Confirmation Bias

Teaching dispute resolution typically includes making students aware of the many different biases that influence our views of conflicts and our decision making. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about confirmation bias during this election. According to the Oxford Dictionary, confirmation bias is “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.” A prime example of this bias in operation during the election cycle is the decision about who won the second Presidential Debate. Republicans tended to state that Romney won, while Democrats typically called the debate in Obama’s favor.

There’s an interesting blog post about this phenomenon and satire on Social Psychology Eye, an associated site for Wiley-Blackwell’s review journal on Social and Personality Psychology. Even though the post is from April 2011, it has some good points to keep in mind in the next few weeks while we’re barraged by negative ads, phone calls, internet ads, etc. One great piece of advice is at the end of the post:

“Here is one tip for overcoming confirmation bias within yourself: When most people do ‘reality testing’ they seek information that confirms their existing views are correct. Instead, try to do the opposite. Try to find evidence that argues against your existing views. It may be uncomfortable, but it can be more likely to lead to information that is accurate rather than just comforting.”

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