Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Confirmation Bias Against Yourself?

I was reading the other day about a tendency in law, politics and science to "search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses." It is called "Confirmation Bias, or Myside Bias" and it can be very damaging in legal cases and international decisions. Science Daily outlines how "decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis."2

But what if we also do this to ourselves, how damaging can that be? 

I am talking about this in reference to people who are apt to self-criticism, depression, jealousy and insecurity, not to those - who in the opposite way- may seem to have overinflated egos. 

For, if we already walk about this earth with a certain set of beliefs, surely there is a propensity to reconfirm these to ourselves daily, every time something happens or someone speaks to us. And might this mean we become our own jailers.

I am no psychologist or self-help guru and I know many of them have written fully on subjects similar to this, on the power of positive thinking, on choosing happiness, on choosing to see the light. However this phrase, Confirmation Bias really stirred something in me.

For example, if you have constantly thought of yourself and believed yourself to be not academic or intellectual, you believe yourself to be unable to understand difficult or complicated articles or books. Surely, when you pick one up to read, everything in your brain will be telling you not to bother, because it's "too much for you". You will put no effort or attention in trying to read it and therefore, again, you have proven yourself right. You may have ignored the fact that you routinely deal with complicated scenarios at work, that you often have to listen to your friends tangled tales-of-woe and decipher some meaning for them. In this situation your are exhibiting confirmation bias against yourself.

Or what if you are feeling extremely low and you see everything in your life heading in a downward spiral, you have been sacked, dumped, you have no money. Things have been going badly for a while and therefore you deduce, this is likely to continue. But you have ignored the fact that you still hold together a friendship group that loves you, you volunteer for a charity that relies on you, for people who respect you, you have had a number of great relationships in the past, you have worked for many years in significant positions. These things are ignored at this time.

Or how about if your sister or brother or friend wins the lottery and you are so seething and jealous in your head that it burns.. why do they have this and not you, do you not deserve such spoils. All you can feel is blind anger and resentment, which becomes hard to mask, You are hard done by compared to them, you have not won the lottery. But you omit that you have other things, a loving relationship, a job, a passion for something, a mortgage etc etc. Whatever, it may be (you get the picture here). All you can deduce from this situation is that you are hard-done by.
Or what if you hate your boss. He is always unkind and unpleasant to you and you never feel he gives your the time of day. You hear him on the phone shouting one day and all you think is... ahhh there is another poor idiot, feeling his wrath. In reality, he may be going through a marriage break-up, in debt, trying to save the business, even defending your work. 

These are over simple scenarios perhaps, but I believe that if we look inside our lives, many of us are building up evidence against ourselves and others day-to-day. Adding logs on the fire, that are only going to prove every negative thing we have ever felt or thought. These actions will ensure we are stuck in this headspace, in this belief.

I wanted to write this piece in order to consider this. Do I do this? Certainly, sometimes. Do you? How do we try to move out of this habit and look at the full body of evidence in our lives? If you tend to view the negative, then perhaps ask yourself to see small positives everyday, write them down if you feel that would help you better. Think of the good things as well as the bad... If we do not do this, we will surely disappear further into these huge case files of damming evidence that we have collected against ourselves and others.

#The100DayProject, Day 6.

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