Confirmation Bias

What is it?

Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories

This translates into readily accepting new information when it confirms existing beliefs, actively seeking conforming information and avoiding contradicting evidence. Confirmation bias leaves a deceptive feeling of satisfaction that the world around us functions according to our general understanding and beliefs.

The risk of confirmation bias occurring is greater when the subject is emotionally charged or deeply tied to personal identity.


Video by Sprouts Learning Co. | Used under Creative Commons license

How it relates to disinformation?

Attraction: Imagine a widely circulating conspiracy theory claiming that a particular vaccine is causing severe side effects or is intentionally produced to lead to sterility or infect with a disease. People who are already sceptical of vaccines due to their existing beliefs or fears are more likely to be attracted to and actively seek out information that supports their preconceived notions.

Selective consumption: Confirmation bias kicks in when individuals selectively consume and share content that confirms their beliefs about a topic. They may come across anecdotal stories or misinformation online that seemingly validate their concerns, reinforcing their existing beliefs. They might disregard or dismiss reputable scientific studies, expert opinions, or official statements that contradict the individual's preferred and established narrative.

Amplification and echo chambers: Confirmation bias-driven behaviour can amplify the spread of disinformation. People influenced by confirmation bias tend to share the misinformation within their social circles, creating echo chambers where the false information is reinforced. Such reinforcement is facilitated by social media algorithms that control what information is shown to individual users and how search engines range their results based on the user's previous information consumption profile.

How to deal with the confirmation bias?

  1. Be critical of all information. Be extra critical of information that you like and conform to your existing beliefs. An excellent first step to addressing this bias would be to identify and flag potential confirmation bias situations.
  2. Make sure you get your information from several information sources and channels, including such that you typically disagree with.
  3. When you run a search online about a specific topic, make sure you don't limit yourself to only opening links that seemingly confirm your beliefs.
  4. Make it a habit to formulate your searches in a way that would return a variety of angles or viewpoints for the topic or issue you are researching, including criticism.
  5. Be aware that the fact that you repeatedly see sources, articles, posts or videos that promote a specific worldview may be a result of social media algorithms serving items that are similar to stuff you have liked or engaged with in the past.
  6. Remind yourself - and do it often! - that the high volume of positive or negative information on a topic/person or the high number of people subscribing to an opinion/belief is not a measure of truthfulness.
  7. Avoid quick acceptance and repeat of narratives that "seem to make sense" just because they appear to confirm things you "already knew".
  8. Avoid dismissing data or information only on the grounds that you don't like what you see or hear.

Suggested use in training

  • Present the bias to your learners and ask them to come up with examples of confirmation bias that they have witnessed
  • Challenge them to identify topics or issues about which they care deeply and emotionally - discuss how these are critical risk areas for the occurrence of confirmation bias
  • Explain how echo chambers and content-serving algorithms work and how they contribute to confirmation bias by prioritising conformant and desirable content
  • Discuss the benefits of challenging one's own beliefs