Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Confirmation Bias

As much as we may like to think that our minds are like video cameras, accurately recording what comes through our senses, this is very far from the truth. Our brains actively and continuously construct our own reality. We pick and choose, according to beliefs and biases, the information that pleases us, and ignore the rest. All this is done automatically.

The minds of all of us, not just members of religious groups, construct narratives about ourselves, our beliefs, and our lives. We tell ourselves what kind of person we are, and unconsciously fill in the details to fit the pattern we have decided upon, rejecting or ignoring what doesn't fit. We feel a need for consistency and an aversion to the mental discomfort of cognitive dissonance - holding two conflicting ideas in our minds, or being confronted with evidence that contradicts our beliefs.

When we accept information that confirms our image of ourselves/our beliefs, we are mentally rewarded. Finding confirming evidence is pleasant. (Why do liberals and conservatives choose to watch their favorite pundits instead of those who present views that conflict with their beliefs? Is it because they value an unbiased presentation of facts?)

This tendency to accept and remember what confirms our beliefs, and reject, ignore, or actually not even notice information that does not, has been called the confirmation bias. This has been a hugely important factor in my life, being partly responsible for my years spent in a bizarre cult. 

Oh, but that wasn't the only one. There are plenty more interesting biases that were at play in my psyche.

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