Ever wondered why it's not polite to talk religion or politics at the dinner table? We've all had the experience where for whatever reason someone refuses to abide by this cardinal rule and inevitably tension if not arguments and worse ensue. And the reason?? The Confirmation Bias!
The confirmation bias is a well-known psychological phenomenon which states that if we have an established emotional or deeply entrenched belief about something or ourselves then we'll happily take on information to confirm that belief but dismiss or disregard any information, no matter how logical or correct, that goes against it. So, checking back in on the dinner party where old Uncle Alfred is ranting about the wisdom and sense of an upstart, fringe political figure, he's very happy to share stories of how this guy plans to clean up the town by, say, getting rid undesirables but he refuses to hear that this same guy is about to get convicted of ripping off his own mother.
So how does this then relate to those of us trying to better own lives? Well I'm glad you asked. You see, you don't have to be a cranky old person to have a confirmation bias lurking in your psyche. In fact, all you really need is to be human. Most, if not all of us, will at some point in our lives not be able to perceive something obvious that leaves those around you shaking their heads.
Take for instance Sue, who has just received an award for being outstanding in some awesome way in her workplace. Let’s say she won a multi-million-dollar contract or something else seriously kudos-worthy. She smiles and nods as she receives her award, shakes everyone’s hands while looking slightly awkward with the attention of the whole office on her. Then she quietly walks back to her desk with a slice of cake and gets back to work. Thing is, when her bestie in the office comes over a few minutes later doing the I’m-genuinely-happy-for-you-because-I’m-your-office-bestie congrats, Bestie notices that Sue looks decidedly uncomfortable and is trying to downplay the award. That’s because Sue has a deep-seated belief that she’s just not that good. She’s not that good at her work and she’s definitely not good enough to deserve everyone in the office’s praise and attention!
A lot of people reading this will relate to the feeling of seeing someone they care about just not being able to get that they really are that good, or that lovable, or that worthy or that competent or adequate or insert key word!
The good news, we can learn to counteract these beliefs over time. The goal here isn’t necessarily to get rid of them; they often have considerable traction brain-wise that leads to the whole confirmation bias in the first place. But they can be shifted and cajoled into something psychologically healthier over time and with practice.
So, just remember, whatever you believe, you'll see and what you don't, you won't.