Scientists Say: Confirmation Bias

This is our tendency to look for and believe info that confirms what we already think

It can be really hard to resist confirmation bias when we’re looking up information or talking to people online. But actively seeking out perspectives that disagree with our beliefs can help us be more open-minded.

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Confirmation bias (noun, “Kahn-ferr-MAY-shun By-us”)

Confirmation bias is our natural tendency to seek out and believe information that confirms what we already think — and ignore information that doesn’t.

If a piece of information agrees with our beliefs, our instinct is to accept that it’s true. We’re often happy to learn this information. We tend to overlook any flaws in it. We’re more likely to recall it later. And we may be more likely to act on it.

But when we’re given information that contradicts or complicates our views, the story is quite different. Our instinct is to feel defensive and to look for flaws in the information. We also tend to forget this information more quickly. And we may be less likely to act on it.

Allowing confirmation bias to control how we process new information can be dangerous. For instance, people naturally want to read news stories that confirm their existing beliefs. But that can make it easier for people to fall for fake news.

Fighting our confirmation bias is especially hard online. Social media sites tend to connect us with people who already think like us. And algorithms fill our feeds with content that we’re expected to like based on our past activity. But there are ways to combat confirmation bias in our lives.

Simply recognizing this bias is one key step. Also, try to seek out information that you disagree with. Approach the information with an open mind, rather than immediately trying to poke holes in it. Likewise, talk to people that you know you disagree with. Try to hear them out without getting defensive.

Exposing yourself to viewpoints that you don’t agree with can be hard. But no one is right all the time. And there are real upsides to realizing you might be wrong. Confirmation bias may be leading you astray.

In a sentence

We can also combat information bias by running experiments with the scientific method.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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