Confirmation bias is reportedly one of the most common biases. Confirmation bias is when one starts with a belief and then interprets all facts to fit his preconceived notion.
An example of confirmation bias would be that nurses in a Maternity Ward often talk about how busy they are during full moon with all the babies being born on the night of full moon but they rarely consider the phase of the moon on other busy nights of the month. Scientific evidence disproves the idea that the full moon has a strong effect on how busy the Maternity Ward is at a given given time of the month, yet good nurses with a confirmation bias toward an old wives’ tale will happen to notice busy nights that coincide with the full moon.
Another example of confirmation bias is when you want to buy a new car or else when you do buy a new car, suddenly you start seeing the car that you want everywhere. You may buy a new Camry, and all of a sudden it seems Camrys are everywhere on the road. It’s not necessarily that a large part of the population went out and bought a Camry at the exact same time you did. Rather, it’s that your mind has been open to a confirmation bias that expects there to be more Camrys in your life because you have it on your mind.
Examples like that are basically harmless; however, confirmation bias can be quite detrimental, particularly in relationships. For example, if you suppose that your co-worker is angry with you, you will begin to interpret all his actions, attitudes, body language and other nuance in a way that supports your feeling. Things that would otherwise be innocuous suddenly become fuel to the fire of your supposition.
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
Galatians 5:14-15 NKJV
Confirmation bias can easily cloud one’s judgment. Our upbringing, our points of reference, our view of facts determine how we choose to view the world.
This is why gossip is so effective and therefore so detrimental in the church or in other relationships. Introducing an idea to someone else will cause them to tend toward a new confirmation bias about that information or individual, especially if the one you share the gossip with is already somewhat inclined to believe the negative nature of the information you share.
As an aside I find it remarkable that so few people will own up to being a gossip, yet so many people share negative impressions of others with their family, friends, and co-workers. Perhaps we simply don’t have a clear definition of what gossip is in our minds.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,”
II Corinthians 10:4-5 NKJV
Another example of this is negativity in the workplace. If I am offended by someone at work, it is tempting to tell one of my coworkers how I’ve been wronged. I might tell someone, “I don’t know what’s up with Bob today; when I tried to talk to him, he just brushed me off. Evidently he’s ticked at me.”
What is not unusual is for my coworker to respond with, “Yeah, I thought Bob really looked grumpy in the break room this morning.”
That’s called cognitive bias by my coworker , but it plays into my confirmation bias and introduces a confirmation bias to my coworker. Later, when my coworker walks past Bob’s office and sees him animatedly talking to another coworker, the confirmation bias we have fed will cause Bob’s actions to appear not animated but agitated, fitting with our supposition that Bob is ticked today.
(As it turns out, Bob just had a lot on his mind because his wife had asked him to pick up some things in town on the way home, and Bob does not enjoy shopping. He was not upset with anyone at work.)
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”
James 4:1 NKJV
In reading about confirmation bias, I came across the idea that religion is itself a confirmation bias. Christianity in particular starts out with a belief that the Bible and its message is fact and then interprets all of life’s experiences based on that confirmation bias.
This is known as a logical fallacy, a scientific weakness. But the Christian faith is neither logical nor scientific; it is spiritual. The obedient believer’s faith and way of life will seem like foolishness to the unbelieving world. Nevertheless, it is crucial for us to maintain this confirmation bias that the Word of God is inherent, and we can stake our lives on it.
“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
I Corinthians 1:20-25 NKJV
I once heard a message by John D. Martin on faith, fact, and feeling. He was saying that to the unbeliever, to the secular mind, facts must come first. Everything else must be subservient to fact: If it can’t be proven, it shouldn’t be believed.
Christians understand that faith must come first. There are things that are inexplicable and invisible and incomprehensible about God and life. But if we put faith first, fact and feeling will follow.
Not always will we have solid or tangible evidence for others that what we believe is actual. Therefore, we will frequently not feel as if what we believe is safe or right or rewarding. However, if we maintain our faith, life has a way of bringing fact and feeling along behind.
What does this have to do with confirmation bias in everyday life? If we maintain faith, facts and feeling in their proper spheres, we will not as easily fall prey to confirmation biases that set us at odds with others.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 6:12 NKJV
If you’re wondering whether or not you have confirmation bias, the answer is yes. We all do. A good test for clearing out some of our unhealthy confirmation biases is to run our thoughts and words and subsequently our actions through the filter of Philippians 4:8.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Philippians 4:8 NKJV