Confirmation Bias: A Lurking Threat


Confirmation bias: what is it? How does it affect you? Can you overcome it? Welcome to the second article in this series on some of the lesser known subconscious biases in the workplace.

This piece will look at a subconscious bias which has been a source of concern almost since the beginning of history: confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to select and interpret evidence in ways that reinforce prior beliefs. For example, there is a widely known fallacy that all left-handed people are creative. Thus, with this information in mind you are more likely to identify instances where left-handed people are creative, thus confirming that pre-existing bias. This is simply not true.

This phenomenon is not new; confirmation bias has been commented upon by philosophers and great thinkers throughout history. Thucydides, the acclaimed father of scientific history (Norris, 1929), has written one of oldest known observations of the phenomenon in his 5th century BC work, The History of the Peloponnesian War.

“…for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.” (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, 4.108.4)

This was not an isolated comment from an inspired mind in the distant past; confirmation bias has been observed throughout history. Dante mocked it in his Divine Comedy, and Sir Francis Bacon pondered upon it in his philosophical work the Novum Organum. Furthermore, it is not an issue confined solely to Western culture and has been remarked upon in the Islamic world too.  With these observations in mind, it is clear that confirmation bias is an integral human foible, with no culture, era, or individual entirely free from its influence.

Read the full insight on the BMT website.