It’s Easy to Hear What You Want to Hear (i.e. Confirmation bias is everywhere)

Confirmation bias is defined as “the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconception”¹. In wake of the recent goings-on in the U.S. with the fake news and skewed perceptions of reality due to our tiny little Facebook bubbles, we’re seeing this kind of thing come up again and again.

2017-02-10 Confirmation

I won’t get too much into that stuff because it’s literally everywhere now, and someone has probably written it better than I will. So, I wanted to broaden the discussion of this and warn against this in general, not only when it comes to news or American politics.

As you probably know, I work in game development. One of my colleagues has been trying to convince our team to get into VR (Virtual Reality) stuff for a little while, and showed me a demo of his setup at home a couple of weekends ago. I thought it was awesome, but still had my questions: will the tech become cheap enough, is it too immersive, will the technology advance fast enough, etc. I started looking a bit further into it and watched some talks about the future of VR and the technology related to games and other things, and am slowly starting to be convinced.

2017-02-10 VR

But what happened to those questions? They’re still as valid as they were previously, and nothing that I saw even attempted to answer those doubts. But after about three videos of 40 minutes each, I felt convinced. Thankfully, I was able to stop myself and realize my bias: I had completely forgotten about one side of the story because I was inspired by the other side.

That brings me to another point, and one that 2017-02-10 Blindersrelates back to the politics thing. When something is emotional or inspiration or heated or you feel like it directly affects you, not only are you more likely to find sources that confirm your ideas but you’re even more likely to believe them. I could easily hop on the VR train now and keep watching stuff, keep getting inspired, and completely forget (or worse, ignore) some of the very relevant counter-arguments.

By the way, I’m not claiming that my colleague is missing the other side of the story, I think he just thinks the risk is lower than the reward might be for going into that kind of thing… and some of us aren’t convinced yet. But the fact remains that it’s easy to dive in and confirm all the things you thought or wanted to think or were inspired to think and black out the rest of the world without noticing it… so keep your eyes open and your field of vision wide!

One day I’m going to do a post about what I find are some of the most important cognitive biases but… I’ll do it later.