During this heated political season, may I introduce you all to a psychological tendency we are all extremely guilty of: CONFIRMATION BIAS. This is the typical human notion we all have to seek out news, opinions, memes, etc. that confirm what we already believe to be true. We all want so badly to believe we are right about everything, we will overlook mountains of evidence that we are NOT and grab hold of even totally fabricated evidence that says we are.
That bias makes us unfollow or even unfriend people with whom we disagree, and it happens on a lot of subjects, from the obvious ones like religion and politics, to the debate over climate change and the notion of intelligent design, to which sports teams are actually superior. We believe we have a serious health condition and go to WebMD to prove to ourselves our worst fears.
Some of us even believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that we are unattractive, and have to post photo after photo after photo of ourselves to try to counter our own misconceptions. No amount of praise is enough for some people to overcome the confirmation bias that they are not attractive.
We root for the team we want to win. We shout the propaganda of the candidate we most agree with. We post totally fake memes that support our world view. We ignore 100 facts that refute our beliefs and zero in on that ONE thing that might prove our point.
It’s why some of you watch FOX and some MSNBC. Not to broaden your viewpoint – but to justify it.
Confirmation bias is how a lot of things get sold to us. For example, you really want to believe that there is a way to lose weight and look like an underwear model without extreme diet and exercise discipline. You really want to believe a bottle of pills will do the work for you. You want the easy way out.
Or you actually think you will win the Lotto. Even though you are 30x more likely to be eaten by a shark, you plunk down that $20 each week buying tickets instead of saving that money.
Confirmation bias in finance is how Bernie Madoff got so many otherwise successful, intelligent people to fall for his scheme. It’s why you believe the pundits on CNBC, even though evidence shows they are all less accurate than a flip of a coin. It’s why you subscribe to costly investment newsletters and stock picking software. You really believe someone has figured out how to make the totally irrational investment markets predictable and beatable. You want to believe you can somehow outsmart everyone else.
So we fall for scams. We date the wrong people. We disown family and stay in toxic relationships. We attend that church or temple because it tells us what we want to hear. All because we NEED to be “right”.
And we act like bratty children with anyone who counters the way we see the world. Opponents to our worldview must be shouted down. We see them as unintelligent, uneducated, “rednecks” or “hippies”. They become “deniers”, “extremists”, “haters”, and the garden variety battery of “-ists” (such as populists, nationalists, racists, sexists, ableists, ageists) and “-phobes” (homophobe, Islamophobe).
Confirmation bias is very human and very normal. But it often means we are NOT making the correct decisions or choices. I see that every day helping people manage their money.
So for the sake of civility, let’s agree on this: Trump is not Hitler, Sanders is not Lenin, not all cops hate blacks and not all blacks are criminals. Not every immigrant is here to mooch and not everyone who wants secure borders is a racist.
Let’s at least be aware that we’re doing it. And for Pete’s sake, let’s stop hating each other just because they see the world differently than we do.