Psychology Corner: Confirmation Bias

This is Psychology Corner, where Tom brings in his knowledge from his professional life to bear in analysing the psychology and behaviour of Fantasy Football (FPL) managers. This will often follow up on what we mentioned in the most recent pod.

Confirmation bias is an interesting one to cover in psychology corner as it’s something most people have heard of before.

I’d guess that most people would tell me this if I asked them what confirmation bias is: “it’s when you have an idea and you find evidence to support that theory in making decisions.”

And they’d be right.

Well… half-right.

Psychologically speaking, there’s another side of the coin in terms of how confirmation bias works.

Example

We didn’t see this

So imagine that I had a hypothesis about my FPL team this week. For this example, imagine my hypothesis is “Kane is the best captain”.

If I was exhibiting confirmation bias, I would certainly do what you’d expect: looking up Kane’s amazing stats, reading posts that are entitled “why you should captain Kane”, paying extra mind to informative tweets, etc.

However, if I was exhibiting confirmation bias, what I would also do is to non-consciously discount or devalue evidence that runs contrary of my hypothesis. This is the part which is often missing from most people’s understanding of this well-known bias.

This means that (back to our example), as well as looking up pro-Kane literature, I’d be ignoring evidence to the contrary of my Kane hypothesis, such as evidence pushing the case that a different captain is better.

This is because my brain is actively deluding me into believing that my theory is the superior option.

Why does confirmation bias exist?

An example of our caveperson ancestors

The reason behind confirmation bias lies in our ancestors and how their minds evolved.

It may seem that a bit counter-intuitive that confirmation bias developed as a survival mechanism for our brain: we’re unconsciously deceiving ourselves.

But look at this another way – it’s basically a way of reinforcing self-belief. It stiffens our resolve and ensures we trust our instincts. For the purposes of our ancestors (whose aim was survival rather than FPL points), that was pretty important, as it led to them being able to make decisions unencumbered by multitudinous external influences and ultimately survive without being plagued by self-doubt over their choices.

As always, a notable caveat is that people feel the impact of confirmation bias differently in terms of how it drives their behaviour: for some, the blinders are down and there’s a one-track to their decisions. For others, it might be that their minds are more open to change and they are more willing to challenge their biases. Neither is necessarily inferior to the other; it’s just how people differ.

Conclusion

All in all, then, confirmation bias has not one but two impacts on behaviour:

  • You prioritise and filter for evidence that confirms your hypothesis
  • You deprioritise and filter out evidence that provides an alternative perspective

People tend to know the former affect, but really should pay heed to the latter.

So remember the second half of it, and try to challenge it in yourself if you feel you’re falling prey to this widely felt bias – force yourself to think of other options and how they may or may not have merit over your original choice, and try to not be overly invested in your opinion early on without trying to challenge your own judgement.

If you can, take the time to think about it and examine the merits of each possible decision… both in life and in FPL!

(caveat: these articles condense often complex concepts into bitesize chunks – there is obviously far more depth and detail to each concept, with reams of academic and practical theory around both that can’t be fully represented here)

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