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Confirmation Bias, Empathy, and 4 Ways to Escape Jurassic Thinking

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could; you didn’t stop to think if you should” – Ian Malcolm Jurassic Park.

Have you ever watched a scary movie and then began hearing noises at night?

After a tough breakup, is every song on the radio about heartache?

Have you ever argued strongly about voting rights, marriage, immigration, etc., and then indulged in articles, new stories, and like-minded people who agree with your perspective?

The good news is that you are normal. The bad news is that normal can get us in trouble.

Thought experiment – Rate your agreeableness to each statement from 1-5. 1 being least agreeable and 5 being most.

People enjoy being told what they already know.

You enjoy being told what you already know.

How did you do?

We have never had more information readily available at our fingertips. As teenagers, we walked through the easels of a library, skimming books to find the appropriate data. Today, we search Google and ask Alexa, Siri, or ChatGPT for information that confirms what we believe to be true. The age of confirmation is robust and growing.

It has never been more important to be aware of the phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Confirmation bias refers to our inclination to seek and interpret information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas.

This process occurs in our subconscious and is extremely powerful. Further, it becomes particularly pronounced in the age of social media, polarization, and echo chamber debates.

Biased thinking is not unique to any one individual. Our brain is asked to process more information than it can handle and must take shortcuts to survive. If we can quickly judge a particular situation or person without becoming overwhelmed with the realities of what could be happening, we can safely navigate the complexity of what we think is happening.

Naturally, we favor some ideas more than others and seek information confirming them. Without intervention, an idea becomes so real that introducing conflicting perspectives can give us the same “fight or flight” response as a lion suddenly appearing in your driveway.

Confirmation bias is the most potent bias in the universe, inspiring incorrect thinking, misconceptions, stereotypes, and misinformation. Why is it so powerful? Because often, we don’t even realize it is occurring. This is magnified when we enter an echo chamber.

The echo chamber effect occurs when individuals surround themselves with like-minded people and ideas, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of beliefs. With the advent of social media platforms, we are exposed to an ever-narrowing range of viewpoints, impeding our ability to evaluate information critically and challenging our preconceived notions.

In other words, if I want to seek information proving I am right, I can find it within seconds. And if feeling right brings me joy, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment, I will chase that feeling down any rabbit hole that will have me.

Psychological research has shown that confirmation bias is a natural cognitive process influencing our decision-making and perception of reality. When we encounter information that supports our existing beliefs, it triggers a feel-good response, giving us a sense of validation. Simply put, our brain rewards us for feeling right, even if it comes at the cost of being right.

In contrast, opinions, thoughts, and perspectives contradicting our narrative can be met with skepticism or outright rejection. This cherry-picking of information ultimately reinforces our initial biases and limits our exposure to alternative viewpoints. At best, it makes us feel safe in the bubble of what we think we know. At worst, it inspires hate, judgmental interactions, and dehumanizing of others.

For example, you probably agree that shaming and degrading someone is terrible. But what if all your information and experiences prove you are right about this person?

Now, is it terrible? When we enter an echo chamber, individuals retreat into their respective ideological bubbles, reinforcing their views and dismissing opposing perspectives. Depending on the root of said belief, the strength of the echo chamber can be insurmountable.

Let’s assume I watched a podcast and learned that eating carbohydrates is bad for me. Coincidentally, I have noticed that I have less energy when I eat bread. So, I decided not to have any carbs the next day, and what do you know, I feel amazing!

This experience confirms what I learned and motivates me to seek additional supporting evidence that this modification to my diet is contributing to my overall well-being.

This is not to say that eating carbs is bad or good; instead, it demonstrates my desire for one particular outcome. I am now in a cycle that encourages me to seek out what I believe to be true while ignoring other possibilities for how I feel. The echo chamber would magnify this phenomenon if I joined keto groups on Facebook, spoke to fellow carb cutters, and pointed to unhealthy people as examples of the dangers of carbs. In the end, carb cutting is unlikely to be detrimental to society, my community, or myself, but imagine that instead of carbs, it’s a behavior or idea that can harm or marginalize others.

Even though this might paint a dim picture, there is a path forward for you and the people you collaborate with. The name of my company wouldn’t be Speak 4 Motivating Change if I didn’t believe there was a solution.

Here are four simple tips to lessen the negative impact associated with confirmation bias: 1. Seek out new information

You must actively seek out diverse viewpoints and engage in critical thinking to combat confirmation bias and the echo chamber effect. You should be willing to challenge your beliefs and consider alternative perspectives, even if they initially seem uncomfortable or contrary to your thoughts. It is important to remember that no single source or viewpoint monopolizes truth, and by actively seeking out differing opinions, we can broaden our understanding and make more informed judgments. Read an article that has a different perspective. Visit a city, state, or country that thinks differently than you. Talk to a stranger that you would typically stereotype. Learn.

2. Own your social media.

Even though social media algorithms can be brilliantly manipulative, they respond to your engagement. In the end, you decide what is and is not seen. Follow accounts with varied viewpoints, expand your horizons, and be intentional when creating a more balanced online experience. I am not suggesting you overwhelm yourself with toxic and combative information, but for every five accounts that support your ideas, engage with one that provides an alternative to your thinking.

3. Talk to someone without an emotional investment in the outcome.

If our blind spots occur when we are consumed by bias, talk to someone who has not fallen victim to confirmation in your situation. You won’t be able to find someone without prejudice, but you can speak to someone who can view your opinion from a bird's eye because they don’t have direct access to the emotional connection of your idea. Talking with this person could uncover what you might be missing and allow you to consider whether you are following or manufacturing the evidence.

4. Be an empathetic person

The power of cognitive empathy lies in the premise that we don’t have to agree, but I do have to be interested. Demonstrating genuine understanding builds trust and respect and creates a compassionate, non-judgmental environment. We all make mistakes daily, but being kind is a choice. Choose empathy.

In conclusion, confirmation bias is a natural yet sometimes consequential phenomenon. Don’t allow the euphoria of feeling right to interfere with your ability to evaluate information critically. By actively seeking out diverse viewpoints and challenging our biases, we can mitigate the impact of confirmation bias and foster a more open and intellectually intelligent community. Heck, we might even create a kinder world. We might just inspire change.


*Statements on this blog reflect the author's personal opinions and do not represent any other person, company, or organization. The purpose of this blog is general knowledge and to bring awareness to tools, techniques, people, and organizations that bring about positive change. The reader is strongly encouraged to perform independent research about the topics discussed.

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