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. I initially wrote a lot of these back in 2017, but they’ve been retrofitted with new examples and finessed to better suit today’s context.

Please note these articles aren’t claiming to explain everything that is going on, but are suggesting a psychological factor (or two) that could be influencing behaviour

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

So imagine that I had a hypothesis about my FPL team at a certain point in time.

For this example, imagine my hypothesis is “Sergio Aguero is the best captain this Gameweek“.

If I was exhibiting confirmation bias, I would certainly do what you’d expect: looking up Aguero’s amazing stats, reading posts that are entitled “why you should captain Kun”, 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-Kun literature, I’d be ignoring evidence to the contrary of my Kun captain hypothesis, such as evidence pushing the case that a different captain like Mo Salah is a better pick.

As per our Framing piece, it’s important to remember that information is always presented in a way which advances a particular point of view.

So applying that knowledge to the bias discussed in this article, the behaviour that drives confirmation bias is actively seeking out information which frame information in a way that supports your hypothesis.

This is because our brains are actively deceiving us into believing that our hypothesis is the superior option.

The same may be true about our current state of preseason tinkering – we may be beginning to harden our ideas prematurely that some players are “essential”. This is also linked with an effect called adaptive preference, which I’ll release an article on soon.

Why does confirmation bias exist?

Posted under CCL

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 makes sure 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 the maelstrom external influences we’re now subject to, 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 effect, but really should pay heed to the latter.

Remember the second half of it, and try to challenge it in yourself to assess if 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.

(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)