, whatever you ultimately decide.
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."Mark Twain
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Master the Art of Business