Confirmation Bias: Avoid and Teach How to Avoid

Published by Practical Psychology, July 10, 2016

Confirmation bias is defined as the “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions” (Science Daily, n.d.). It is behind many stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination. The definition explains how we are drawn to what confirms our beliefs and views and dismiss any evidence that oppose them i.e. no one want to be wrong. The crisis that it affect us unconsciously, we might be completely unaware that we stopped looking at situations objectively which might have led to many poor or faulty choices that we selected throughout our lives and in our professions.

The question brought out by my colleague Barbara Holluboff in the forum about confirmation bias that started few days ago was how to avoid confirmation bias in our professions as educators, I believe that no matter the profession, there are three key points that can help to avoid the one-way stereotypes:

  • The awareness of this ego disease is the starting point, and to maintain our treatment we must remind ourselves continuously how it can influence our decisions
  • When pulled to one direction, seek information that support the opposite opinion
  • Use open-ended searches that aren’t biased and don’t restrict your analysis to identify only the data that fits your view.

But as usual a good question is like an opened door that no can shut, it opens the mind to further ideas and most significant to me was teaching confirmation bias, it is an essential skill that student must attain no matter the educator’s subject matter as it will enable them to “locate empirical evidence” (Palmer, 2011, March 21) and refine their opinions and beliefs, I will provide few strategies that can help to accomplish the valuable task.

  • Educators must explain confirmation bias to students at early stages, provide them examples of common stereotypes of different cultures such as “Asians are good at math”, “Canadians are all born with skates on” etc. and I am sure they will come up with more.
  • Use teaching games and exercises, there are some available online and such as the simple and popular 2,4,8 exercise  given by New York Times and explained in many online videos.
  • When some student seem to be suffering from confirmation bias, educators must address the issue, name it and tell them that they need to be considerate of others (Palmer, 2011, March 21).
  • For pragmatic students that value practicality, give real life examples that can resonate to them such as companies leaders fixated on their views and refused to acknowledge that their views were inaccurate and as a result they failed to notice the changes that was displacing them. on the other side use an illustration on how avoiding confirmation can help to make rational decision such as Warren Buffett one of the most successful investors that realize that “his decision can be swayed by this brain bug” (Dooley, 2013, May 7) and thus he invites a vocal critic in which other voices give opinions that contradicts his voice (Dooley, 2013, May 7) to avoid confirmation bias. And why not copy this example and try to foster the classroom environment where it is okay to disagree with educators’ opinions or solutions if students can prove it. Encouraging students to come up with alternatives and opinions that contradicts their educators’ is considered to be a two in one in strategy where educators avoid being trapped by confirmation bias and students are learning about it.

Teaching confirmation bias will not only help students to listen to voices that oppose and willing to change their minds as new evidences emerge, but will have a benefit that might had been missing in many of the resources I read and that is it would make us as educators empathize more with the students’ position as we get to be more understanding of the  affect of confirmation bias on them (Palmer, 2011, March 21).

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