Disconfirmation Bias (Cognitive Bias #6)

June 21, 2006

The tendency for people to scrutinize evidence that contradicts their previous beliefs and to uncritically accept evidence that supports it.  Useful because it helps us catch (aka pay attention to) information that might result in altering our behavior and beliefs.  Harmful because existing beliefs continue to attract unscrutinized "evidence" at a much quicker rate than information that contradicts our beliefs.  Weak beliefs become stronger over time simply by the fact that they encourage us to validate them more than they encourage us to invalidate them.

As most people are probably noticing, most of these biases are simply shortcuts that we take in order to make quick decisions.  They are the various filters we put on incoming information to know when to pay close attention to something and when not to.  As such, there's really no easy cure for a cognitive bias.  To lower these filters is not only very difficult, but simply not practical… we would revert to the overstimulated confusion of childhood… paying attention to meaningless details while letting important new information slip accidentally by.

What would be useful, however, is if we were able to know at any given point which of our cognitive biases were used in the most recent deluge of information.  The best way to do this that I can think of is to simply know the names for all of them… giving something a name makes it easier to spot.

To review the cognitive biases we've covered so far:

  1. The Bandwagon Effect
  2. Bias Blind Spot
  3. Choice Supportive Bias
  4. Confirmation Bias
  5. Contrast Effect

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