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Confirmation Bias Thinking Errors

Confirmation Bias is the name given to the ‘process’ of selecting or distorting information in a way that is consistent with our own internal limiting beliefs or value system and in some respects could also be called ‘wishful thinking’.

Because we tend to seek out information that fits with our beliefs, we will often ignore any information that contradicts what we believe.

confirmation bias is common in anorexic sufferers - slim woman seeing herself as fat

Confirmation Bias Examples

For example, if a person with low self esteem believes that they ‘worthless’ or ‘incompetent’ for example, then having somebody tell them that ‘they are a really lovely person’ does not ‘fit’ with their self-perception.

When this happens confirmation bias kicks-in to help interpret this information in a way that fits with the perceived ‘truth’ about themselves which is that they are not really lovely at all.

In circumstances like this, a ‘logical’ set of steps are followed that help make sense of this apparent disparity:

  1. Firstly, if I know that I am NOT a lovely person then this person does not really mean what they say.
  2. If they don’t mean what they say then they are just saying it to make me ‘feel better’ and therefore don’t care about me.
  3. The reason they don’t care about me is that I am a worthless person.
  4. Now what they’re saying makes more sense because they think I’m worthless which is what I also believe.

As you can see, confirmation bias has actually taken what appears to be a positive statement “you are a really lovely person”, and found a way to distort it to such an extent that it now ‘fits’ in with this model of low self worth.

If you are ever been on the receiving end of this type of interaction, then you’ll know only too well that this person has got hold of the wrong end of the stick completely and has simply not heard what has been said!

Other Forms of Confirmation Bias

In fact, confirmation bias can occur ANY time that situations, information or experiences contradict or indeed fit with what we believe.

Consider a person who believes in Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) for example:

This person is sitting at home thinking about their mother when the phone rings and low and behold, it’s their mother calling!

Form this event they will start to keep track of times when they are thinking about mum and when mum calls – evidence gathering to support the idea of ESP.

They will, however, tend to ignore the following events:

  • Times they were thinking about mum and she didn’t call
  • Times they weren’t thinking mum and she did call

On top of this they are also likely to pay little attention to the fact that they generally speak to their mum about every two weeks and therefore have a regular pattern of ‘thinking about mum’ bi-weekly and so if mum hasn’t called for about two weeks it’s likely to be more in the forefront of their minds in the first place!

Facts Don’t Come Into It!

Confirmation Bias tends to dispense with the facts or with mathematical probability and lends itself much more to ‘magical’ or inexplicable phenomenon that demands some ‘other-worldly’ explanation, all of which results is a distortion of ‘reality’ which is rarely a helpful trait to have.

Because confirmation bias is intimately tied with belief systems, it can be very difficult to objectively identify them when they occur which is why they can become so deeply embedded into a person psyche.

However, processes such as our Tranceformental CBT programme can help you to become aware, and then modify these issues helping you to improve your perspective.

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