Confirmation Bias

I Shared the featured image on Facebook just to ask this question; How many people do this? This is the essence of confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret new evidence as a confirmation of your existing beliefs, even when the evidence is disconfirmational.

I try never to simply agree with the first thing I find in a web search, and instead click and read at least four of the offered links on any given subject before allowing that my original thoughts might be correct. Still, the temptation is always there when that first result agrees with what you think is true.

There is a reason that the first item you see if you Google a topic is generally one that agrees with what you think. Google makes the results appear this way. This is especially true if you have used the search engine for years and years. You have helped Google craft a viewpoint for you that mirrors your opinions. They algorithmically apply a target to the search results that will most likely get you to click on them.

The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think by Eli Pariser

There were several people who (surprisingly) were willing to admit that they fell for confirmation bias. I find that when I don’t do the due diligence and click through 3 or 4 references, confirmation bias will get me too.

I want to be validated, dammit. 

Someone linked this comic in the comments for the featured chainsawsuit confirmation bias comic strip that was originally shared on the SGU’s Facebook page:

Several people who replied under the Wondermark strip were trying to suggest that the comic isn’t humorously poking fun at the circular nature of internet arguments. As if the circular firing squad of internet conversation isn’t exactly like that strip represents it to be.

I’ve found most arguments flow just this way, because inevitably we are all just armchair quarterbacks who have no real insight into the subject matter, even though we like to think we do. Not all arguments go this way, but nearly all of the ones in which the evidence itself is three or four times removed from the discussion inevitably end up in the circular firing squad scenario.

The original comic intrigued me. There is a real tendency amongst skeptics to act as if they are better than the rest of the people who fall prey to what is obviously (to them) pseudoscience or conspiracy. But I find that all of us fall prey to this from time to time. That all of us have subjects that we just KNOW we understand, but really don’t. It’s like a rake waiting in the grass for you to step on it and then smack yourself in the face with.

There is a real ingroup versus outgroup tendency to pretend to superiority or something to that effect. I should expand my observation to include all groups rather than just singling out skeptics. I run across this attitude everywhere (especially in gaming) where acquired knowledge is used as a cudgel against anyone who hasn’t obsessively researched a subject. As if knowing more somehow makes them a superior person.

Knowing the right things at the right times is a handy survival feature. Pretending to know everything perfectly is a Darwin award nomination waiting to happen.

We all view the world through the filter of our own experience and sometimes we apply that experience to a situation that we think we understand but don’t. We apply the experience in error because the situation lends itself to promoting this error. As an example; few people can even try to be objective in the face of purposely charged phrasing and political barnstorming. They move with the crowd, only later discovering how wrong their initial assessment was.

When I’m looking for a product or service, I appreciate Google’s attempts to deliver accurate hits. There are times though, where their attempts at delivering me what they think I want gets in the way of finding the thing I really want. The truth.

facebook h/t to Cat Zartman and Liz K. Burton for their inspiration.